101 Things a Private Investigator Can Do

101 Things a Private Investigator Can Do

Below, we have put together a short list of things a private investigator can do.

The fact of the matter is that each case we get is different and needs to be approached differently, so it’s difficult to describe what a private investigator can do in a short sentence.

Ultimately, what we find is “information” or “facts” but that’s not nearly as entertaining as #101 on our list; “We will tell you what those bastards are up to!”

101 Things a Private Investigator Can Do

    1. Find a current address
    2. Find historical addresses
    3. Find a date of birth
    4. Identify known aliases
    5. Identify and/or confirm a Social Security number
    6. Locate birth records
    7. Locate death records
    8. Locate marriage records
    9. Locate divorce filings
    10. Dig through someone’s trash
    11. Locate a beneficiary for a probate proceeding
    12. Research current and / or historical property holdings
    13. Identify mortgage information
    14. Identify secured lenders
    15. Identify related party property transactions
    16. Determine current market value of real property
    17. Locate bankruptcy filings
    18. Retrieve and analyze bankruptcy records
    19. Uncover improper relationships
    20. Locate federal civil lawsuits
    21. Locate federal criminal records
    22. Retrieve and analyze federal civil and criminal records
    23. Retrieve mug shots from arrest records
    24. Provide independent analysis
    25. Locate state and local criminal arrest records
    26. Retrieve and analyze review criminal records
    27. Provide peace of mind
    28. Locate home phone numbers
    29. Locate cell phone numbers
    30. Identify owner of home or cell phone number
    31. Determine owners of corporation
    32. Retrieve and analyze corporate records
    33. Locate current or former executives
    34. Interview current or former executives
    35. Find and retrieve judgment and lien filings
    36. Research familial history
    37. Connect the dots
    38. Locate witnesses for a civil or criminal lawsuit
    39. Interview witnesses for a civil or criminal lawsuit
    40. Find assets
    41. Find current or historical boat registrations
    42. Find current or historical aircraft registrations
    43. Search for hidden assets
    44. Conduct business intelligence
    45. Discreet intelligence gathering
    46. Determine connections between parties
    47. Locate bank account information
    48. Locate current or former employees of a company
    49. Interview current or former employees of a company
    50. Locate significant inheritances
    51. Show you the big picture
    52. Identify a will for an estate
    53. Locate probate records
    54. Identify foreign assets
    55. Locate regulatory records
    56. Identify regulatory actions
    57. Identify professional licenses
    58. Determine prior disciplinary records for professional licenses
    59. Analyze state and federal political contributions
    60. Analyze state lobbyist records
    61. Analyze federal lobbyist records
    62. Identify potential whistleblowers
    63. Vet expert witnesses
    64. Interview industry sources
    65. Gather competitive intelligence
    66. Identify related party business transactions
    67. Retrieve and analyze non-profit financial filings
    68. Knock on doors
    69. Obtain and analyze Department of Labor Form 5500 Filings
    70. Submit FOIA / FOIL requests to government agencies
    71. Obtain driving record history (in applicable states)
    72. Find current vehicle registrations
    73. Find historical vehicle registrations
    74. Make you look brilliant
    75. Determine current market value of motor vehicles
    76. Assist with jury selection
    77. Background checks on prospective jurors
    78. Analyze documents for potential fraud
    79. Identify Risks
    80. Identifying corporate relationships
    81. Give you a competitive advantage
    82. Identify Uniform Commercial Code filings
    83. Foreign corporation research
    84. Help you manage sensitive situations
    85. Overseas litigation research
    86. Identify stock ownership
    87. Find facts
    88. Locate online resume
    89. Identify online networking profiles
    90. Locate historical video or news footage
    91. Conduct historical newspaper research
    92. Conduct mobile or stationary surveillance
    93. Perform clandestine operations
    94. Find undisclosed ties
    95. Identify and retrieve U.S. Tax Court cases
    96. Locate a missing person
    97. Identify and confirm education history
    98. Identify and confirm previous employment history
    99. Scour the Internet
    100. Research presence on social networks or message boards
    101. We will tell you what those bastards are up to!

Guide to Hiring a Private Investigator


  1. Lynn says

    Can a private investigator uncover weapon registration, including dates and the type of weapon? Also, can a PI investigate mental health records?

      • T says

        Why do think a PI can carry a weapon because of the career. Some people watch to much television. I have had people ask me if I have to take a course to carry a weapon. Every type of law enforcement or personal individuals have to have a CCW or Carry permit. Television has made it hard on Guys like us.

      • McKinzee says

        You can get an armed private investigators license. You can carry like a police officer would. However, if you get a concealed/open carry license you cannot carry while on the job. Open carry is stupid anyways. If a bad guy sees you with a gun on your hip next thing you know he has a gun in his hand. Very dumb.

  2. william rios says

    I appreciate how helpful and inspiring your website has been to a rookie like myself. I am grateful for how informative you are pertaining to how you basically operate your business. Not like other PIs who dont share their tricks and strategies to newbies, nevertheless give suggestions. I recently graduated a PI course in which I enjoyed tremendously. Not to brag, but with a 4.0 pt. grade average. I never though that i will do as well as i did, that being it was all in spanish. Having to read and understand all the laws and procedures in a different language was a challenge I am now waiting to take the state certification exam here in Puerto Rico. My intentions are to hopefully land an intern position in the states being that I need experience. I am willing to relocate wherever needed to pursue my career. I would appreciate any ideas or suggestions. The academy that I attended prepared me well, but I will be honored to get more information from a professional like yourself.

    Thank you for time,
    William Rios

  3. JMBC says

    Can you tell me, if a company has hired a PI to watch us, are they legally required to tell us truthfully “yes, or no”, if we ask them outright? And, do we have the right to know what info they obtained? Thank you!

  4. jimmy brown says

    My wife and i have a lawsuit against a hospital in arkansas. My wife died 9-14-2014. She knew who our lawyer was. They moved offices and I cant locate the main lawyer. Its a big lawsuit because my unborn child died because of negligence on the dr behalf. Could you help find that lawyer fast? I know the name of the hospital.

  5. Vivian says

    I need information on someone who is acting somewhat suspect. They live in my town and happen to be “instagram-famous” and put a lot of information on the internet. Would it be possible for the PI to scour the internet for useful information? Or is that not included in the investigation?

  6. Dustin says

    My wife recently filed for divorce. The origional process server she met with was a pi but it turned out he couldnt do the serving for one reason or another. He then started contacting my wife via calls and texts, offered to and did have my cell phone monitored by an “out of state friend” but told her not to tell anyone. I found out because she called me on a text i sent to someone before i had even told her about it. He did this all free of charge as a friend he said. Should i persue this with the state attorney general? I confronted him by phone but am not comfortable that he is stopping the process.

  7. says

    Great web site to share common interest. There are thousands of Detective Agencies in the industry, yet in my opinion, not all have the IQ nor the resources to provide solutions to clients. Anyone can perform Due Diligence using cybernet data bases, yet there are special cases that requires skills, talent, field investigations, HUMINT, intelligence and plain common sense. Just because you are a former FBI agent, Police Officer or Superman, its imperative to be a Dick Tracy type of Detective. I been recognized for such in national television due to my “Out of the Box” mentality to complex cases, contrary to the mainstream approaches by many Private Detectives.

  8. Linda says

    Would it be possible to locate someone or get more information on someone using a name and general location within a date range (years)?

  9. Dana says

    Is it possible for a PI to obtain marriage, divorce, and birth records in NY state? I’m not talking just about the information but actual documents?

      • says

        Great article, Mr. Willingham.
        I am surprised that no birth, marriage, divorce records are available in NY state. This situation does not happen in Spain, where I work, as they’re completely available.
        It’s pretty interesting to observe how countries legislate and what kind of information is possible to obtain or not.
        Regards from Barcelona (Spain)

  10. huss says

    Hi matey im currently on workers comp and the insurance company has sent private investigators to watch me now they are so stupid I spot them every time and wave sometimes they drive off and sometimes they just continue to film even me just walking im so sick of this its been a year now is there any thing I can do to get rid of them and stop them from recording me I feel like a criminal even people in the street have started to notice some things going on and they try and avoid me now they make it quite obvious they are watching me any ideas would be helpful cheers

  11. Christina Sampson says

    I have a full blooded bio brother who was given for adoption in 1952 in New York. I have his date of birth, hospital, original name, and lawyer who facilitated the adoption, but it was 61 years ago. It was a closed private adoption. My father (his father) is willing to sign any documents to assist in locating him. Is this mission impossible?

  12. says

    Excellent post! I agree that a PI can do several different things, especially depending on the case, person, etc. To me, this list gives those who are unsure of what they do a better idea. Thanks so much for sharing!

  13. Kain says

    So I’m curious. By “Provide Peace of Mind” would that include investigating mundane things…. so to speak. Because I have this friend who is… how do I put this… constantly out of touch. She claims she’s just busy. But when I ask she avoids the answer or replies with “I’ve just been studying”. And it causes me a great deal of grief. Would this be a possible job I could ask of a PI? Or is that a bit to mundane?

    • says

      You can certainly hire a private investigator for something like that, but in order to find out what she does, you would have to follow her which could cost thousands of dollars. If it’s worth that much to you to satisfy your curiosity, then by all means.

  14. Jessica says

    Hi there,

    My husband is in the interview process for a job. They are conducting a background search through a private investigative firm. Years ago, he was involved in a lawsuit (nothing illegal) at the car dealership he worked out of. Someone said that he and boss were guilt of racial slander. It was settled out of court and the final document said it was all confidential and no one could discuss it. Will that be something they will find out about?

  15. Charity says

    I just went though a nasty divorce ( 1 year 3 days) and my ex got away with covering up the fact that we had cash savings (not in a bank). Im wondering if a PI can investigate into income vs. as many expenses as possible to come up with even a rough assessment of what would be in cash savings? Im talking of following food stamp transactions(how little we spent on food/month -he is very controlling), utility bills, SS checks that were saved up a cashed at the same time(some times it was 3 at a time, not sure if there is any way of tracing this kind of thing or not because I already tried to go though the bank and the transaction doesn’t go on the account if its just cashed), all transactions with with hospital bills, everything. Also wondering if a PI can track down info about someones mental state from when they were back in school, like 30 years back, at the age of 13-15 or so (he was told by his school to go to counseling), as well as finding out what is on the one mental eval that he did have?

    • Charity says

      I came up with Income vs. Expenses and because they were such low numbers the court said that under normal circumstances it would be impossible to save as much as I was clamming. What the Judge does not get is my ex is obsessed about money and control and thats why our bills were so low…etc…I really dont care about the money as much as I do that there are 2 kids involved and they have given him more say even though I am the custodial parent, and this could be detrimental to the children. The money thing is the only way I have to prove that I do know what Im talking about…the court did not seem to take into consideration what I was saying at all. Im not mad about it as much as I am scared for my children. This man is abusive and controlling and thats why I was not willing to go back to him after the 4th assault.

    • says

      It’s nearly impossible to get to that level of detail of income vs. expenses without access to all of his financial information with his permission. If you want to go to that level of detail, I would strongly consider hiring a forensic accountant.

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  18. MoHawk says

    I was suspended from work, because our company investigator said he has proof of me stealing on video, but never showed what video. Claims that the get away car in the video look and match the one that belongs to a resident I am living with, and so I’m involved. He did let me glance at a black and white picture of a car in motion that seems to be it. Question is can I ask to examine, justify, and dismiss his claims and dispute his accusations, or do I get a lawyer?

  19. Monika Blood says

    What I’d like to ask is are private investigators available to the public?

    Example: Using a private investigator to look for my old friends from elementary school.

  20. SusanD says

    I am going through a very nasty divorce. My husband is trying hard to find anything and everything on me to be used in court. I left him due to abuse. He subpeonaed my work and daughters school. Now he has a PI trying to see if I’ve comitted adultery by going to neighbors family to question them. I have not committed adultery but I am feeling very harassed. My question, so I can stop being so paranoid, is…can the PI hack into my computer (I’m not living with the husband so no one has direct access to my computer or phone), and can they hack into my phone? Can they read emails and or texts? I am constantly feeling like I’m on stage and want some peace of mind. Also, if they can…is it legal?

    • Brian Willingham says

      The truth is that any motivated party can hack your email and hack your phone and get your texts and messages, but it’s completely illegal. Having said that, it’s not easy and requires some serious technical skills not to mention money.

    • Brian Willingham says

      Tax returns are not public information, however, the government will ultimately go after the person and a lien or a tax court case will be publicly available. This may take many years, however.

  21. Patricia Powers says

    Can you try to track down a missing will? The will in question left property to the man’s sons but, with it being missing, it is all going to the current wife (not the mother of the children) by intestate succession. I am an attorney/family friend trying to help the sons.

    • Brian Willingham says

      Thanks Patricia. As you know, wills are not legally required to be filed anywhere, so tracking them down is nearly impossible. If it was a matter of trying to track down someone who may have witnessed the will, or an old attorney, that would be a different story. Unfortunately, you have a tough situation on your hands.

  22. says

    Brian, as a PI myself I have to congratulate you on your superb list! There are things a Private Investigator can do that I never even thought of – and I’ve been in the business for over 20 years!

    Take a look at my website – maybe you’ll think of a few more things for your list.


    Donna Smith
    All Pro Legal Investigations

  23. Shayla says

    Hi…If I wanted to find all the info concerning me on the internet, pictures, or things that were posted about me, would I use a PI for that? I know there are things about me on the net, but I don’t know where to go to retrieve it. Would I use a PI for that? Thanks

    • Shayla says

      So how would they go about it? Would I have to provide where I knew the info to be? Or would the PI be able to go by my name and photos? Would I have to provide some info?

      • Brian Willingham says

        You don’t *have* to provide them with anything, but understand that you are paying them to find information. I would provide as much information as you can.

        • Shayla says

          So how would you go about starting to find the info you needed? What if you’re not up on the latest sites and the people who posted it, knew that? Then how would you start? The PI, I do understand I would need them for the bigger things, but how do you start with the smaller things?

  24. says

    Hello there Brian! Very interesting article about 101 Things a Private Investigator Can Do. You did think about much many a lot of issues which a private detective can do for his customers. Romanian detective agency RDA congratulates your work!

  25. John says

    Is it legal for someone with independent experience in low risk bodyguard ing, and extensive home study in the PI field to offer services and/or work at events and promotions without licensing in the PI profession?

    • Brian Willingham says

      I am not sure I fully understand the question, but if you are conducting private investigative work, most states require that you have a license.

  26. Mark says

    Is it possible to obtain any video surveillance or photos taken during the investigation from the investigator you have hired? I recently hired an investigator who took some photos to show me the specific activity and he refused to release them to me. Is this a common practice? I was only shown the photos but given a written report.

  27. K.C. says


    I am a former PI. I quit a few years ago to switch careers & I moved to another state. I am now having a lot of problems finding a job. It’s been 7 months now that I haven’t been working & all I can do is just keep looking for a job. I keep wondering if my former career as a PI has Human Resources personnel afraid to call me up even for an interview due to my former career choice? I worry that some people may be concerned that I am still a PI or that I am a sneaky type of person which I am not at all. What do you think? I just can’t figure out why nobody is interested in hiring me or even calling me for an interview? I’ve considered not listing my PI experience on my resume, but I find that career experience to be very helpful because I learned so much with that job. What do you think?

    • Brian Willingham says

      Personally, I don’t think it would affect your resume. While there are certainly some stigmas with the investigative field, it also shows that your are resourceful and skillful.

  28. says

    I found your list very interesting. There were a couple of things that I had never considered before. We are currently working on finding my daughter-in-law’s brother who was adopted and also two nieces that were adopted at birth. There is very little information on these three people, making it difficult to find them.

  29. says

    If you have information that you want to know and you want to be certain about something then a private investigator is the one to contact to. They are capable of providing details that you need even in the tiniest angle.

  30. Michael says


    If one was charged with misdemeanor for possession of marijuana, went to court and received a small fine and a traffic violation instead. Would a PI be able to see the initial charge? or simply the end result.

    • Brian Willingham says

      If an investigator, or anyone else for that matter, pulls the records from the court, it will reflect the marijuana charge. In some cases, people are only interested in the final result, however, and probably would not go to the extent of pulling the records.

        • Brian Willingham says

          The answer depends, but in some cases, investigators rely on databases which may not tell the full story. It is much easier and more cost effective to rely on the databases than to go to the court and review the records. It’s not a good practice, but it happens often.

  31. Patricia says

    A PI came into the office that I worked with 3 other people. They said they were interested in the property which was for sale and asked if he could take a few pictures. I said yes. He pulled out a video camera, panned the room and anchored on ME! He stayed on me for like 20 seconds (long time). I was on the phone and put up my hands to say “Hey, what are you doing??

    He shut off the camera and they left. I have a law suit against a Pharmacy company, I know they hired him.. Is that legal?

    • Brian Willingham says

      As long as they were not breaking and entering and were rightfully let into the office, there is nothing illegal about it.

  32. says

    This is a fantastic list. It covers a number of things that I had no idea private investigators were even able to do. #74 is my personal favorite!

  33. Sofia says

    Hi, I found this site very informative and comprehensive. I have a situation where I just found out that my mother had an affair with a married man and I was a product of that affair. At the time, my mother lived in Italy (I was born in Tuscany) and the man who is my biological father lived in the US. This man already had a family of his own, with an adopted daughter and a biological son, who would be my half brother. I am not sure of his name, as I found out that my father lied to my mother about his last name. Currently, I live in the US and both of my parents are now deceased, which makes this even more challenging. If I were to pursue my curiosity and try to find my brother, what would it entail? Would it be smarter to hire a PI for their expertise? Thank you and have a wonderful day!

    • Brian Willingham says

      I would certainly discuss your situation with an investigator and see if it’s possible to find your brother. Based on what you provided, it’s certainly going to be challenging, however.

  34. Dalia says

    this is more of a question then comment. Do you also work on looking up information on other people for personal reasons? I lost contact with my father since I was 5 and I want to find him now.

  35. Remy says

    can you elaborate on #47.

    can a private investigator find out, say, what I bought with a debit or regular credit card way back in 1996? or is that out of their reach and pretty much illegal?

    And if it ain’t illegal, damn, it should be. :)

  36. says

    I think this is a very useful site to educate people on the various assignments a PI can do.
    Do you do work outside the US? I am currently in Oman and require info on someone living in Morocco.
    Thank you.

    • Brian Willingham says

      Thanks Sandra. We have worked with people all over the world, but not specifically in Morocco. You may want to check on the World Association of Detectives site (www.wad.net) if you need someone in-country.

  37. Lorene Spears says

    Great site. Do investigators in Intelligence firms need to be licensed? We were assigned professionals (a number of retired key government personnel) by a prestigious law firm in WDC while plaintiffs in a lawsuit. We paid them approximately $190,000 but are now filing a Federal lawsuit for legal malpractice against the law firm-also encompassing the Intel firm. A colleague brought up a good point, in that we never thought to ask if they were licensed. Is that necessary? Our former lead investigator is located in Texas and so are one of the firms, the others in WDC and Virginia; but these people were former high level officials, so we just trusted them. Thanks ever so much. Lorene Spears

    • Brian Willingham says

      It’s a bit of a grey area, Lorene. It would depend on the states that the business was being conducted and the local regulations with regard to investigative firms. I suggest that you review the local regulations involving private investigators in Texas and D.C.

  38. says

    This list of things that a private investigator will do is very interesting. Out of all the things on the list, I didn’t realize that #75 and #76 is something they would do. I am currently looking for a private investigator in new york who can hopefully perform the majority of whats on this list. Thank you for sharing.

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