Considering the plethora of detective television shows that have kept us entertained over the years – think the 1980’s renditions of Magnum PI or Remington Steele – it is little wonder that misconceptions about the work of Private Investigators abound.
Television may have us believing that the career of a private investigator consists of regular car chases and finding stolen jewels, but according to those who work within the industry, the reality is nowhere near as exciting. Stephen Foster* (not his real name) who has worked for a Brisbane investigations firm for over 15 years, says real life private investigating involves far less of the glamour and far more of the mundane.
“Entire days or weeks can be spent doing internet searches and obtaining data for clients. The biggest difference between real life Private Investigators and those from our favourite TV shows is that these days we must do everything by the book, and operate within the law”, Stephen explains.
Considering that there is around $1.4 billion lost through insurance fraud within Australia each year, it is hardly surprising that around two thirds of the work undertaken by a PI involves the investigation of workplace injury and insurance claims. In fact, Private investigation is regarded as a growth industry due to the increase in fraud, and the determination of major corporations to track down the offenders.
According to Stephen, this can involve painstaking surveillance work. “Private Investigators have to be prepared to do whatever work the job entails. This can mean spending many hours stationed outside a private residence or workplace just waiting for something to happen. On these types of jobs, you basically live out of your car until you get what you are looking for – and in some cases, that can mean coming up empty”. The remaining third of work undertaken includes investigating cheating partners and missing persons.
Due to the irregular and often lengthy hours, along with dealing with “the seedier side of life”, the job of a PI may not appeal to everyone. According to Stephen, the job is “a mix of the mundane and the maniacal – definitely not for those who prefer working 9 to 5”.