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Surveillance During Pandemic Lockdowns: Here’s How Private Investigators Have Responded

PI firms across the country have been dealing with a broad variety of situations brought on by COVID-19 and related local regulations – an issue that continues to be prominent in the United States. Surveillance jobs, in particularly, were put under strain by pandemic conditions, as daily habits shifted and the ability to monitor someone without being noticed significant decreased.

Over the months, private investigators have been talking (and sharing) about how they are approaching surveillance jobs, how their businesses have changed, and how they are dealing with clients in these unprecedented times. Here are some of the key practices they’ve mentioned.

Explaining Guidelines Clearly to Clients

One thing that most PIs shared in common was underlining the changes in their industry directly to clients. Any client interested in surveillance jobs needs to understand how 2020 has changed how those jobs are done – and that means having a conversation about the limits of private investigation, including aspects like:

  • Mandatory quarantines making it difficult or impossible to track someone’s movement
  • Emptier public spaces that make it harder to discreetly follow someone
  • Remote work and at-home policies that may keep people from habitual activities
  • Mask ordinances making it more challenging to identify people

The details of these conversations are important, but vary based on location and current regulations. The goal is for clients to understand the current limitations of the job.

Scheduling New Surveillance Times

If effective surveillance isn’t possible in a specific area or industry because of pandemic conditions, what should PIs do? Well, many are relying on rescheduling surveillance for the future, hoping that any local regulations will eventually ease and allow them to get back on the streets for customary jobs. This means working with clients on a one-on-one basis to reschedule potential surveillance for the future and find ways to stay in contact, often while doing as much digital surveillance and research as possible in the meantime.

It also means deferring payments or certain fees for the future, which may require more innovative budgeting.

Taking Advantage of Pandemic Conditions for Certain Surveillance Jobs

Where regulations allow, other PIs are using COVID-19 to advertisement specific surveillance skills that may be even more useful during these times. That includes:

  • Work-related fraud: This is a big one as so many companies switch to work-from-home situations. However, that also means that many business owners want to ensure their employees are actually meeting obligations while at home, something that we’ve discussed in previous months. This is a ripe new field for PIs skilled in surveillance, although potentially more challenging to conduct as streets have become both quieter and emptier.
  • Extra-marital affairs: These jobs may be difficult, but some PIs are still accepting them for one important reason. If an extra-marital affair is still going in during COVID regulations, it can be much easier to spot and gather evidence for.
  • Child custody cases: Similarly, watching parents for child custody cases may be more effective, because it’s less likely that a parent will be taking their child anywhere or mingling with others, which can make it easier to spot lies, crimes, or other issues.

Switching Away from Litigation

Another key trend that PIs have discussed is a switch away from litigation jobs in 2020. This is largely due to slowdowns and major changes in how local courts are processing new cases under lockdown. In many areas, already-busy courts have become overwhelmed and things have frequently stalled, leading to a lack of litigation cases and any involved surveillance. PIs that have depending on court-related cases for income have had to find new fields to expand into as a result.

Focusing More on Process Serving

One of those new fields that PIs have found is, unsurprisingly, process serving. This is one area where coronavirus regulations have not had a negative impact – on the contrary, there are benefits for process servers during these times. One of the chief advantages is simply that people are more likely to be at home and are easier to find. However, this has also become a more competitive field as a result.

Advising on Digital Security

We mentioned that more surveillance jobs are opening up as business owners want to monitor remote-work employees. But this is also leading to another expanding field for private investigators – clients with questions about digital security. These are owners themselves or others that may have previously worked with private investigators about digital matters.

Now, stuck at home and working with new systems, apps, and computers, these clients are turning to PIs to ask for advice about how to protect their data. They want to know if their internet security measures are appropriate, if they need to change any server protocols, and so on. PIs with the experience are helping them navigate new practices, webcam covers, VPNs, and a variety of other protective measures.


How many of these best practices has your firm been practicing? Do you see any potential strategies for expanding your business? 2020 has made many surveillance jobs more difficult, but it has also created new opportunities for firms to reposition and discover additional strengths. Keep an eye on our insights for more information on how the industry continues to change!

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