We know that more private investigators are opting for a focus on office work than ever before. An entire smorgasbord of services helps PIs search for people, financial information, and more from their desk. Remote work only became more common during COVID, solidifying the trend. And keeping inside on the computer never looks more attractive than when winter weather starts getting cold.
But if you’re transitioning to more at-home PI work for this winter, you should brush up with our series of tips on how to maximize your time and follow any applicable laws. If it’s been a while since you’ve put so much focus on home work, don’t forget these steps!
Practice Work/Home Separation
Device security and privacy remain very important when a PI works from home. Even with a dedicated office, you may be surrounded by family members who could potentially access your work devices. Invite a friend over for the winter holidays, and they could have access, too. Clients will want to know their data and any sensitive information is protected when they work with a PI.
The best solution is to practice strict separation of your work and home data. Use robust passwords on your work devices. Don’t keep work data stored on family computers or other devices that can be easily accessed by others. Assure clients you are following robust data safety requirements and that their personal information is only available to you. Sometimes that means taking extra measures, like keeping work contacts off your home phone or updating your work email passwords.
Remember Consent Laws Usually Apply to Web-Based Conversations
PIs typically follow consent laws carefully when making phone calls or recording someone in a public spot for an interview. Consent can vary by state, with some states only needing one party to consent, and often has to be specifically given. Without following laws like these, recorded conversations are usually inadmissible as evidence and could even get PIs in trouble.
It’s common for the rules to feel hazy when it comes to online conversations. After all, hosts can often choose to record meetings by default, and in business settings it’s common to keep recorded meetings for legal or workflow purposes. But if you’re interviewing someone online as part of an investigation, then consent laws still apply. Even if the recording is automatically turned on, you’ll still need to get vocal consent that the meeting is being recorded. Otherwise, the hassle you went through to arrange the web conference may not do you much good.
There’s some gray area around “passive” consent like seeing a notification that an online meeting is being recorded or requiring users to click a “This meeting is being recorded” button on apps like Zoom. If your app has these features, enable them and you may not need to worry about getting vocal and active consent for every meeting. Finally, ask clients if they have any preferred file format for sending transcripts, videos, and other important documentation for meetings.
Practice Robust Security
Use strong passwords for all your PI accounts and services. When possible, enable a browser-based or app-based VPN (Virtual Private Network) service so that your data and location are encrypted when you work online. Keep your security software regularly updated. Steps like these help secure valuable evidence and protect privacy for both you and your client.
If you’re doing a deep dive on social media to try and get important information, then you may be creating a lot of new social media accounts to connection with certain people. Keep in mind that while you can create fake accounts, you can’t try to impersonate someone and gain access to a social media account under false pretenses. When you create your “sock puppet” accounts, use a password manager to create strong passwords and keep them saved so you’re never confused.
Document Your Activities Thoroughly
Working from home can often feel distracting. However, PIs need thorough documentation for their investigations, both to meet client requirements and potentially legal scrutiny. Practice regular at home documentation. That can include voice memos, recording of your tasks during work hours, references to what you completed, and more. Include details about the time and the client so you know exactly what happened.
Check Your Liability Insurance for Work-From-Home Details
General and professional liability insurance should still protect your work activities when you’re working from home. But it’s a good idea to review your policy for details or call up your insurance agent and ask if anything will change. Sometimes certain aspects of insurance may change when you’re spending time in a home office, especially if you are inviting clients over to your home, storing client data on home devices, or other important changes.
Remote work during winter doesn’t have to be difficult. Practice safe security, keep in mind digital consent laws, and stay warm! As long as you set up a few rules to keep your work info as safe as it would be in a separate office, spending winter at home won’t be a problem. But when spring comes around again, more active PI investigations tend to pick up, so prepare to hit the streets to meet the newest client needs.