Introduction to Ethics for Private Investigators

(Content Under Development : Coming soon)

Accepted in: NC, SC, TN, KY, NM, KS, GA, IA, MN & OK (approved for 2 hours)

A private investigator must always ensure to operate within the scope of the law during an investigation. It is also imperative that the decisions made by an investigator meet a high ethical standard. Though an unethical action may not necessarily be illegal, maintaining positive ethical integrity will protect the reputations of you and your client.

Purpose of the Course Ethics for Private Investigators

There are countless resources available to tech-savvy private investigators. With those resources, however, there are many grey areas where the law may be misconstrued, misinterpreted, or sometimes abused to achieve desirable results. Investigators must have a firm grasp of the ethicality of their actions to avoid directly impacting the lives of those involved in the investigation.

This course aims to equip investigators with the knowledge required to understand better the ethical implications behind every action taken during an investigation. Examples will illustrate how seemingly how to safely navigate situations where the law is ambiguous.

Learning Objectives

At the end of this block of instruction, students will be able to:

  1. Understand the difference between an illegal action and an unethical action.
  2. Understand some of the laws which can impede the course of an investigation and why those laws exist.
  3. Analyze situations where moral and ethical grey areas may affect the course or outcome of an investigation.
  4. Evaluate the ethicality of decisions made by investigators in hypothetical and real-life examples of cases.

Learning Strategies

  • PowerPoint style presentation
  • Sample cases
  • Certificate of Completion

Define Ethics

  1. Legality vs. Ethicality. What is the difference between an illegal action and an unethical action? Can an action be illegal yet ethical? Unethical yet illegal? Why should unethical actions be avoided despite their legality?

Gramm Leach Bliley Act

    • Definition. β€œThe Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) requires financial institutions – companies that offer consumers financial products or services like loans, financial or investment advice, or insurance – to explain their information-sharing practices to their customers and to safeguard sensitive data.”(source:
    • Examples of potential pretexting: Calling a residence to determine if someone is home, then using a fabricated name. Is this illegal? Is this unethical? Is this pretexting?


  1. Entrapment. Entrapment is a legal defense against the practice of being coaxed into illegal action. It is unlawful to coerce someone into committing a crime. This practice is also unethical in cases of insurance fraud. Suppose an insurance company has hired an investigator to conduct surveillance on an individual who claims to have a physical impairment. In such a case, it is not good practice to manufacture a situation that would compel the injured individual to perform a physically demanding task.
  2. Pretending to be the subject. This falls under the umbrella of pretexting.
  3. Identity fraud.
    1. Impersonating an officer. Impersonating a law enforcement official is a crime. A private investigator must never use their badge to mislead any individual into believing they are an officer of the law.

Taped Conversations & Wiretapping

  1. Wiretapping is the practice of monitoring or recording a phone conversation.
  2. One-party consent: It is a federal crime to use a wiretap or otherwise record others unless at least one of the parties has given prior consent. If you are recording the conversation, you do not have to reveal that you are recording the conversation to the other party.
  3. Two-party consent: In the following states, all parties involved in a conversation must consent to be recorded: CA, CT (for electronic recordings only), FL, HI, IL, MD, MA, MT, NH, OR, PA, WA.
  4. Secret wiretapping. What is the legal and ethical difference between recording someone secretly and recording someone with their consent or knowledge?
  5. Conversations recorded in public versus private settings. How do these laws vary by state? What is the federal statute on secretly recording conversations? (sources:,

Private Property & Private Information

  1. Private investigators cannot legally go onto private property. Trespassing is illegal and applies to private investigators.
  2. Private investigators require a subpoena to obtain financial or medical records.
  3. Dumpster Diving. What is the legality of dumpster diving to obtain evidence? Is evidence obtained through dumpster diving admissible in court? Is this an ethical practice?
    1. Though dumpster diving is not illegal in many places, you may be committing other crimes, such as trespassing, if a dumpster is located on private property.

Course Information

Adult Education Methods Utilized

  • Downloadable presentations and handouts
  • Case studies

Textbook and Course Materials

  • Articles
  • On-demand video
  • Downloadable materials
  • Certificate of Completion

Course Requirements

  • Internet connection (DSL, LAN, or cable connection desirable)
  • Access to the internet
  • Ability to use a personal computer

Course Offerings

  • Certificate of Completion
  • 60-day unlimited course access

Course Structure

This course will be delivered entirely online through the website. Participants will use website credentials to log in and access their accounts. Participants will access online lessons, course materials, and resources. The course will be broken down into modules for self-paced learning. Access to the course is limited to 60 days. Following the completion of the course, students will receive a certificate of completion for Continuing Education Credits and licensing renewal.

*Make sure this course is approved by your state for licensing renewal.

  • This course will be delivered online through a course management website named private investigator
  • To access this course online, you will need to access the Internet and a supported Web browser such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome.

Technical Assistance

If you require technical assistance at any time during the course or to report a problem: