How Do I Become a Certified Private Investigator Online?

Research what it takes to become a certified private investigator. Learn about the training, certification and licensing programs that are required, some of which can be completed online, to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Law Enforcement degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Private Investigator Do?

Private investigators are hired to gather clues and solve cases for individuals or businesses. As a private investigator, you'll use various tools and techniques to find answers for your clients. Depending on the assignment, some tasks you may perform include verifying someone's employment and income or criminal history. Most importantly, you'll need to understand the laws and legal issues around your work, since licensure is typically required.

The following chart gives more information about a career in investigation.

Training Required On-the-job, with optional associate's or bachelor's
Education Field of Study Criminal justice
Key Skills Computer research, interviewing, collecting evidence
Licensure and Certification Licensure required, certification optional
Job Growth (2014-24) 5% (as fast as average) for private investigators and detectives*
Median Salary (May 2015) $45,610*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Is a Private Investigator?

A private investigator uses tools and techniques, such as computers, photographs and stakeouts, to connect clues and solve cases. Individuals and businesses may employ you to conduct background research, find missing persons, oversee security or perform surveillance. Some of your reports may help clients settle financial issues, divorce settlements, business problems or custody battles. You may conduct interviews, take photos and use a computer for background searches during your investigations.

What Education Do I Need?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), you don't need any formal training to become a private investigator (PI), but a postsecondary degree is beneficial (www.bls.gov). You may consider an associate or bachelor's degree program in criminal justice. Both of these programs are offered online by accredited colleges. Also, be sure to find an online program that meets the requirements of your state for certification and licensing. Essential training is learned on the job, so consider interning or shadowing a licensed PI as well.

Do I Need Licensure?

Most states require you to obtain a license to work as a private investigator, though requirements for licensure vary by state. The National Council of Investigation & Security Services, the professional association for security professionals and private investigators, includes a list of state licensing agencies (www.nciss.com). Please note, a state might not require you to become licensed, but a city might.

How Can I Become Certified?

After you've received licensure, voluntary certification is available that can help demonstrate your skills and credentials to future clients; some certifications can be earned completely online. For example, the International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners offers Certified Computer Examiner (CCE) certification totally online; however, you're encouraged to take CCE training through an onsite training center (www.isfce.com). This certification enables you to perform digital forensics in a criminal prosecution case.

Other certifications are available, but are not offered online as of 2011. The American Society for Industrial Security offers three options that are relevant for private investigators: the Certified Protection Professional (CPP), the Professional Certified Investigator (CPI) and the Physical Security Professional (PSP). Candidates must have at least a high school diploma or GED, meet experience requirements and pass an exam given at a testing center (www.asisonline.org). The National Association of Legal Investigators administers the Certified Legal Investigator credential (www.nali.com). This certification is for investigators who focus on preparing cases for trial.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A similar career that requires a high school diploma or a college degree is a police detective. Police detectives perform similar work to private investigators, but for criminal cases. Security guards only require a high school diploma. Those in this career protect and monitor property and enforce rules.

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