Australian Institute of Criminology

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Private investigators in Australia

Media Release

19 August 2002

In a study released today by the Australian Institute of Criminology it was found that for every dollar spent on an investigation by private investigators between three and six dollars are saved in uncovering fraud.

The study looks at what private investigators and commercial agents do, how effective they are, the legal and ethical issues facing them and how their efforts can be maximised by clients.

In releasing the report, Dr Adam Graycar said "Australia has about 25,000 private investigators whose work has a strong commercial and legal focus, with particular activity in anti-fraud work. As private investigation is a commercial activity it appears that they produce results of value to clients". "However", he said, "there are significant legal and ethical issues which impact on their work".

The authors of the report, Dr Tim Prenzler and Michael King found that the work of private agents could be split into four main categories:

  • Anti-Fraud work. Mainly for insurance, including factual and surveillance work, e.g. interviewing claimants.
  • Legal Work. Background and factual work for lawyers in civil and criminal cases, e.g. locating witnesses.
  • Commercial Inquiry. Private businesses hiring investigators to carry out several different tasks, e.g. debugging, liability investigation, pre-employment checks.
  • Domestic Investigation. More personal tasks, e.g. checking partner fidelity, abducted child recoveries, missing persons.

It also found that:

  • Perhaps the most pressing legal and ethical issues facing private investigators are ones relating to breaches of privacy. This includes physical trespassing, along with gaining sensitive information about people.
  • Interviewees were strongly of the opinion that tougher licensing and enhanced pre-service training were required to underwrite competency and integrity.
  • Interviewees claimed that they were able to obtain concrete evidence in 70 to 90 percent of cases.