By: Ralph D. Thomas


Here is some very interesting data compiled by the National Association Of Investigative Specialists concerning what private investigators and investigative agencies specialize in. The data was compiled by radomely selecting 400 investigative agencies from all parts of the United States that had listed their specializations over the last six months. Some of the specializations where merged. For example, if someone put down skip trace, that was counted in missing persons totals. If someone put down insurance fraud, that was simply tallied as insurance. It should be pointed out that most agencies list more than one specialization. Some list everything. Other adopt another approach by putting down general investigation as their specialization. In fact, out of 400 agencies, 61 listed general investigation as a specialization but three forths of them listed more specific specializations. It's also interesting to note that only 39 listed the general term "civil and criminal investigations."

If you are wondering what in the world to begin to specialize in, you can use this little survey as guidelines. There are advantages and disadvantages to specialization. The advantage, of course, is that you can more easily identify segments of the population that would most likely need your specialized service. It also gives you the opportuntiy to focus in on a specific subject, start boning up on the subject and become an expert at it. By specializing, you are identifying yourself as an expert in a certain area. You'll stand out from the investigative crowd. On the other hand, narrow specialization becomes restrictive to the amount of business you can capture. For example, someone needing a surveillance doesn't want to hire an expert in missing persons for their surveillance. It's kind of a catch 22 these days. Most users of investigative services know that generalists in private investigative practice are fine but they are not a master of anything. That's the way people think these days. That is why you see so many agencies listing their expert specializations and throwing in general investigation. They are attempting to obtain the best of both worlds.What does all this mean to you? Let us look at the figures more closely and see if we can spot some trends.


Note: Listed from the most often quoted specialization to the least. These are the top twenty. The number after each specialization gives the total number quoted out of 400. All but 21% listed more than one which were tallied.

(Click to obtain more information on these specializations)

First, it should be no surprise that missing persons is the number one specialization. If you don't do it you are missing a huge market share in the investigative industry. To really make money in this area, you'll need to know more than just how to run database searches. If you wish to bone up on the subject, the best selling book is How To Find Anyone Anywhwere. Better yet, you can begain to establish yourself as a missing persons location expert by taking the official missing persons certification course (CMPI) through NAIS.

The legdenary David Mollsion, one of the nation's best hardcore skip tracer's in the business, will be conducting a class on hardcore skip tracing at the NAIS Convention this Labor Day Weekend. Don't miss it.

Insurance and surveillance are running right behind missing persons. Insurance is a harder market to break into simple because your clients exist in insurance offices spread across America. It's expensive to market to these people and they tend to like to be wined and dinned. If you want the best in training material in the area of insurance investigtion and surveillance, NAIS offers the following top manuals on the subject: Secrets Of Surveillance By ACM IV Security Services, The Physical Surveillance Training Manual, by Ralph Thomas, Serious Surveillance For The Private Investigator. Insurance Claims manuals will also serve you will. The best ones on the market are Bill Zirorek's new manual Special Investigtion Units and Neil Argaves's Private Investigator's Handbook Of Insurance Investigtions.

Background investigations is a huge market that's easy to enter. The level of skill needed to perform most background checks is not that great and a board selection of clients exist for this type of specialization. One of the best books published on background investigtions comes with the snappy title, When In Doubt, Check Him Out by Joseph Culligan.

Assets investigtion business is way up. Clients for this type of specialization come from all walks of life. It's a broad area to specialize in. Secrets Of Assets Searching is one of the top manuals written on the subject as well as Ron Mendell's book Assets Investigtion. Ron Mendell himself will be presenting expert knowledge on how to conduct assets invvestigtions at the 95 NAIS P.I. Convention in September.

Criminal Defense Investigations appear to be on the rise. This is a direct result of the court trends to give all defendants the right to an investigator just like they do a lawyer. Most of these cases are coming from law offices and, in many areas of the country, it's not a bad idea to get to know the local judges. The P.I. Catalog maintains a who page of manuals on various aspects of criminal investigtions. Death Investigator's Handbook by Doctor Louis Eliopulos is one of the better books to be published in the last several years in this braod subject area. Crime Scene Search And Physical Evidence Handbook, Law Enforcement Investigtions and the DEA Narotics Investigator's Manual are also fine material that will enhance your skills and knowledge of the subject.

One of the nation's most established and well known experts on criminal defense and homicide investigations is the legdonary Bill Dear of Dallas, Texas. Mr. Dear will be presenting his expertize on how to conduct these types of cases at the Labor Day NAIS P.I. Convention. Don't miss this one.

Database and online searching specializations looks lucrative from the onset. However, the major clients of online information brokers in our area tends to be other investigators. Keeping that in mind, you'll note that there are fourteen of them for every one hundred and ninety investigative agencies based on this data. If the average agency will use your service five times per month (which is high) and you get $50.00 for each search (which is high) and you can only capture an average of thirteen clients, you'll quickly see that the numbers don't add up right for high volume in this area any more. Unless you have a way for mass marketing, I'd stay out of it.

From another perspective online computer skills have definate advantages when combined with other specializations such as background, assets and missing persons investigtions. How To Investigate By Computer has been a top selling manual on the subject for almost ten years. Tammy Leon and Barbara Thomas will be holding breakout groups on online searching at the 95 NAIS P.I. Convention. Don't miss it!

Service Of Process has always been a major revenue producing area of private investigation. It's not uncommon to find a large agency in a metropolitan area billing an average of several thousand dollars per week. However, it takes a while to build that kind of volume. Nelson Tucker's Secrets Of Successful Process Serving is the number one selling manual on the subject.

I was surprised to see bodyguard and executive protection services as number ten. This is way up from seven to ten years ago. A close look at this market, which has always been narrow, shows a swelling demand. There are several excellent manuals on the subject including Leroy Thompson's Dead Clients Don't Pay and Benny Mares's Executive Protection. Provding Protective Servcies is a U.S. government reprint that is extremely well done.

Mac MaCullen is one of the nation's leading trainer's in the area of bodyguard and executive protection work. He will be giving an expert's presentation on the subject at the fall NAIS P.I. Convention. If you are considering moving into this area with your investigative service, don't miss this one.

Pre-Employment is a huge market caused by the federal government outlawing the use of polygraph for pre-employment several years ago. These types of cases tend to be easy to obtain when you prepackage your services at flat rates. However, some major players have entered this market with cut-rate pricing. it's becoming a competitive market to be in but case assignments and , repeat business clients are common and volume easy to build. Pre-Employment Investigation For Private Investigators is a very well done manual on the subject.

Liability investigation is still a major mainstay for many agencies but the focus of liability has changed. The new hot topics are premises liability and security negligence. Ed Pankau will be presenting how to investigate these types of subjects at the 1995 NAIS Investigator's Convention Labor Day weekend. Another raising area of liability investigation is what Gary Hyatt calls falling tree investigtions in which government entities are found liable. Mr. Hyatt will be teaching this subject at the upcoming NAIS P.I. Convention this fall.

Accident investigation has always ben a major mainstay of these types of investigation areas. There are two very well done manuals in print on the subject. Jack Murray's Accident Investigation In The Private Sector and Ed Livesay's Secrets Of Accident Investigation are both excellent.

Mr. Jack Murray will be speaking at the 1995 P.I. Convention on both how to conduct an accident investigtion and how to testify in court.

I am not surprised and you shouldn't be either that countermeasures services has moved from way below 25 up to number twelve in specialization. This area is a vast untapped market for several reasons. Many agencies claim to offer countermeasures services but you can not do it with a $99.00 bug tester. You need something a little better than that, but you don't need $20,000 in equipment either. A modest investment of between $3,000 and $5,000 in the right equipment will get you started right.

Although many countermeasures professionals attempt to get many in the investigative profession to believe that you need years of training and tens of thousands of dollars in equipment, their figures on training and equipment investment is inflated.

With some study (not years of it) and a modest investment of several thousand dollars in equipment (not several ten thousand) investigative agencies are finding that they can enter this specialiation quite easily. The market was once controled by a mere handfull of people but demand is swelling and more and more investigtive agencies are finding lucrative assignments in this market. If you want to check this area out, check your copy of the P.I. Catalog for moderatly priced equipment and training aids. Sam Pritts and Cody Woods from The Spy Exchange And Security Center will be presenting hands-on demonstrations of countermeasures equipment at the NAIS P.I. Convention Labor Day weekend in Austin, Tx. this year. If you are considering entering the countermeasures business or already are in it, don't miss this informative presentation.

Domestic investigations are down. Forty years ago, it was number one and has slowly dropped to below the top ten. However, domestic cases should be around for a long time. Due to no-fault divorce laws, the focus and reason for domestic cases has changed. It used to be, you needed to obtain grounds for a divorce. Now-a-days it's a matter of confirmation of suspision, money and child custody issues.

Political investigations have come way up. They used to be right around number 30. I saw it coming. It's becoming more and more difficult to run for office and more and more expensive.

Bail Bond Recovery is way up. I'm seeing more and more investigators attempting to specialize in this. It can be very profitable. However, you have got to be one of the best skip tracers around. This is a specialization for the adventurous. Many in other areas of investigation tend to be snobish towards it becuase of the seedy reputations in the past. However, it's becoming a specialized area with professionals. One of the more popular programs is Bob Burton's organization. Burton holds training siminars on bail recovery and founded a closenet association.

Thomas Publilcations offers Mr. Burton's two manuals on the subject and David Mollsion's newest book, Modern Day Bounty Hunting. Mr. Mollision will be teaching at the 95 P.I. Convention in September.

Sex Crimes Investigations are now in the top twenty from way down on the list only a few years ago. This is closely related to criminal defense investigtion. Take a look at the recent article on False Memory Symdrom in the summer issue of the NAIS newsletter, The Private Investigator's Connection and you'll begain to grasp the investigative trends in this area. Reportedly, nationally known speaker and author Jack Murray is working on a training manual for this area of investigation. Availability and publishing date is iffy but Mr. Murray will be speaking at the 1995 NAIS P.I. Convention this this fall.

It's way up and continues to climb. This is a narrow nich market to people who have been adopted and don't know who their parents are or parents who had chlidren who where adopted who want to know get in touch with them. There were tens of thousands of adoptions that took place in the baby boomer age. A vast number of both children and parents are looking for each other. These types of searches are extremely rewarding cases to work but they have specific sets of their own investigative problems. The leading manual on this subject has been written by Bill Dear. Finding Your Birthparents And Other Family Members is a specific manal geared towards this type of booming specialization.

This is an often overlooked area of specialization and market for investigative agencies. It's a major trend. Because of competition, profits in business and industry tend to be razor thin these days and companies are looking for ways to cut expenses. Employee theft is a major problem and concern. This type of work involves physical surveillance activity (see P.I. Catalog page on surveillance books) and general investigative techniques (see page on general investigation). The security section of the P.I. Catalog contains several specific manuals geared towards this specialization. Lounge Evaultation business is booming, shoplifting and employee theft are major concerns with businesses, industrial spying and general retail security measures are all vital areas. Don't miss the manuals on these subjects.

Aside from the mainstay specializations we have covered, there are some underlying hidden agendas we have found closely associated to private investigtion. The general information broker business is booming. This is much different from the narrow and personal computer type searching most private investigators know about. These specialists are actually general information specialists who are hired to find general types of information or data on just about any subject. Only a few years ago, there were only a handful of these people. Today, it's a major emerging profession. The pioneer in this area is Sue Ruggee. She has a book on the subject simply titled Information Brokering which is listed in the P.I. Catalog.

Cutting edge forensic services in the form of 3-D Courtroom presentation (see article in summer issue of PI Connection) and Photo-Computer Image Processing (see Spring issues of P.I. Magazine and the Spring Issue of the NAIS newletter) fields are booming as well as audio tape enhasement services. It's important for private investigators to know and understand what this new technology will do and where it is going. One of the foremost experts on this area is Norman Perl of National Audio/Video Forensic Labratories. He'll be giving a prsentation on these cutting edge subjects at the Labor Day NAIS Convention in Austin, Texas.

Tape recorded dialed number decoding is a little extra nitch service being provided by many agencies. It seems many people have recorded telephone conversations and want to decode the numbers that were dailed. Both the Dialed Number Tape Recorder which is a self-contained telephone tape recorder and the new stand alone Tone decoder is the equipment to offer this service. For details, see a copy of the current P.I. Catalog.