The requirements for becoming a private investigator vary from state to state. Over 42 states require a private investigator's license, and some cities require separate licensing as well. Applicants must frequently submit their fingerprints and pass a background check, although some are hired by an accredited organization. Some states also require the placement of a surety bond, a financial commitment that can be forfeited if the investigator breaks the law.
Many private investigators have law enforcement backgrounds, since the skills used in civil investigation are the same that detectives use on the job. Many organizations offer private investigator training, including colleges and trade schools. In addition, many investigators rely on skills gained in previous professions. Someone who became a private detective after a career in banking might specialize in investigating financial disputes and tracing funds. Loss prevention departments also give applicants many skills that can be useful as a private eye.
Investigators often walk a fine line between legal and illegal activities. For instance, a private detective may put on the uniform of a utility company and present himself as an employee to gain information from a target. However, pretending to be a law enforcement officer or attorney could land him in jail. Similarly, conducting surveillance from public property is usually allowed, while wiretapping a target often violates state law. The threat of license removal and the loss of a surety bond are usually enough to keep investigators on the right side of the law.