Can you get in trouble with the law by hiring an unlicensed private investigator? The short answer is, “Yes.”
If you hire a person to do something illegal and they do it for you, as far as the law is concerned YOU did that illegal thing, even if you were miles and miles away at the time the illegal act took place.
While many legitimate, licensed professional private investigators advertise here on Craig’s List, others are unlicensed (usually because they are unqualified, uninsured, or both). These can cause serious problems for a client.
For example, one of the most frequent reasons people hire private investigators is to do surveillance; watching and/or following and usually photographing the subject of the investigation. What happens if the person you’re having watched or followed or photographed feels (or even just says they feel) afraid, intimidated, or harassed? That feeling of fear, intimidation, or harassment is at the core of Washington State’s criminal definition of stalking, RCW 9A.46.110. The same law says that it is no defense that you “did not intend to frighten, intimidate, or harass the person.”
The bottom line is, if you hire an unlicensed PI to watch, follow or photograph someone, you could very well find yourself facing criminal stalking charges. Some things, like restraining orders or prior stalking or harassment charges, can elevate stalking to a felony.
However, the law (RCW 9A.46.110(3)) also says, “It shall be a defense to the crime of stalking that the defendant is a licensed private investigator acting within the capacity of his or her license as provided by chapter 18.165 RCW.”
Private investigators in the State of Washington are licensed, insured professionals. That means the responsibility for making sure the surveillance stays within the law rests with your licensed PI, not you, the client. Using a legitimate, licensed PI to obtain the information that you and your attorney need can keep you out of a LOT of trouble.
Washington State law requires all PIs to be licensed and to include their name, Washington PI license number (not just their general business tax account number), and mailing address of record with the Department of Licensing on ALL advertising, including Craig’s List ads.
The legitimate PIs advertising here on Craig’s List include the information as required by law. If an ad offering PI services in the State of Washington doesn’t include this information, you can assume that person isn’t a legitimate PI. You can rest assured, a private investigator licensed in multiple states will advertise that fact.
Nationwide, it is usually illegal and always unethical for any private investigator to solicit or accept work in any state where he or she is not properly licensed.
A legitimate PI agency’s Craig’s List ad or web site won’t leave you wondering who or where they are. Real PIs and agencies make it easy for you, the potential client, to check them out.
You can check the status of a PI’s Washington license at the Washington State Department of Licensing’s Business & Professional License Query page (change the license type to “Private Investigator” and enter the agency name, investigator’s last name or license number in the appropriate field), or telephone the DOL Public Protection Section at 360-664-6611. You can also check DOL’s list of administrative disciplinary actions (does not include criminal charges brought by city and county authorities for unlicensed operations).
Volunteers with the Washington Association of Legal Investigators will investigate reports of unlicensed private investigation practices and forward the complaint to the State of Washington and/or local law enforcement authorities if illegal activity is found. You can submit information about an unlicensed practice by clicking HERE or by calling 877-434-7881 toll-free to leave a message.
The Washington Association of Legal Investigators
6351 Seaview Ave NW
Seattle, WA 98107-2664
- Location: Washington State
- it’s NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
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