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Factual Investigation: How Private Detectives collect evidence

Discover what really happened

Factual investigation is when a detective collects evidence of an incident that has already happened. Factual investigations are also known as circumstantial investigations.
The incident could be a suspected crime such as an assault or a case of financial fraud. Or the incident could be a car accident, or a case of family separation leading to a divorce settlement.
Less frequently, the investigation looks at a cold case such as a murder or missing person. But it’s uncommon for private detectives to get involved in open police investigations.
No matter the issue, the common thread is the client cares about finding the truth of the incident, so they’ve brought in a private detective for expert help.
Let’s dive in to see how private detectives collect evidence in factual investigations.

Collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses

The key pieces of evidence in factual investigations could be documents, videos and eyewitness accounts.
Private detectives are highly skilled at finding key details in piles of documents, including inconsistencies that other people might not notice. They’re also experts at noticing suspicious behaviour in security footage.
The thing that private detectives are best at is interviewing witnesses.
They’re masters at getting detailed accounts from witnesses; this critical eyewitness testimony fills in the gaps left by other forms of evidence. A great investigator builds trust and rapport with witnesses, which helps them to open up and share what they know.
A skilled investigator will be able get a witness to recollect more detailed information, and even information that they believed they did not know, by using interview techniques that aid the witness’s memory. It’s a real art, which takes years of experience to perfect.

Correct handling of evidence

Private detectives are required by law to hand over evidence of a crime to the police. But sloppy record keeping can lead to evidence being inadmissible in court, which can make a whole case fall apart. For this reason, private detectives have to be extremely careful about how they collect, handle and store evidence.
Private detectives follow strict procedures for continuity of evidence. Let’s take the example of an audio recording from a witness interview or photographs from a surveillance operation:

  • The detective starts with a formatted SD card or data storage device for each day
  • The evidence is kept in its original uncontaminated form and never altered
  • The original SD card is marked ‘ORIGINAL’ and kept somewhere safe
  • A master copy original disc (DVD R – which means only writable once) is created with an exact mirror copy of the SD card
  • The date, time, location and method of recording are documented on the original and signed by the investigator
  • They make working copy back ups, which are marked as ‘WORKING COPY’ so they’re separate from the original and used to produce edited versions of the original photographs for use in reports
  • The detective makes contemporaneous notes about their observations and records details of their enquiries and lines of enquiries

If you’re considering hiring a private detective for a factual investigation case, ask about their evidence handling procedure. Attention to these details could make or break your case.

Divorce settlement evidence

Divorce is upsetting for everyone involved, and it’s pretty common for legal proceedings to get ugly. To help resolve the dispute, private detectives can gather factual evidence for divorce and family law cases, which can be presented privately between divorce lawyers, or in court.
If the client suspects an affair is taking place, the private detective can use surveillance tactics to find proof of infidelity to add to the divorce proceedings.
In some divorce cases a partner has disappeared, and a private detective can help find an estranged partner. Once found, the investigator can serve important court documents like divorce papers, subpoenas or legal demands for child support payments.

Private detectives go undercover in companies

Companies hire private detectives to collect factual evidence in cases of internal theft. The Australian Retailers Association estimates that employee theft costs businesses $750 million each year.
So how do they collect factual evidence inside a company where everyone knows everyone? The investigating officer creates a cover story about who they are and why they are poking around in company matters. An independent financial and procedural audit is the perfect cover story.
“Jim” from the “Audit Company” looks at evidence from all over the company to find the holes.

  • Accounting balance sheets
  • Purchase orders and sales orders – did the company buy 20,000 units, sell 17,000 units and there are 3,000 units missing in stocktake?
  • Bank accounts and transactions
  • Review of log in history and security footage

Then “Jim” audits the sign off process of the office, warehouse, distribution and retail:

  • Does the money in the cash register match what was banked?
  • Do the orders, picking lists and invoices all match?
  • Are there unusual reversals and refunds made by certain staff members?
  • Are employees deliberately damaging goods to write them off?
  • What elements of risk appear in the company processes?
  • Are employees using company time to work on other jobs or personal projects?

Investigating officers create detailed reports of their findings, and all these pieces of evidence form a story about what’s really happened. Sometimes, a particular employee is caught being dishonest. Other times, it’s a problem with procedures or poor record keeping, which allows accidental errors to slip through.
Whatever the case, a private detective can get right inside the company to collect evidence and help stop the problem.
Want to know more about hiring a Private Detective?
Contact an Australian Private Detective today. We’ll be happy to answer any questions you have about how an investigator can help you or refer the best available investigator. Feel free to get in touch.

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