Thursday, January 22, 2015

Business booming for private eyes

For those of us who grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the two dominant TV show themes were westerns and private detectives.

Westerns occupied most of the terrain on the small screen, but there were plenty of PI’s, too.

Seventy-seven Sunset Strip. Surfside Six. Hawaiian Eye. Peter Gunn. And our appetites continued to be fed during the 1970’s and 1980’s with Rockford Files and Magnum PI.

Our introduction to PI’s came, of course, from HoFadoozlewdy Doody, where we first learned about the profession through Inspector Fadoozle, “America’s Number One Private Eye” (pictured here with Flub-a-dub. And lest you think that John J. Fadoozle was anything other than an important figure in American culture, in 2002 his marionette fetched $40K at auction.)

But although PI’s have lived on in detective fiction – think Mickey Bolitar and Stephanie Plum – they’re not quite as present on TV as they once were. (I know that there’s a show that’s kind of about Sherlock Holmes, but most of TV detectives these days work for a PD or for NCIS. So they’re public, not private.)

In real life, however, the PI business is booming.

Investigators across the nation say business has boomed in recent years from clients who want their sweethearts investigated for potentially deal-breaking habits and secrets.

“It’s worth it to them to spend a little in advance to figure out whether they’re hooked up with a loser or a longtime candidate,” said Jerry Bussard, who owns Cincinnati-based AAA Detective Agency Inc., of his clients.

The trend is partly driven, investigators say, by the legions of examples of online daters embellishing their profiles, and of scammers using dating sites to lure people into false romances with the intent of stealing from them. But investigators also say the uptick reflects a world in which a person can divine the outline of another’s life by a simple Google search. The Internet, they say, is like a gateway drug to professional snooping.

“What they are getting is just enough information to make them curious,” said Mr. Bussard. (Source: WSJ Online)

While digging up dirt for personal reasons is a big driver, employee background checks are also on the increase – something that was just not done in the good old days. (A friend recently told me that someone on her team was caught out because he had claimed a degree he had not technically been awarded. What was in the way of getting that degree was an unpaid activities fee from senior year. The employee – who hadn’t thought of it in years; he’d earned the degree, he just hadn’t been given his diploma - was allowed to pay up, so the case was closed. Point being, employees are under increasing scrutiny these days.)

Anyway, annual revenues for detective services have doubled over the past decade and, as of 2012, it was a $5.2 billion business in the U.S.

A lot of the business is conducted via computer which is a bit less exciting than surveillance (at least the parts of surveillance when there’s actually something to see), car chases and fist fights.

Who among us hasn’t been tempted to sign up for one of those criminal background check services to get the dirt on someone we’re curious about? Sure, we think about it but, in the end, if we really want or need to know something, we cede it to the pros.

Sometimes the background investigations reveal something really good, i.e., bad. Other times, there’s nothing new learned. And other times, the whole thing just blows up. As when a Chicago woman called the police about a car that had been suspiciously parked in front of her home. Turns out her boyfriend had hired a PI to investigate her. I suspect that this ended with a ‘not tonight, honey, I’ve got a headache’ of the permanent sort.

In any case, I thought it was interesting to see that business for PI’s is booming.

Wonder what this would have made of Inspector Fadoozle’s claim that he was “America’s Number One Private Eye.”

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