Busted: 6 Myths about Becoming a Private Eye

If popular culture had its say, private investigators would be cloaked in drab beige trench coats, sporting fake mustaches, and either camped out in cars or pretending to read newspapers in cafe corners. Sure, some PIs might love long coats or stake out in the most cliche ways possible, but they are the exception to the rule. The reality is that private investigators work in all sorts of environments conducting a variety of different types of investigations. Not convinced? Here are six popular PI myths busted.

6 Private Eye Myths to Throw in the Can

1. You need a Y chromosome.

When was the last time you saw a female private investigator on TV or the big screen? Yeah, us neither. While precise statistics aren't available, PI Magazine estimates that about 15 percent of PIs are women. Women may constitute a small slice of the PI pie, but that may be to their advantage in a way as suspects may be less suspicious if they spot a woman sitting in her car down the block. There are also certain undercover cases that demand a female investigator, putting women in higher demand.

2. You will spend most of your time staked out in bushes or cars.

Popular culture would give you the impression that PIs spend a good deal of time tailing suspects or watching them from afar, and for some investigators, that may be true. There are others, however, who don't do either of these things. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many modern PIs spend a good deal of time at home on their computers, especially those specializing in cyber cases -- like music or identity theft -- or accounting. Others spend more time in plush boardrooms than back alleys, especially corporate PIs.

3. Anyone with a sneaky streak can be a PI.

If you think private investigation is an easy freelance gig, think again. Private detectives and investigators must have a tremendous amount of legal savvy to ensure their activities are legal and that any evidence they collect or document can be admissible in court. This is precisely why the BLS notes that many states require PIs to be licensed, a process that in some cases requires (and in most cases benefits from) formal education. While online private investigation schools are an excellent start, the BLS notes that your specialty may guide your education. For example, those who specialize in financial, corporate or cybercrime can benefit from accounting, computer science or business degrees.

4. You will be a lone wolf.

Many private investigators are indeed freelancers working on a contract basis, but others are employed by PI firms or law enforcement agencies. In fact, the BLS reports that only about 21 percent of PIs are self-employed. PIs may also work cases in pairs or groups, especially when safety is a concern. Private detectives and investigators even have professional organizations that allow them to schmooze and network, establishing a truly global network of PIs.

5. You will have a tough time finding work.

You know the cliché: A private investigator spends a good chunk of his (or her) day, feet on the desk and smoking a cigar, waiting for a damsel in distress to walk through the door. The truth is private eyes probably wouldn't have the time to loiter in their own offices because they have leads coming out their ears. According to the BLS, demand for these professionals is expected to grow by an impressive 22 percent in the 2008-2018 decade. In other words, a whole heck of a lot.

6. You will either have a beach house in Malibu or work for peanuts.

PIs aren't (usually) slick operators with hefty paychecks, but they don't exactly live out of their cars, either. At least, not out of necessity. The BLS notes that private investigators earned a median salary of $42,870 in 2010 with the top 10 percent exceeding $75,000. As with most professions, PIs can boost their bottom lines through either experience or education. Translation: Earning your private investigation degree online (or otherwise) pays off.

Put the I in Private Eye

For the right person, private investigation can be an exciting, in-demand field. It can also be a complex one requiring a great deal of training and skill (at least if you want to be good at what you do). The right education is a must. Fortunately for the modern private investigator, online school is a convenient option -- just be sure to research a few programs to ensure you find one that suits both your career goals and your learning style.

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