#49: Private Investigator Terminology: Common Words used by Private Investigators

A large disadvantage for individuals looking to get hired in the private investigation industry is the lack the understanding for words commonly used by investigators.

Years ago one of my initial interviews with a private investigation agency I was able to score some valuable points with the hiring investigator by having some understanding of the words commonly used in the industry.

Candidates interviewing for a position will find many of the following words useful during the interview process and for their general knowledge. Below is my interpretation of words I feel you should know, along with any formal definition and it’s reference.


Observing someone or something covertly. Surveillance can be documented or undocumented.

Dictionary definition for Surveillance – Close watch kept over someone or something (as by a detective)


An assignment that a investigator is conducting an investigation on.  When I refer to an assignment I typically refer to it as a case.

Dictionary definition for Case (the closest I could find that relates) – A set of circumstances or a state of affairs; a situation.  A situation that requires investigation, especially by a formal or official body.


A ruse or story given to an individual to disguise the reason one’s true intentions.

Example- I will knock on the door of my subject’s residence inquiring about a home for sale in the area.  My true intention of the door knock is to determine who is within the residence.

Dictionary definition of a Pretext – A purpose of motive alleged or an appearance assumed I order to cloak the real intention of state of affairs.


An investigator that has been compromised by the subject he/she has been conducting surveillance on. In other words the subject is aware of the surveillance investigator’s presence.


The word heated can come in many forms.  In regards to a neighborhood where surveillance is being conducted, neighbors can become suspicious of an investigator’s presence in the area which can directly affect the surveillance investigation.

The word can also be referred to a subject being suspicious about your presence during a surveillance but not knowing your true intentions.


Having lost sight of your subject during surveillance and you do not know their whereabouts.  You may have lost sight of your subject while following your subject on foot or in a vehicle.

In pocket means you know the whereabouts of your subject.


A term I used very early in my surveillance career to describe the actions of a suspicious claimant or subject.  I haven’t heard it used very often by other investigators.  Fishing refers to when your subject drives or does something specifically to confirm a their suspicions.  They may drive down a dead end road to see if you will follow them or something similar.  They are trying to see if you will take the bait, hence the word fishing.


An individual that has a claim with an insurance company or self insured company.  You will often refer to the individuals you conduct an investigation on as claimant’s if the client is insurance related. Typically this refers to a worker’s compensation or disability investigation.

Dictionary definition of Claimant-One that asserts a right or title <a claimant to an estate>


Is when you are in the process of following a subject/individual during surveillance in a vehicle.  I write this term quite frequently in my investigative reports.


The times when you are in a stationary position when conducting surveillance.  In investigative reports this word is referred to when a point of observation or stationary surveillance position is established.

Located definition for Stationary Surveillance – Observation of activities of a subject from one vantage point.  Also known as a stakeout.


Continuing to follow or conduct surveillance on a subject despite the subject being aware of the investigator’s presence. This type of surveillance causes to subject to be uncomfortable and can possibly be considered a form of harassment.  This is true especially when other outside of the investigation become aware of surveillance efforts causing embarrassment or ridicule.  Many investigators go out of their way to avoid any accusation of rough shadowing.


In my experiences the Special Investigation Unit or SIU has carried out a variety of investigative duties.  Individuals in SIU can be responsible for identifying potential or existing fraud, conducting interviews, photographing for scene investigations, obtaining evidence, retrieving documents, etc…


Searching for your subject after you lose them during mobile surveillance.  Another example of canvassing would be searching a neighborhood for witnesses.

Dictionary definition of canvassing– To examine carefully or discuss thoroughly; scrutinize. “The evidence has been repeatedly canvassed in American courts” (Anthony Lewis)


Statements or interviews that are recorded.  In the insurance investigation industry recorded statements are requested from the insurance companies. An investigator will meet with a claimant and conduct an extensive interview which will cover basic information, previous medical history, daily activities, current medications, and the details of a workplace accident if applicable.  It should be noted that the claimant or subject is not under oath when answering the investigators questions.

Once the recorded statement is completed a formal report is created and sent to the client with the recorded audio.  The insurance company will use the statement to have more detailed look at the accident or incident.  This will help the insurance company move forward with the insurance claim.


There are many more words used in the private investigation field.  The ones provided in this article are one commonly used in the insurance investigation industry.  It will be helpful to future investigators to know these terms prior to interviewing for an investigator position.  I hope this helps you in your journey.



  1. Irate Wife:

    This happens when you’ve been on the road for three weeks and missed your other half’s birthday, anniversary, and or her best friend’s wedding. It’s a problem that can be very expensive to fix.

  2. Does an investigator need to place a respondent (GPS) tracker on a vehicle to be able to track that vehicle or can he simply use direct satellite to identify the location of the vehicle?