A Glossary of Private Investigations Terms and Definitions
You may see the following terms and acronyms throughout our courses and in popular Private Investigator magazines; Private detective jargon.
Adultery: Infidelity; having sexual relations with someone other than one's husband or wife.
Affidavit: A written declaration made under oath; a written statement sworn to be true before someone legally authorized to administer an oath.
AKA: Also Known As; an alias.
AOE-COE: Arising Out of Employment- Course of Employment; typically refers to an injury.
Arson: The crime of setting a fire with intent to cause damage.
Assault: a threatened or attempted physical attack by someone who appears to be able to cause bodily harm if not stopped. Battery occurs when the assailant makes physical contact.
Asset: An item of value, such as a person's home, business, real estate, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, cash, certificates of deposit (CDs), bank accounts, trust funds, and other property and investments.
Bail Enforcement: Typically refers to the act of locating and apprehending bail-secured defendants who have jumped bail or otherwise violated an agreement with a bail bondman to present themselves in court for a crime with which they have been accused. Commonly referred to as bounty hunting.
Blindline: A telephone service used to conceal the identity of the outbound caller's telephone number or Caller ID data. See also Trapline.
Burglary: The unlawful entry into a building or other structure with the intent to commit a felony or a theft.
Chain of Custody: Is the concept that applies to the documentation, custody, control, and handling of evidence in order to preserve its integrity.
Civil Rights: Personal rights guaranteed and protected by the Constitution, i.e., freedom of speech, press, freedom from discrimination, etc.
Claimant: Person making an insurance claim or claim against an insurance policy. See also Insured.
Claims Adjustor: One who handles and investigates insurance claims or claims for damages and recommends an effective settlement; typically the intermediary between the Claimant and the Insurer.
Class Action: A civil action brought by one or more individuals on behalf of themselves and "all others similarly situated" (or some other equivalent language).
CNA: Customer Name and Address; usually obtained from a phone number.
Competitive Intelligence: Insight or information, obtained ethically and legally, used to gain an advantage in commerce. See Espionage.
Confidentiality: Prevention of disclosure, to other than authorized individuals, of client's proprietary information, investigation findings, or of a subject's identity.
Conflict of Interest: When a private investigator has a duty to more than one individual or group, but both parties' varying interests make it impossible to act impartially for either entity. For instance, a conflict of interest would arise if a PI accepted assignments from both a claimant and defendant in the same civil lawsuit.
Counterfeit: An imitation that is made with the intent to deceptively represent its content or origins; forgery. See also Forgery.
Counter Surveillance: The act of avoiding surveillance or making it difficult; attempting to determine whether or not a subject is under surveillance and by whom. See also Surveillance.
Covert: Hidden or concealed.
Credit Header: That part of a consumer credit report, most often located at the top of the report, which may identify a person's past and present residences, telephone numbers, date of birth, aliases, social security numbers, etc. The header does not contain financial or credit information.
Cryptology: The science and art of making and breaking codes and ciphers.
Database: A collection of information that has been systematically organized for easy access and analysis. Databases typically are computerized.
Defendant: A person or institution against whom an action is brought in a court of law; the person being sued or accused. See also Plaintiff.
DOB: Date of Birth
Due Diligence: The process of systematically evaluating information, to identify risks and issues relating to a proposed transaction (i.e. verify that information is what it has been stated to be).
E&O: Errors and Omissions; refers to specific type of professional liability insurance coverage.
Eavesdropping: Intercepting and reading messages and conversations by unintended recipients.
Email Break: To identify the owner of an email address.
Email Header: The section of an email message that contains the sender and recipient's email addresses as well as the routing information.
Embezzlement: Taking money or property by a person with whom it has been entrusted such as an employee or agent.
Espionage: The practice of obtaining secrets (spying) from rivals or enemies for military, political, or economic advantage using illegal or unethical methods.
Evidence: Testimony, records, documents, material objects, or other things presented at a trial to prove the existence or nonexistence of a fact.
Fact: An event known to have happened or something known to have existed; an assertion that can be proved. The most important term with which a private investigator must become familiar.
Felony: A crime of a more serious nature than a misdemeanor; generally, a criminal offense punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year.
FCRA: Fair Credit Reporting Act
FOIA: Freedom of Information Act
Forensics: to apply a scientific or methodical approach to an analysis or investigation. For example, a Forensic Computer Examination refers to the systematic examination of a computer for desired clues or data and a Forensic Document Examination is the methodical approach used to determine a document's identity, age, authenticity, origin, etc.
Forgery: A document that is false, either as a result of being signed by someone other than the person represented to have signed it or as a result of being a false, worthless replica of a document that has value. See also Counterfeit.
Fraud: A deception made for personal gain. An intentional misrepresentation, concealment or omission of material fact done with the purpose of deceiving another which causes detriment to that person.
Garbology: Dumpster diving; going through trash in an attempt to find information.
GLB: Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act
GPS: Global Positioning System
Hearsay: Evidence not proceeding from the personal knowledge of the witness; heard through another rather than directly.
Heir: A person who is entitled by law or by the terms of a will to inherit the estate of another.
IME: Independent Medical Evaluation
Information Broker: A person or business that researches and provides special and "hard to obtain" information for clients.
Insured: An Insurance policyholder; the person or company protected in case of a loss or claim. See also Claimant.
Intellectual Property: The legal claim to things people create or invent. Intellectual property, or IP, typically includes patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets.
Intelligence: The product resulting from the collection, integration, analysis, and interpretation of available information; also "intel."
Interrogation: Interrogation is the practice of interviewing people, often without their consent, in order to obtain information regarding crimes. It typically involves a direct accusation or the presupposition of guilt or blame.
Interview: Questioning a person to determine their understanding and knowledge of the facts or circumstances related to the subject of an investigation.
IP Address: An identifier for a computer or device on a TCP/IP network (the Internet).
Liability: Something for which one is liable; an obligation or legal responsibility.
Libel: The defamation of a person's reputation, in writing or by images. See also Slander.
Mail Drop: A mail receiving service often employed for reasons of anonymity or secrecy.
Malpractice: Professional misconduct, negligence or unreasonable lack of professional skill which results in injury or loss to another. PIs may be liable for malpractice- see also E&O Policy.
Misdemeanor: Criminal offense less than a felony; generally those punishable by fine or imprisonment for a term of one year or less.
MVR: Motor Vehicle Record or Motor Vehicle Registration
Negligence: The failure to do something that a reasonable person, guided by ordinary considerations, would do; or the doing of something that a reasonable and prudent person would not do.
Perjury: Making a false statement while under oath.
Phone Break: The act of identifying the owner of a telephone number.
Plaintiff: A person who brings an action in a court of law. See also Defendant.
Polygraph: A device for measuring heart rate, respiration, and galvanic skin response. Sometimes called a "lie detector," the polygraph can only detect signs of physiological stress; whether one is lying is an interpretation made by the polygraph examiner.
PO Box Break: Identifying the owner of a post office box.
POE: Place of Employment
PPO: Personal Protection Officer; commonly referred to as a bodyguard.
Pretext: A ruse, lie or deceit most often used by a PI to elicit information from someone who would not have otherwise willingly assisted the investigator.
Release: An instrument signed by an insured or a third party claimant relieving the insurance carrier of any further liability (or any liability at all) with respect to a specific claim. An "information release" is the written authorization given by a person permitting the sharing or transfer of his or her confidential or protected records to the bearer of the release.
Repossession: Forced, or voluntary surrender of merchandise or collateral as a result of the customer's failure to pay as promised.
Respondent Superior: A legal concept that holds an employer liable for the actions of employees acting within the scope of their employment.
Retainer: Money paid by the client to obtain a commitment from the private investigator to handle the client’s case. A retainer is a deposit against which the investigator’s fees are charged as they are earned.
Robbery: Theft by use of force or threat of force.
Roping: The process whereby a private detective creates a situation which causes a claimant to perform some physical activity so that the PI can then videotape or photograph the claimant. This practice is highly unethical.
Service of Process: Notifying a person that he or she has been named as a party to a lawsuit or has been accused of some offense. Process consists of a summons, citation or warrant, to which a copy of the complaint is attached.
Shoplifting: Theft of goods for sale from a retail establishment.
SIU: Special Investigation Unit; an investigation division of an insurance company.
Skiptracing: The process of finding a person whose whereabouts are unknown, is missing, lost, or in hiding.
Slander: Defamation, false words that will damage someone's reputation. See also Libel.
Spy: A secret agent hired by a state to obtain information about its enemies or by a business to obtain industrial secrets from competitors. To watch, observe, or inquire secretly, often using illegal or unethical methods.
SSDI: Social Security Death Index
SSN: Social Security Number
Stalking: Following or observing a person persistently and surreptitiously, sometimes done out of obsession or derangement.
Statement: A written or recorded communication detailing the giver's understanding and knowledge of the facts or circumstances related to the subject of an investigation.
Steganography: The process of hiding secret data inside public or unprotected data. For example, a text file could be hidden "inside" an image or a sound file. By looking at the image, or listening to the sound, you would not know that there is extra information present.
Swoop and Squat: An insurance fraud term for a type of contrived or staged collision. A vehicle pulls into another's path and slams on its brakes, causing the other vehicle to rear-end it.
Subject: A person, event or thing being investigated.
Subpoenas: Court orders which, if properly served, compel the attendance of the witness in court; also referred to as a Summons.
Subrogation: The substitution of the insurer for the insured to pursue any rights the insured has against a third party liable for a loss paid by the insurer. In effect this allows the insurer to pursue a liable party for damages and costs it has paid to its insured client as a result of a claim.
Sub Rosa: Or subrosa; an injury-related surveillance and investigation.
Surveillance: The close observation of a person, group or thing. See also Counter Surveillance.
Suspect: A subject; usually suspected of committing a crime.
Tailing: Following or keeping a subject under surveillance while he or she is moving.
TAT: Turn-around-time; jargon referring to how quickly you can get a job done.
Testimony: Evidence given by a competent witness, under oath, in any legal proceeding; distinguished from evidence derived from writings and other sources.
Theft: In general, the wrongful taking of someone else's property without that person's willful consent.
Tort: Any action or inaction that wrongs, damages, or injures another, and thus forms the basis of a civil lawsuit.
Tolls: Records of long distance telephone calls; may be from a landline or mobile phone.
Trade Secret: Any confidential formula, pattern, process, device, information, or compilation of information that is used in commerce, and that gives the owner of that secret an opportunity to obtain an advantage over competitors who do not know or use it.
Trapline: A telephone service used to capture an inbound caller's telephone number despite their attempt to conceal that number. See also Blindline.
Trespass: A criminal offense that results from going onto another's property without permission.
TSCM: Technical Surveillance Countermeasures; refers to finding and removing "bugs" or covert listening or video devices.
Undercover: Disguising one's identity for the purposes of gaining the trust of an individual or organization to learn secret information or conduct an investigation.
VIN: Vehicle Identification Number; a unique serial number assigned to every automobile by its manufacturer
Warrant: A written order directing the arrest of a party. A search warrant orders that a specific location be searched for items, which if found, can be used in court as evidence.
Wiretap: Monitoring of telephone conversations by a third party, often by covert means.
Witness: Someone who sees an event and reports what happened; a person called upon by either side in a lawsuit to give testimony before the court or jury.