Insights |Investigations

22nd September 2021

The difference between a corporate and private investigator

Put simply, corporate investigation is when private investigators work within the corporate space.

Not all private investigators conduct corporate investigations, as these generally require a knowledge of corporate, employment and insolvency laws.

Corporate investigation enables an uncovering of both internal and external threats within an organisation, that may otherwise be overlooked or unnoticed. This includes physical and financial thefts, malfeasance, industrial espionage, embezzlement, data theft and technology scams. Without the help of an investigator, these threats can be detrimental to both the financial position and reputation of a business.

There is an overlap between corporate investigation and risk management, and experienced corporate investigators can also be used to audit company structures and processes to evaluate their effectiveness. Post-investigation, strategic improvement programmes – covering policies, processes, staff training and more – can be designed so a company can make necessary improvements to existing systems and procedures and mitigate future problems.

So, what is the difference between a corporate and private investigator?

Private investigator

Typically, private investigation involves a discreet service for individuals (“private clients”) and owner-managed businesses. Private investigators are often former police, military or intelligence services trained. Types of private investigation include:

  • Matrimonial enquiries (where clients suspect their partners of having an affair)
  • Reputational and blackmail (where ultra-high net worth (UHNW)/high net worth (HNW) clients have discreet personal issues and need assistance)
  • Covert surveillance (monitoring subjects without their knowing)
  • Tracing witnesses and obtaining witness statements (in support of clients’ legal matters)
  • People and asset tracing (finding addresses or assets for debt-related or dispute resolution matters)
  • Mystery shopper or undercover employee (as a covert form of business investigation)
  • Missing persons (finding missing family members)
  • Background checks for dating websites (discreet investigation to verify if someone is who they claim to be).

All private investigators have to act within the laws of the jurisdictions in which they operate, including in compliance with data protection legislation, such as the Human Rights Act and the Data Protection Act 2018 (the UK’s implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)). While investigators aren’t required to join a professional body, members of bodies such as the Association of British Investigators and the World Association of Detectives must prove they meet certain standards, ensuring a level of professionalism and giving clients peace of mind.

Corporate investigator

Corporate investigation is the investigation into corporate matters in instances where intelligence related to a company, or individuals connected to a company, is required. These services are important to corporations where misconduct has allegedly occurred or where due diligence is required. The role of a corporate investigator is therefore to enable companies to identify intelligence, mitigate losses or disruption and to improve their systems while securing and protecting their assets. This might include:

  • Corporate fraud
  • Legal support
  • Asset searches
  • Commercial intelligence gathering
  • Employee misconduct including fraud and theft
  • Company background checks and due diligence
  • Employee absenteeism (employees fraudulently claiming they’re unable to work, but working elsewhere while claiming sick pay or benefits, and in some cases setting up personal businesses)
  • Employee accident or workplace incident investigations
  • Bribery, corruption and espionage allegations
  • Tracing witnesses and obtaining witness statements
  • Counterfeit goods, Trademark and Copyright infringement
  • Harassment within the workplace
  • Payroll fraud and money laundering
  • Substance abuse
  • Competitor profiling
  • Supply chain due diligence
  • Whistleblowing.

The investigation process should be independent, discreet and completely confidential, with the main objective being to uncover the truth. Experienced investigators can work alone or alongside existing HR or senior managers who may be able to provide more insight which could assist an investigation.

The aim of a corporate investigation is to identify what has happened, by gaining information and evidence using tools, techniques and experience. The discreet nature of investigative work should ensure that the company’s reputation remains intact and that the situation does not become public knowledge.

In instances where a suspect is an employee or third-party contractor, investigators can interrogate systems and analyse company information obtained from company computers and phones, CCTV, paper documents, hard drive storage or other company information.

Both corporate and private investigators often make use of digital forensics: software, tools and processes designed to gather digital evidence, especially where employees have deleted information and there is a need to recover and review that data.

Covert surveillance and undercover agents are also used in intelligence gathering. These services are designed to be extremely covert, and all evidence obtained is admissible in a court of law.

Upon the completion of an investigation, the client should have a full understanding of what has taken place and be provided with recommendations to mitigate any future problems. Effective risk management solutions can then be implemented and continually monitored and tested, including staff training and crisis management planning.

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