How to tell if someone is really a private investigator in South Carolina
There’s no good guide to validating whether a private investigator is licensed or not. Folks who are licensed understand this pretty quickly. However, consumers do not have an easy way to verify whether someone they may be considering hiring is licensed or not. South Carolina, doesn’t expose it’s license and registration database. A number of other states, like Texas and North Carolina provide searchable databases.
License vs. Registration
So it’s important to understand that there are two types of private investigators in South Carolina. There are licensed private investigators and registered private investigators.
Licensed private investigators have a combination of education and documented investigatory experience that equals 6000 hours, combined with a significant level of vetting by SLED, and are bonded. Licensed private investigators or their companies are the only entities allowed to solicit and contract for private investigation business.
Registered private investigators are employees of licensed private investigators. They are tied to working only for the private investigation company that they are employed by. They receive a registered private investigator identification card from SLED, and the name of the employing company will appear. Registered private investigators have no experience requirements and go through a less rigorous background investigation on the theory that they are going to be trained and supervised by a licensed investigator, and that the licensed investigator.
This is what the identification card looks like:
There is no reason for a private investigator not to have their registration card on their person. State law requires them to have the card in their possession before engaging in any activity regarding an investigation, and this includes signing a client up.
There are a couple of important things that you should be looking at on the identification card. First the name and the photo should match the individual you are speaking with. Second, the company name listed below the investigator’s name should match the company or individual you think you are doing business with. If an investigator asks you to issue a check or pay him or her as an individual, that should be a red flag. Unfortunately there are some unscrupulous employees who will try and use their registration card to take on business themselves.
A couple of important things for you to consider on the card:
Expiration Date: Registrations and licenses are only issued for a year a time. If someone presents an expired registration card, that should absolutely be a red flag. The person may no longer work for the employing agency.
Registration Number: The number in red above the expiration date is the registration number. For a registered private investigator, this will begin with the prefix “RD” and then will followed with numbers. A licensed private investigator will have the prefix “D” followed by zeros, and then followed by the 4 digit license number of the agency. This also will tell you whether you’re dealing with the company’s principal or an employee.
Of course, what we’ve talked about thus far are just the identification/registration cards. The actual license is a wall certificate. If you’re visiting an office in person this should be hanging on the wall somewhere that you can see it. I pulled this great scanned example off of a colleague’s website in Columbia.
The license is printed on a parchment-colored paper. It will have a gold and black border, and the seal of the State of South Carolina will also be gold. The word license will appear in red letters. The expiration date is important – because licenses are only valid for one year. It should not be expired. In the bottom right hand corner, the license number will be present (in this case 3174). The red numbers in the lower left hand corner are a control number. Because some agencies have multiple offices around the state, there may be multiple copies of the license for a single licensee.
Verify with SLED
Of course, if you have any questions, the easiest way to check if a person is registered or licensed is to call SLED. You can reach the Regulatory Services division of SLED at (803) 896-7015.