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Is there a P.I. in your future?

by Robin Hansson, '05

A shiny, new, red Ferrari zips by at 90 miles an hour. The car comes to a stop with its tires squealing; there’s a distinct smell of rubber as the driver opens the door and steps out of the vehicle. In the background, a woman who could be a model comes running towards him, crying for his help. It’s Magnum, P.I., a tough guy, but still humble, never in need of money or a bulletproof vest.

This is the picture of private investigators given to us by media. A number of old and new TV series such as Magnum P.I., which by the way is in rerun again at 11 p.m. on the Hallmark channel. Glamour, women, and money are a part of everyday life on TV. But what is the reality? What does it take to become a private investigator? What kind of life do they live? In order to answer these questions, we went to a top Hawai‘i Investigator Stu Hilt for advice.

Hilt, 70, is in great shape and has penetrating eyes. He started as an insurance investigator 47 years ago and went on to become a P.I.

Like most private investigators, Hilt specialized in one area of investigation, life insurance fraud. This kind of fraud is pretty hard to commit in most western countries, Hilt said, so his specialty has taken him to many places, mostly Asia, the Philippines, and Hong Kong, where the government’s control of people isn’t as organized as it is here. There the business of private investigating can be very lucrative.

What can you expect to earn as a P.I.? According to Hilt, it varies. His rate is, he said, the highest, $110 an hour. He carries an average of a hundred cases a year, and while he wouldn’t commit to an average number of hours per case, even if it were only 10, he’s making more than most of us.

When asked how one becomes a private investigator, Hilt said that the first thing one should get, is four years experience of some kind of investigating work, e.g. police officer, insurance investigator, military police, FBI, CIA agent, and such. In these fields, you will get to know people who might hire you in the future as an investigator. To get any of these jobs, you’ll most likely need a college degree, preferably in, or about law, but it’s not absolutely necessary.

With four years of investigative experience, you can apply for a P.I. license, which you will get if you pass a written test, mostly about legal issues.

Is it as simple as that?

According to Hilt, there are a number of obstacles to run any successful P.I. company. The largest problem new P.I.’s have is usually getting clients. He said that without law firms and insurance companies, most P.I.s would be without a job. It will help if you are well connected in those fields. They are by far the biggest employers in the business.

It is essential that you already have a contact net of people who are, more or less, ready to hire you, said Hilt. “Human interaction is what really counts,” he added. “I’ve always been a friend of my clients before I’ve done business with them.”

The same goes for those he tries to gather information from. “If a person doesn’t feel at ease with you, he won’t tell you anything. What you basically do is walk up to their door and ask for trouble,” said Hilt.

If being a P.I. is what you want to do, HPU offers both pre-law and a justice administration programs. Talk to your advisor for help.



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