Hiring a private investigator in Singapore

Last updated on April 20, 2018

In Singapore, private investigators run a thriving business. Private investigators (“PI”s) draw business from all manners of activities, ranging from spousal infidelity to maid indiscretion. According to a 2011 Durex survey, which polled 506 Singaporeans, 19% of men and women have been unfaithful to their spouses. A recent news report interviewed a family in Singapore which spent thousands of dollars hiring a private investigator to keep tabs on their maid.

The issue of PI fees has also attracted controversy recently. In 2013, the Singapore High Court allowed a wife to claim only a sum of $10,000 from her philandering husband as a contribution for a $55,000 PI assignment investigating the husband’s adulteries, citing the unusually large size of the bill as a reason.

The following provides a brief overview of the private investigation industry, as well as the related legal issues.

Type of work private investigators perform

Private investigators execute a wide variety of work, including (but not limited to):

  1. Maid surveillance;
  2. Employee movement surveillance – (in particular, key personnel);
  3. Spousal surveillance (to investigate possible adultery);
  4. Children surveillance;
  5. Finding missing persons or property;
  6. Family member gambling-related movements;
  7. Trademark or copyright infringement corporate matters; as well as
  8. General investigation to obtain evidence to be used in civil or criminal matters.

Type of work that requires special approval

By law, assignments investigating political figures, foreign diplomats, consuls, or their families, as well as the conduct of surveillance on certain protected (or militarily sensitive) places, foreign consulates, government buildings, departure and entry checkpoints, or certain private schools, require the special approval of the Singapore Police.

Type of illegal work private investigators cannot perform

Private investigators are legally required to undergo training and hold licenses issued by the Singapore Police. Resultantly, a PI will be able to advise the client as to the legality of the methods used in the investigation.

The legality of hidden spy cameras depends on its usage. As of 2013, there are no specific privacy laws in Singapore. A spycam is generally used by PIs to film an investigation target or location, but to stay within the boundaries of law, such cameras are usually only trained at public places or places owned by the client (e.g. the main door of a client’s house, or the living room, for instance, to track a spouse or maid’s activities).

However, if the use of the spycam involves housebreaking, insulting a woman’s modesty, or the recording and storing of obscene material, said usage may constitute criminal offences. In a divorce matter, the PI or the client runs the risk of being prosecuted or countersued if illegal methods of recording and spying are used. (For more information on how to gather evidence to support a divorce application, see the section below).

Additionally, other activities, such as hacking into the private digital accounts of individuals (e.g. Facebook accounts) may run afoul of Singapore’s laws, such as the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act.

Process and charges

  1. The PI will first need to obtain from the client his identification (passport or NRIC), as required by Private Security Industry Act;
  2. The PI will generally converse with the client over the phone, and set up a meeting if necessary;
  3. The client will need to state his objective, the timing of the surveillance required (e.g. full day, or half day);
  4. Generally, PIs charge by the hour or charge a lump sum for their services (according to some reports, a 30-hour case may cost between $2,000 to $3,000). The charges depend on the duration, location, equipment, and manpower used. Additionally, a deposit may need to be made. It is prudent to compare charges and fees across a number of firms, as PI fees are not regulated by the Singapore authorities;
  5. The client will need to sign a letter of authorisation;
  6. If need be, the client may request the PI to attend court;
  7. The PI agency is also legally required to keep records of the client, the investigation details (e.g. time spent), and information about its PIs
  8. The PI agency is legally bound to keep the information obtained in the performance of its duties or in the course of its business of a licensed private investigation agency confidential.

How to prove the grounds for divorce

In Singapore, pursuant to the Women’s Charter, a divorce may be obtained generally by proving adultery or unreasonable behaviour. Because of the legal concerns surrounding the methods used to obtain methods to prove sexual misconduct with a third party, PIs sometimes recommend a different strategy, which is to obtain indirect evidence to prove adultery or unreasonable behaviour. For instance, this may include recording a spouse entering a budget hotel with a third party, or training a camera in the living room of the matrimonial home to record the spouse’s meetings with a third party.

Picking the right private investigator

In Singapore, the Private Security Industry Act, as well as the relevant subsidiary legislations, regulate the business activities of the private investigation industry. All PIs and their respective agencies must be licensed before they can carry on the business of a PI. The licensing conditions are spelled out by the SPF here.

Also, the PI must comply with the Code of Conduct. He must not give any false representation to any person regarding his level of training, skill or qualification as a private investigator. As a client, you should check out the business address or office of the PI agency to accredit its reliability. Additionally, you should find out more about the PI’s previous cases, as well as its record keeping methods, to ensure that you will be fairly charged for their services.

You can use our “Find a Private Investigator” service to get in touch with our partnering private investigating firm.