Only private investigators can research court records?

From Public Record Update – A Monthly Newsletter by Mike Sankey, BRB Publications:

The Illinois Department of Professional Regulation recently issued a “cease and desist” letter to a PRRN (Public Record Retriever Network – www.prrn.us) member based in Illinois for performing public record research and not having a private investigator’s license. The Department interpreted that the act of researching public records is considered to be performing an “investigation.” This is regardless if the PRRN Member was merely researching and reporting to a attorney, private investigator, or consumer reporting agency (CRA) what is found in a court’s public record docket.

The licensing of Private Investigators is governed by 225 ILCS §447. Article 5 defines, in part, that a private investigator is someone who “…engages in the business of, accepts employment to furnish, or agrees to make or makes investigations for a fee or other consideration…” Articles 10 and 15 list exemptions. See the statute at www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs2.asp?ChapterID=24

At present the only state in the U.S. that requires a pure public record researcher to have a PI license is Nevada. Of course, if a researcher or document retriever is openly advertising that he/she provides background investigations or provides criminal background checks, then in some states (including IL) a PI license may very well be required. Also it should be noted that some states, such as Nebraska, require title abstractors to be licensed as an abstractor.

Interestingly, similar situations occurred several years ago in Arizona and Texas. The states had similar laws to IL. A PRRN members was actually thrown in jail in Texas. But the issues were resolved and the end result is that public record researchers are not required to be licensed as PIs when simply hired by private investigators or Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRA) to report facts in the public records.

If this issue is of interest, there is an older, but still applicable article titled “The Trouble With PI Licensing Statutes” written by Carl Ernst, found on the BRB Publications site at www.brbpublications.com/articles.aspx.

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