Outlook & Growth
This career will grow at a rate of at least 22 percent (the projected rate of growth for private investigator jobs) and probably higher than 27 percent (the projected rate of growth of computer-support-related jobs) through 2018.
The proliferation of criminal activity on the Internet, such as identity theft, spamming, e-mail harassment and illegal downloading of copyrighted materials, will increase the demand for private investigators. Opportunities are expected to be excellent for computer forensic investigators.
Salary & Wages
In 2008, private investigators earned an average salary of $41,760. A search of the web suggests that a more reasonable range for someone specializing in computer forensics is between $61,000 and $120,000. Private employers tend to pay more than public law enforcement, though law enforcement workers typically receive excellent benefits.
What are Computer Forensics and Crime Investigators?
Computer forensics investigators and computer crime investigators assist individuals, businesses and attorneys by finding and analyzing information.
Computer forensic investigators specialize in recovering, analyzing and presenting data from computers for use in investigations or as evidence. They determine the details of intrusions into computer systems, recover data from encrypted or erased files, and recover e-mails and deleted passwords.
Computer crime investigators investigate computer crimes, such as identity theft, harassing e-mails, and illegal downloading of copyrighted material.
Education & Degree Path
For computer forensics work, a computer science or accounting degree is often more helpful than a criminal justice degree. An accounting degree provides good background for investigating fraud through computer forensics. Either of these two degrees provides a good starting point after which investigative techniques can be learned on the job.
Alternatively, many colleges now offer certificate programs, requiring from 15 to 21 credits, in computer forensics. These programs are most beneficial to law enforcement officers, paralegals or others who are already involved in investigative work. A few colleges and universities now offer bachelor’s or master’s degrees in computer forensics or computer information assurance (computer security).
Because they work with changing technologies, computer forensic investigators never stop training. They learn the latest methods of fraud detection and new software programs and operating systems by attending conferences and courses offered by software vendors and professional associations.
There are no licenses specifically for computer forensic investigators, but some states require them to be licensed private investigators.
Entering the Field:
Most entrants who do not come from law enforcement begin by earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science or accounting. Helpful computer science majors include network administration, information assurance (computer security), management of information systems, and web development. Certificates and diplomas in security and forensics can help those with general college degrees re-tool for this lucrative niche.
Most computer forensic investigators learn their trade while working for law enforcement, either as a sworn officer or a civilian computer forensic analyst. They are trained at their agency’s computer forensics training program. Many people enter law enforcement specifically to get this training. They establish a reputation, then move into the higher-paying private sector.
Source for salary and growth data is the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For more information on careers in computer forensics and crime investigation, salaries, and job prospects visit: U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Private Detectives and Investigators, at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos157.htm