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Boston Univesity trains PIs for just $5000.00

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  • Leif
    For $5,500, BU trains gumshoes By Paysha Stockton, Globe Correspondent | May 8, 2005 Some jobs just sound sexy. Super model. Foreign correspondent. Private
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 21, 2005
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      For $5,500, BU trains gumshoes
      By Paysha Stockton, Globe Correspondent | May 8, 2005

      Some jobs just sound sexy. Super model. Foreign correspondent.
      Private investigator.

      ''I've secretly always had this little fantasy to be a private eye,"
      confessed 22-year-old Abby Ritchie, a social worker in Boston. She
      and pal Alex Higgins, 23, used to spy on Ritchie's older sister at
      her high school parties in Newton, lurking outside in Higgins's Ford
      Explorer with their video camera and journal.

      ''We did our own surveillance," said Ritchie, laughing. ''It has
      tinted windows, so we could hide."

      So when Ritchie's father saw the ad for a new professional
      investigation certificate course at the Boston University Center for
      Professional Education, he dared his daughter to check it out. She
      showed up, along with a dozen other potential gumshoes, at a recent
      informational session at the center's Waltham office.

      ''It was interesting," said Ritchie, of the meeting with instructors
      Thomas Shamshak and John LeClair, both private investigators and
      former police officers.

      Shamshak, the program's director and president of the Licensed
      Private Detectives Association of Massachusetts, knows how to find
      people and dig up dirt. He also knows how to uncover financial and
      legal records, how to loosen lips, and how to catch folks in places
      they shouldn't be.

      Students who take the six-month, $5,500 certificate course, which
      meets on Saturdays, will benefit from his knowledge, he said. The
      class will focus on tracing people, interviewing, locating and
      analyzing financial and court records, writing reports,
      investigating criminal and fraud complaints, going undercover, and,
      of course, surveillance.

      Tracking ''targets" is a crucial part of the class, added LeClair,
      who will teach surveillance. Homework assignments will involve
      following and documenting subjects with video and digital cameras.

      ''You're going to be going out and doing photos in parking lots," he
      said, adding students will learn how to take pictures
      surreptitiously and log license plates.

      Yep, some stereotypes hold true, the investigators said. Spouses
      really do hire private investigators to uncover each other's sins --
      what Shamshak calls ''cheating spouse" cases. Those are tough, he
      said; he gives people the bad news over coffee, gently.

      ''Can you imagine telling somebody, 'Your spouse is with somebody
      else?' " he asked. ''It's horrible stuff."

      But many P.I. stereotypes are pure Hollywood. Neither Shamshak nor
      LeClair, for instance, appeared rumpled, wore fedoras, or smoked
      cigars during the meeting. And, unlike investigators in TV dramas
      like ''Eyes," they don't get personal with clients, Shamshak said.

      Most people don't know how broad private investigative work is, he
      said. P.I.s work for insurance companies and the government,
      investigating fraudulent labor and welfare claims. They help police
      and district attorneys with cold cases and internal investigations.
      They locate assets, help find missing children, and run background
      checks on high-profile employment candidates, Shamshak said.

      Basically, private investigators are paid to find any information
      imaginable and compile it into tidy, indexed reports. ''No two days
      are the same," Shamshak said. ''You never know what that phone call
      is going to bring."

      State laws governing private investigators vary, but in
      Massachusetts they must be licensed, a designation apprentices gain
      by working as investigators for other firms, security companies, or
      lawyers for three years.

      Police officers with three years of experience can bypass the
      requirement. But for others, it can be a tough business to break
      into, Shamshak said. The class will help wannabes gain experience
      and hopefully vault them into jobs that pay between $15 and $20 per
      hour, he said.

      The field is growing, Shamshak said. And women investigators, who
      are rare, are needed.

      After the session, Cindy Pelletier, 48, mulled it over with her
      friend, Rhoda Merriam, 50. The women drove nearly 60 miles from
      Baldwinville to the session because Pelletier is facing a layoff and
      exploring career options.

      She was surprised by Shamshak, with his closely cropped, balding
      white hair, crisp dark suit, and tie. ''He looked like a cop," she
      said. ''He was pretty polished."

      Being a private eye sounds fun, she said. She thinks she could do
      it. Merriam, who saw the course ad and encouraged Pelletier, piped
      in: ''She's so nosy!"

      Pelletier laughed. She might sign up. It's cool to find out these
      jobs really exist, she said. ''You say, 'I always wanted to do
      that.' But the opportunity is there."

      The Boston University Center for Professional Education's
      Certificate in Professional Investigation course begins June 4 at
      the Bay Colony Corporate Center, 1050 Winter St., Suite 1400, in
      Waltham. Future classes will be held on the Boston campus. For more
      information, go to www.bu.edu/professional or call 617-353-4497.
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