Private eye flat out as recession bites

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From part time to full time in just four months.

As many local companies face downturns, business is booming for Queenstown’s Michael Erwin – Central Otago’s only private eye and debt chaser.

The number of people targeted by Erwin is set to increase even further as the recession bites deeper.

Erwin took over Southern Lakes Investigations last September – a part-time business owned by Kathryn Omond – but he’s already seen business triple since then.

With a background in security and a recently acquired diploma in financial services, specialising in “loss adjusting” for insurance companies, Erwin has added a few more dimensions to the now full-time operation.

Contrary to popular belief, life as a private investigator isn’t terribly exciting, says Erwin: “The bulk of the work we do is process-serving, which is [delivering] documents from lawyers and finance companies.

“Basically, if anybody owes you money that’s secured or unsecured and it’s going too far, you’ll engage a lawyer to send somebody a letter demanding the money they’re owed.”

He’s not a straight-out debt collector, however – he doesn’t directly take money off debtors he visits.

Yet Erwin has noticed a boom in this sort of work recently – stemming from local businesses “over-extending themselves” or falling over as a result of the economic downturn.

“That’s definitely got something to do with it and it’ll continue into this year – the full effects of [the global downturn] haven’t really come across yet.

“I think there’ll be more con­­­­tractors and builders starting to feel the pinch,” he says.

“There’s definitely a lot more commercial work out there now – I find myself going to commercial [premises] more, rather than domestic.”

Erwin’s also recently introduced an employee-check service for bosses wanting to find out if current or potential workers have a clean record.

Aside from his other main areas of work in repossession and investigating insurance claims, Erwin gets the occasional request from a husband or wife to check up on their partner.

These “matrimonial disputes” can range from battles over property to extra-marital affairs. “What you’re paying for is an unbiased opinion.

“It’s not as glamorous as people may think. There’s a lot of note-taking and a lot of following people around.”