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Private Investigator vs. Security Guard – What is the Difference?

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Are you contemplating a new career path but can’t decide between becoming a Private Investigator and a Security Guard? Learn more about the differences between the two professions and what the licensing requirements include to help you determine which career path is best for you.

What Does a Private Investigator Do?

A private investigator is hired to investigate a person or company’s actions or whereabouts. The most common types of investigations include theft, fraud, custody disputes, infidelity, and finding missing or assets. To conduct their investigations, PIs use surveillance techniques and investigative research such as public databases and internet searches, asset searches, background checks, skip tracing, video and audio surveillance, taking photography, using GPS tracking, TSCM services, and personal observation. In many cases, Private Investigators will work with attorneys in civil and criminal cases to bring someone to justice. A majority of the work they do is completed undercover, providing their clients with the utmost confidentiality.

How Do You Become a Private Investigator?

To become a PI in Ontario, you need to complete a mandatory training course of 50 hours and pass the test to receive your Training Compliance Number (TCN). Once you have your completion number, you can then schedule your test with SERCO. After you obtain a passing grade, you are then eligible to apply for your license with the Ministry by applying at Service Ontario.

What Does a Security Guard Do?

A security guard’s main responsibilities include observing an area for security breaches, reporting suspicious behaviour or dangerous situations, controlling issues that arise, and protecting the public as well as private property. Security guards must be properly trained to identify and handle situations until the appropriate authorities can respond. Unlike a PI, a security guard is meant to be visible. They can also make a citizen’s arrest and turn over the perpetrators to the police.

How Do You Become a Security Guard?

To become a security guard, you must first enroll in a training course that is approved by SERCO. Once you’ve completed the course, you will be sent a Training Compliance Number (TCN) and can then register to write the Ontario Security Guard License exam. Once you’ve achieved a satisfactory result, you can then apply with Service Ontario for your license.

Are There License Options for Both?

Yes, if you complete both training courses and pass both tests, you can apply for a dual license. This will allow you to work as both a private investigator and a security guard.

Where Can I Receive Training?

You can access training at a Ministry Approved Training Institution, like the Smith Investigation Agency, which offers individual training in each specialty or a combined training course.

Why Train at Smith Investigation Agency?

Our award-winning agency is the largest provider of online training for the Private Investigator and Security Guard courses in Ontario. Our Ministry-approved courses allow you to train in class or online at your own speed. Not only do our students have a 99% success rate but our firm also offers many job placements for graduates.

To find out more about our training programs contact us today!

About the Author

Whitney Joy Smith

Founder of The Smith Investigation Agency in 2014, Whitney Joy Smith’s extensive background as a private investigator is matched only by her passion for the role. A graduate of several respected institutions, including Northwest Florida State College and George Brown College, her early years in life were spent between Canada and the United States. This education, along with her formative years as a private investigator in various agencies, informed much of her knowledge of private investigative laws, regulations, and operating standards in both countries.


The recipient of numerous industry awards and accolades, including the Consumers Choice Award, Best in Ottawa, and many others, Whitney takes pride in working closely with her ever-growing agency to raise the bar, maintain compliance, and meet the investigative needs of clients. Whitney is active in various membership and supporting roles, including the CPIRC, CBN, CAPI, Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce, and many others. Her experience-driven, thought-provoking articles have been featured in everything from Readers Digest to Business News Daily, and she strives to continually redefine standards for those in the private investigative and security fields. Learn more about Whitney and the team at The Smith Investigation Agency today.

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