We describe biocompatible and nontoxic nanoparticles for in vivo tumor targeting and detection based on pegylated gold nanoparticles and surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS). Colloidal gold has been safely used to treat rheumatoid arthritis for 50 years, and has recently been found to amplify the efficiency of Raman scattering by 14-15 orders of magnitude. Here we show that large optical enhancements can be achieved under in vivo conditions for tumor detection in live animals. An important finding is that small-molecule Raman reporters such as organic dyes were not displaced but were stabilized by thiol-modified polyethylene glycols. These pegylated SERS nanoparticles were considerably brighter than semiconductor quantum dots with light emission in the near-infrared window. When conjugated to tumor-targeting ligands such as single-chain variable fragment (ScFv) antibodies, the conjugated nanoparticles were able to target tumor biomarkers such as epidermal growth factor receptors on human cancer cells and in xenograft tumor models.