How to Hire a Private Investigator
Something has happened in your personal life, or your company is experiencing some malicious activity. You’ve decided it’s time to hire a private investigator, but you don’t know what a private investigator can do. Nor do you know of what to look for in a quality investigator. The thing you do know is that the investigator needs to be able to handle your particular investigation in a professional and confidential manner. So here are some things you should consider when hiring a private investigator.
What kind of work does a private investigator do? They conduct surveillance for a variety of reasons. Cheating spouses, child custody cases, workman’s compensation investigations, theft from businesses or residences, intelligence gather just to name a few.
Private investigators will also locate people who are being sought after by loved ones, friends, and attorneys.
Background and criminal history checks are another reason to hire a private investigator. A pre-employment background check recommended if you’re hiring a new employee for a sensitive position such as handling corporate finances and secrets, or clients’ sensitive information. It is also recommended for the hiring of caregivers for your loved ones and for businesses such childcare or nursing homes.
Private investigators conduct due diligence investigations for companies that are hiring a new executive, buying or considering doing business with another company. These types of investigations give the company an opportunity to evaluate past perform, associations, and behavior before closing a contract.
Private investigators search for assets such as bank accounts, cars, boats, airplanes, and property that may have been hidden from a spouse.
These are not the only things a private investigator can do, but it covers a majority of them. When federal, state, and local authorities are of no help to you, hire a private investigator.
How does a private investigator work? A question often asked. Most people have no experience with private investigators. What the average person knows about private investigators is what they see on TV, in the movies, or in the news when an investigator has broken the law. These are all misleading as to the real work done by private investigators. Most of the work is very boring. They spend a lot of time researching and writing reports. Sit for hours on surveillance in a hot vehicle waiting for a video capture of some action. But there are times of excitement. Private investigators are honest hard working people that truly care for their clients. They will perform to the best of their ability and provide you with the services and counsel you need for your particular investigation.
Ethical private investigators always operate within the bounds of the law. Any private investigator that does otherwise should be avoided since their actions not only affect them, but could also land you in hot water with the law.
How do you find a private investigator? The Internet is a logical place to start. Just type in “private investigator” and your search engine will give you a list of agencies in your area. But what if you need one in another city? Just add the city and state to the search. Look at their websites, read the reviews posted by their customers. Select a few to talk with.
Talk to friends or relatives who may know a private investigator. These recommendations are usually the best way to find a good private investigator.
What happens once you’ve selected a private investigator? You and the investigator will meet for your consultation to discuss your case. This consultation should be free. It should be in person, but can be done on the phone if that’s no possible.
One important thing to remember during these discussions is that no investigator can determine the outcome of any particular case. You shouldn’t be concentrated on the outcome you want, but rather at getting to the truth. The investigator is going to report what he/she finds. Good or bad, the truth is what you should be seeking.
During these discussions the fees and terms will be discussed. The investigator could charge an hourly rate or fixed price. This will depend on the work to be done. There may be other fees as well. Fees such as mileage, proprietary data base searches, lodging and travel expenses, and administrative costs. Some agencies charge for CDs and hard copies of photos and videos.
Most agencies will also require a retainer be paid before the work begins. The retainer is usually in the $1,000 – $1,500 range. Large involved investigations may require a larger retainer. All fees will be deducted from that retainer until the either the investigation is completed or the funds are depleted. Once the retainer funds are depleted, the investigator will contact you to discuss further funding or termination of the investigation. If more work needs to be done you will both agree to the amount of work and further funding of the retainer. Once the investigation is completed any remaining funds in the retainer should be refunded to you in a reasonable amount of time. All of these fees should be discussed during your consultation.
Your private investigator will draft a contract for the work to be completed and the fees to be charged. Once both of you are satisfied with the contract, it is signed and the investigation will begin.
What you should consider when hiring a private investigator.
Licenses: Most states require a private investigator to be licensed. Check the licensing requirements for your state. Make sure that the private investigator you’re thinking of hiring is properly licensed, is in good standing and has no complaints or disciplinary actions. Florida is one of the states that require a license and here is the link for checking private investigator licenses. http://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Licensing/Private-Investigation/Search-for-a-Licensee
Experience: When hiring a private investigator you want to be sure you’re getting an investigator that can do the investigative work you require. Ask what type of investigations they have done in the past and what they specialize in. Also ask the number of years of investigative experience they have. You should ask where they received their investigative training.
Your investigator should have some formal training and on-the-job experience. They should have several years of investigative experience particularly in the area required for your investigation.
Certifications: Not all private investigators will have certifications. For instance, a special agent or detective with a federal, state, or local agency will have more training than that required by of any certifications out there. Usually four to six months of intensive investigative and firearms training followed by an on-the-job training program at their field office. These investigators don’t need additional certifications. Although their training and experience stands on it’s own, they should be attending conferences and continuing education courses to keep up to date on the latest investigative techniques. Certifications can be a discriminating factor when there is a lack of substantial formalized investigative training. So ask about the certifications your prospective private investigator has.
The number of certifications doesn’t matter. It’s the quality of the certifications. Check the organization that issued the certificate. All legitimate organizations have experience, education and testing requirements to be completed before issuance of a certificate. Certifications from the Florida Board of Certified Investigators, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, and ASIS International are excellent examples of quality certifications.
Education: Usually there is no requirement for a private investigator to have a college degree. Having a degree does add to the depth of an investigator. It gives an indication of the investigator’s report writing and research abilities. Does it matter what the degree is in? Not really. A degree in criminal justice, law, or psychology can help in the private investigation profession. Most important are the investigation related training, continuing education, and experience gained while working as an investigator.
Professional Associations: Private investigators who are serious about their profession will generally belong to professional associations. They are interested in promoting training, ethical standards, and regulation within the industry. They network with other investigators to share experiences, techniques, and ideas. They will also attend their organization’s annual conferences where they will receive continuing education on investigative techniques, rules, and regulations.
There are several national and state associations. The Florida Association of Licensed Investigators (FALI) is Florida’s largest state private investigator organization. The Texas Association of Licensed Investigators (TALI) and the California Association of Licensed Investigators (CALI) are two other large state organizations. These three are known throughout the community as the “Big Three”. Many investigators within these states belong to all three organizations and network with each other.
The National Council of Investigation and Security Services (NCISS), Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), National Association of Investigative Specialists (NAIS), and National Association of Legal Investigator (NALI) are a few of the national associations.
Insurance: Some states require a private investigator be insured. Insurance coverage often separates the full-time agencies from the part-timers. Ask to see their proof of insurance. This will give you the opportunity to see the expiration date and coverage. It’s recommended you hire private investigators/agencies that are insured. It protects you and the investigator/agency.
Reputation: It is wise to check the reputation of the private investigator you’re considering to hire. Hiring an investigator with a questionable reputation can have a negative impact on your case. Do a Google or similar search of the prospective investigator. You would be surprised at what you sometimes find. Check for complaints and disciplinary actions with the state-regulating agency. Here’s the link for Florida. http://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Licensing/Private-Investigation
You can ask for references. Good investigators are usually well known. References will come from colleagues, attorneys, and individuals who have witnessed the quality of their work.
Fees: Private investigators usually charge an hourly rate. The rates differ from state-to-state and city-to-city. The rates for most large cities in Florida range from $75.00 per hour to $120.00 per hour, plus expenses. Fees are also dependent on the difficulty and specialty of the work to be performed. Be careful of the private investigator that is charging significantly less than the normal rate. You may be dealing with an investigator that has had issues of some sort or is unlicensed. Cheaper is not necessarily better when it comes to dealing with your sensitive matters and information.
Contract: A contract is the norm between a private investigator and their client. It is the instrument that details what work is to be performed and for what price. It covers what the private investigator is expected to do and provide as well as what the client is expected to do and provide. It should also state what is not to be done. Never deal with a private investigator without a contract.
Local verse Out of Town or National: When looking for a private investigator you should consider the advantages of hiring a local investigator. Local private investigators are familiar with all aspects of your city and surrounding area. They will also be available for quick meetings if the need should arise. You will also be dealing directly with the investigator that will perform your investigation.
If you hire a private investigator from out of town, one of two things will happen. You will pay the additional costs of the investigator traveling to your city to perform the work. Or, the private investigator will subcontract the work out to an investigator in your area. In this case you will have most likely lost control of selecting the private investigator you think is best for your situation.
Hiring a national agency seems like a great idea. They give the appearance of being a large agency with a lot of high quality investigators. The reality is that they are going to subcontract your investigation to a private investigator in your local area.
Communication: Communicating with your private investigator is important. If your private investigator is hard to reach you will have problems. There will be times when you will need to get or pass information. You will also want to get regular updates on the investigation or surveillance. But keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to get blow-by-blow accounts of an ongoing surveillance. It is very distractive to the investigator and can cause them to miss filming an important activity. They should update you at regular intervals or when important events have taken place.
The Consultation: This is an important event. It should be free of charge. It should be done in person if possible. The private investigator should be properly dressed and attentive to your needs. Don’t be surprised with some of the questions a private investigator will ask you. In addition to getting the information they need for working your case, they will also have to determine your intent. An ethical private investigator will make sure you have no malicious intent such a stalking the subject of the investigation. The consultation is the opportunity for you and the private investigator to decide if your working relationship is a good fit.
Feeling Comfortable: You should feel comfortable with the private investigator you hire. After all, you are entrusting them with your sensitive information and delicate situation. You need to know that your dealings are confidential and professional. This is why a face-to face meeting is so important.
Illegal Acts: You should never ask, nor should a private investigator volunteer to commit illegal acts in performance of the work. That includes actions such as wiretaps, hacking, unauthorized access to financial and credit reports, and in some states, such as Florida, the use of GPS tracking. This will only lead to heartache and possible prison time for one or both of you. Don’t do it.
Be prepared for what is uncovered: Private investigators cannot predict the outcome of any investigation. They will report the facts as they are discovered. Because you suspect something is wrong, doesn’t make it so. Usually your suspicions are correct, but sometimes they’re not.
Retired Federal Agent
President & CEO,
High Strategic Solutions, LLC