Private investigators, or PIs, work with a variety of clients and customers. Attorneys, human resource professionals, individuals, claims adjusters, and risk-minded corporations hire private investigators to gather information.
When dealing with a private investigator, ditch the TV and film portrayals. PIs aren’t Magnum, P.I., or Jake Gittes in Chinatown.
PIs are fact-finders: they provide hard-to-get information for a fee.
If you’re new to hiring a private investigator you’ll want to ask a few questions.
Here are the 12 basic questions you’ll want to ask when hiring a private investigator:
Are you licensed?
A necessity for PIs to operate, licensing is the standard for private investigators. It’s required in 90% of states for a PI to hold an operating license. Have your PI submit a copy of their license or board-issued registration number before you hire them.
What experience, education, and/or certifications do you have?
Experience goes a long way in the PI industry. There is no “spy college,” so acquired fieldwork is key. University degrees aren’t required to be a PI but can when working in specialized fields. Also, obtaining a certification in a designated discipline goes a long way. If your PI lacks an investment in their profession, alarm bells should be going off.
What niche do you serve? What services do you offer?
As a customer, before you hire your PI, you’ll want to know your personal goals. The private investigation industry has specializations much like other skilled trades. You don’t hire a foot doctor to perform brain surgery. So, avoid the “jack-of-all-trades.” Find a PI who has spent years working in your requisite niche and who offers services that can help you achieve your end result.
Are you insured?
Insurance is an oft-overlooked but essential element. Should anything bad happen during the investigation, you’ll want to stay protected. Most states call for PIs to insure themselves and their company for several million dollars worth of general liability. Have your prospect provide a copy of their proof of insurance.
Is my information confidential?
In a world where privacy is paramount, discretion is invaluable. Can your prospect be discreet when conducting the investigation? PIs should be familiar with password protection, VPNs, two-step authentication, and more. Your initial consultation should be top secret.
What associations are you a member of?
A sign of a quality PI is one who engages with their community. Private investigators can be valuable members of the public and private sectors. Ensure they aren’t rogue operators who are out of touch with the world around them.
Do I need to sign a contract?
PIs need something in writing. Typical contracts come in the form of a letter of engagement or client agreement. Signing a contract guarantees both parties are in agreement to work together. Handshake agreements are nice for a PI’s current clients, but new clients take on a degree of uncertainty. Expect to sign on the dotted line.
Can you send me a sample report and/or video?
PIs stand by their efforts. Prior to the hire, have your prospect send a redacted (censored) copy of their work products. Sample video footage and investigative reports should give you an idea of the evidence that can be obtained. (Pay special attention to date and time stamps in the video; it’s necessary for authenticity sake.)
How do we communicate?
You don’t want your PI to take your money and run. Nor do you want them to “go dark” once the case has started. Ask how often they’ll communicate results to you. A good rule of thumb is to get an update on any day that work was performed on your case. For example, a good PI can send the previous day’s update with video footage within 12-24 hours of completion. Lack of effective and timely communication shows a subpar professional.
Does your PI have an online presence?
Despite working in the shadows, PIs are still business professionals. A businesses’ website is their neon sign and poor content and design show low standards. A social media presence displays thought leadership and expertise. Can you find your PI with a simple Google query? If not, run!
Is your PI asking questions about you and your case?
PIs get asked to do some immoral, unethical, and downright weird things. Newer clients may not comprehend what PIs can do. “Check them for crazy” is a frequently used (and harsh) mantra when vetting new clients. Make sure you as the customer have good intentions and aren’t asking the PI to do something illegal. Don’t be afraid if the interview gets turned around on you.
How much does a private investigator cost?
PIs don’t work for free. An upfront retainer covers startup costs. This might be a few hundred dollars to a few thousand depending on the locality, case type, and length. PIs can charge flat fees for each service, and others charge hourly rates. Expect to pay expenses like mileage, travel time, and lodging. Make sure you know how much your PI will charge before they begin. A key takeaway is that you get what you pay for – hiring a low price PI can lead to low-quality results.
Hiring a PI is can be a big and costly decision. But, when you find the right one, the money saved, the truth found, and the risks avoided can be tenfold.
Once you’ve hired your right PI candidate, you should rest assured. Ideally, you should feel like you’ve handed over your secrets to a trustworthy expert – a problem solver.
Finally, ask yourself how much would you pay for peace of mind?
Like!! Really appreciate you sharing this blog post.Really thank you! Keep writing.
I never knew that private investigators also have a niche within their field. But now that I think about it, it makes the profession more organized and it will help clients to identify the type of services that they need. My cousin is planning to hire a private investigator to help locate his adoptive son’s birth parents. I will advise him to hire a private investigator who is experienced in family cases.
Thanks for commenting. You bet – we PIs definitely have our own niches. And, finding birth parents is one of those niches. A simple Google search would most likely help your cousin out down that road!
I agree that I should also expect some online presence from a private investigator. I’m planning to help out my best friend look for one because she is suspicious of her husband’s activities these past few month. She is unsure whether he’s been cheating on her or if he is having some shady dealings so it would be best to learn more about it.
Thanks for the tip about how looking for a sample report can make it easier to gauge the skills of a private investigator. I have a friend who would like to hire one because he is suspicious of the activities of his dad. He tends to have appointments late in the night and kept on saying that he was just going to meet some old buddies from high school.
Alice – glad to hear you’re valuing the advice. Hopefully, we might help you in the future. Best of luck!