The Dos and Don’ts of Hiring a Private Investigator
What’s great about private investigators is that we can crack the case. Solve your problems and give you peace of mind. In this blog (and the video below), you’ll learn how to hire the right private investigator for your specific situation. But also know what to stay away from.
You do want a licensed private investigator. In 90% of the United States, PIs have to have a company or individual license. Why is this important? Because each state licensing entity puts PIs through the wringer. Before they can start doing business. Background checks, fingerprinting, reference checks, examinations, and more.
You don’t want an ex-con moonlighting as a private eye for your case. To verify a license, you can go to each state’s licensing bureau, pop in the company or P.I.s name, and get their license number. They should also have the number on their website or business card. Or they could email you a copy of their P.I. card or wall license.
Second, and another basic qualification is insurance. Do hire an investigator who has liability insurance and for errors and omissions. It’s often overlooked, but essential in this business. An insurance policy gives the policyholder peace of mind. So make sure your PI has insurance protection. Usually, several million dollars worth of coverage will do. Rarely does a P.I. needs to use their insurance, but it’s a signal of a professional business. On top of that, insurance coverage is a state rule to get a P.I. license.
Don’t hire a fly-by-night company. A lot of people love the idea of being a private eye. Many “form” a company and don’t even know the requirements or expertise involved. Just because a so-called firm has a Google Business listing and website, doesn’t mean they can do the work. I’ve received dozens of calls from people who want to be P.I.s and have done the work themselves. It never ends well, and I’m the final call they make after they’ve tried everything. Keep this in mind: doing investigative work when not licensed is illegal. It can lead to some serious charges – criminal trespassing, harassment, and stalking. Remember, hire a pro.
Going past the basics, third, do hire a private investigator who serves a niche? As a customer, before you hire your PI, you’ll want to know your personal goals. What do you the client want to get out of this investigation? Save on insurance premiums? get peace of mind? find the facts? Ensure your loved ones are safe? And why? The private investigation industry has specializations much like other skilled trades. You wouldn’t hire a foot doctor to perform brain surgery…
…so, don’t hire the “jack-of-all-trades.” Find a PI who has spent years working in their niche and who offers services that can help you achieve your result. Any reputable P.I. would tell you a story, provide a case study, or send you a sample redacted report. If you’re searching by the PIs website, they should have that spelled out on the front page. They won’t have dozens of services unless they have an investigator on staff for that type of service.
Experience goes a long way in the PI industry. There is no “spy college,” so do hire a P.I. with the acquired fieldwork. University degrees aren’t required to become 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.
You don’t want your PI to take your money and run. There are plenty of fly-by-night firms that aren’t invested in this trade. Nor do you want a reputable firm 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 they worked on your case. For example, a good PI can send the previous day’s update with video footage within 12-24 hours of completion. And, a full report with 48-72 hours. Lack of effective and timely communication shows a subpar professional.
So don’t hire a P.I. who won’t return emails, answer phone calls, or respond online. In-person meetings shouldn’t limit your decision on hiring a P.I. There are dozens of ways to get eyes on your P.I. For the last two years we’ve all been working so Zoom calls, Facetime, and Microsoft Teams should do the trick. I can count on one hand the number of clients who’ve wanted or needed to meet me in person. It’s not a requirement to have a dedicated office either. All our teams tend to work remotely – I’ve worked remotely for a decade. Quality is the key – keep that in mind.
Don’t hire a private eye without an online presence. We as PIs tend to hide our identity online, but that’s to me is a red flag. Private investigators aren’t spies lurking in the shadows. PIs are professionals working with people and businesses in the community. A businesses’ website is our neon sign. Poor content and website design show low standards. A social media presence displays thought leadership and expertise. On Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, or YouTube we get the opportunity to speak with you. The end customer. What business nowadays doesn’t have a social media presence (or YouTube channel?) Can you find your PI with a simple Google search? Reviews on the Better Business Bureau, Expertise.com, Google Business, or their website? If not, run!
Do hire on quality. Don’t hire on cost alone. How much does a private investigator cost? Easy answer? it depends. Factor in the professionalism, quality, geography, the niche in which you’re working. A typical hourly rate could be anywhere from $40 to $300 an hour. But, if you’re going for quality, you get what you pay for. Hiring a P.I. who offers to undercut the competitor’s price is usually a poor investment of your money. I’ve done cases where previous low-cost investigators couldn’t provide results. So, we’re stuck cleaning up the mess at an extra charge.
Granted, this is a blog for another day. So comment below if you want to see me write about that.