How To Hire A Private Investigator
Knowing how to hire a private investigator is a fundamental step you really can’t afford to mess up. Not choosing the right private investigator from the start will cause you problems - legally and financially - as well as the feeling that ALL investigators are no good – which is not true.
So we want to give you some useful tips on how to hire a good private investigator so that you will feel confidence in them and not feel like you've made the wrong choice. It is true that not all of them are good choices and you will need to separate the wheat from the chaff. But there are many good investigators worth many times their weight in gold that provide invaluable services. The steps in this guide will help you understand what to look for and how to go about hiring an investigator.
As an important side-note, regardless of whether a private investigator is good or not, they cannot guarantee that your case will turn out favorably for you. Even the best investigators cannot guarantee they will give you the results you desire. So, just because you are disappointed with the negative results of your case doesn’t mean you didn’t hire the right one. A private investigator can’t force someone to have an affair or cause someone to commit a crime, just to prove the case “right”. If it’s not happening, it’s not happening.
Three main reasons you may think you’ve picked the wrong investigator:
1. They have become too expensive for the service they are providing2. They don’t seem to know what they are doing or keep messing up3. They aren't providing you with the expected information
Knowing how to hire an investigator and what to expect can build a better working relationship between you. Because of the nature of the job they can be a little cautious when taking on new clients, particularly private clients. This is because some aspects of the work can be very sensitive. So don't be put off if the investigator asks lots of questions, it's their job to do so. But first, it's always good to know what a private investigator is before you set about hiring one. Knowing what character attributes, skills and training they should possess can also help you know if you are hiring the best one for you.
Step-by-Step Guide On How To Hire A Good Private Investigator
#1. Decide on your purpose and goals
Before we go into the main steps of how to hire a private investigator, it's always a good start to figure out what you are trying to achieve and what you need and want the investigator to do. What is your purpose and what are your expectations? With this in mind you will be able to better assess if an investigator or investigation firm matches your needs. You want to make sure the investigator you choose can provide the best service for your situation.
#2. Conduct your initial search and build a list of investigation companies
TIP: A piece of advice is to first search for a local private investigator. It’s usually best to find one that operates in the area of the main investigation. Choosing a good private investigator that lives and works in the local area is better, as they will usually know the area better than an outsider. This can also save you time and money.
The most common place to start your search is the internet. Use a search engine and include your home town or city name like this: "private investigator in los angeles". This will produce your local search results which you can put into a list. Although a little out-dated but still in use is the local phone book. Put any listed companies into your list. You can also check these online in Step 3. Word of mouth and personal recommendations from someone you know and trust can also give you likely candidates. Put them on your list as well.
CAUTION: When you start looking for an investigator it is advisable to not go looking on places like Craigslist. Good private investigators do sometimes advertise on these advertising websites but so do the fake, unlicensed, and unqualified investigators. Check on official PI licensing or PI association websites, or an established private investigator directory.
#3. From your list, check the investigator's business website
These days the majority of businesses have a website and an online presence. From the list you created, search and check the private investigator's website, online profile and credentials. You can find a good private investigator by checking their website for their services, experience and associations they belong to. You can get a very good first impression and can tell a lot about the seriousness of an investigator by their website. If they don’t have one or it looks unprofessional then what does it say about them? Go to the PI's website; does it look professional? Does it state the services you need? How long have they been operating? Check their contact details; does it have a proper business email address or an unprofessional Gmail account? What work background and experience do they have? Weigh up the Pros and Cons of each company on your list and start to narrow it down.
Important Note: Checking the website is just for first impressions; remember, anyone can write anything on a website, it doesn't mean it's true.
#4. Check for online reviews
As well as getting a first impression from their website you can search for any online reviews about them and see what others have to say. Just type into a search engine (like Google) the detective agency or investigator's name along with the word "reviews" and see what comes up in the search results: e.g. "Joe's Investigation Company" + "Reviews". Remove any companies from your list that have bad reviews and customer experiences against them.
Important Note: Another important note to remember here about reviews is that they can be written by anyone - a disgruntled client perhaps that didn't get the result they wanted, despite a thorough job done by the investigator. Again, just because it's on the internet doesn't mean it's true. There are many fake and malicious reviews out there but if there are many negative reviews on the same investigator or company then you should probably steer clear.
#5. Check what professional bodies they belong to
There are lots of professional private investigator bodies and associations and most private investigators belong to at least one of these. Being a member usually requires the investigator participate in some form of membership initiation that requires demonstration of competence or possession of a PI license. Check the PI's website to see what professional associations they belong to, and check those association websites to make sure they are indeed listed members. If a company lists on their website they belong to an association but are not listed on the association website then that raises a red flag and should be removed as a potential candidate.
#6. Check the investigator's license
Does the private investigator have a valid license? Depending on what country or State they operate in, will determine if they need a license or not. Not all States or countries require licensing of investigators so you will need to check your local legislation. Each country or State that requires a PI to be licensed usually has an official website which lists licensed private investigators. Licensed investigators usually (but not always) put their license number on their website which you can check against the online regulatory licensing board. If they have a license it usually has a photograph. Check to see that it is valid and up to date. If they don't have a license when they should, or is invalid or out-dated, then take them off your list.
#7. Do they operate from a physical address or use a P.O. Box?
It's good to hire an investigator if they operate from an office or physical address so you can visit or contact them as needed. Having a physical address and not just a P.O. box number establishes a form of permanency of the business and will give you confidence. You should also understand that some private investigators operate from home as a home-based business, so understandably (for security reasons) may not provide the location on their website or allow you to visit their home - don't let this put you off. Just weigh it up in your Pros and Cons.
#8. Check if they are bonded or have liability insurance
Private investigators as a matter of course should have an insurance policy in case things go wrong. Some States or countries require, as mandatory practice, that investigators have a bond or insurance; but not all. Nevertheless, it is good practice for investigators to be insured. So check to see if they have some kind of liability insurance that covers you and your case if things go wrong. If they don't say on their website you can ask during the first contact meeting.
#9. Make contact
Hopefully by now you will have narrowed your list down to maybe two or three candidates you think would be good hires. The next step is to make first contact, by email or by phone, with the best one on your list. Explain your situation and let the investigator ask further questions to get a feel for the case. At this point they have an opportunity to agree to take on your case. If, for whatever reason, they turn your case down, reach out to the next best private investigator on your list in the same way.
#10. How to choose your initial meeting with an investigator
It’s always a good decision to meet your choice of investigator in the flesh to get a good first impression of them personally. How do they come across to you? Do they look, sound and feel professional? Do they sound as though they know what they are talking about and what to do? If you can’t meet them face-to-face, ask to have an online video meeting with them using Signal or similar video conferencing app. A good investigator may also want a first initial meeting to ensure you are the real deal and not some time-waster or criminal trying to use their services for unethical means. This meeting will also be a good point to start asking about costs of the investigation.
#11. Check the investigator's specializations and experience in your case type
Investigators can generally do most investigative services to some degree, but just like lawyers, investigators usually specialize in a particular service area like missing persons or background checks. Check what services the investigator specializes in, if any, and whether they specialize in your type of case. If they do specialize in your case type, find out what other cases they have dealt with similar to your own and the outcome. If they don't specialize but have experience in your case type then still consider them.
#12. Get and check professional references
If a private investigator is good then their clients will naturally praise their services. You can ask if they have someone (preferably a professional or business) you can check with as a reference of their good work – perhaps an attorney or law firm as most investigators have done work with law firms. Ask for a reference contact of someone who has had a similar case as yours. If they can't provide a suitable reference or decline to give one, go back and choose the next firm on your list.
#13. Set clear objectives
Once you have checked the references and are satisfied you have chosen the right investigation company you should set what it is you want to achieve with your case and agree these objectives with your investigator. Check with the investigator on how they will achieve these goals and check if everything will be carried out within the law. A good private investigator will be quite transparent with you.
#14. Set a clear budget
You should have already asked about costs in Step 10 so there should be no surprises. Before you sign any agreement and hire the investigator, between you, set the budget of what you want to pay. The costs to hire a private investigator can vary significantly and, if not established from the outset, can make you feel you have made the wrong choice if the investigator keeps asking for more money. The investigator can give you some idea of how long an investigation can last based on similar cases but this will not be set in stone. If the investigator charges you by the hour you can start off gradually to see how the investigation unfolds.
#15. Establish and sign a contract or agreement
A good private investigator will set up a contract between them and you, setting out everything agreed upon – terms, conditions, liabilities, objectives, confidentiality agreement, retainer fee, service costs, refund policy, and any other special conditions. Do not choose one that doesn’t give you a contract. A contract protects him as well as you.
#16. Keep things legal
Private investigators are not above the law and are not government officials, so check with them that what you are asking them for is legal and above board. The best private investigators will ask you lots of questions and should be able to advise you on the legalities of your case. Always insist on an ethical approach and don't cut corners.
What Else You Need To Know in How To Hire An Investigator
Wherever the location; contacting a private investigator makes no real difference. Once you have found the investigator you plan to hire, you will want to know what information and questions may be asked of you. You should also have your own list of questions to ask to make sure they are right for you.
More On Contacting The Company You Want To Hire
Depending on whether you are contacting an agency with two or more investigators, a large company, or a single one-man business, may depend on how you contact them for a meeting (if you want to have a face to face meeting). A private investigator generally works from an office if there's more than one, and you can go to the agency's address for a personal visit, as you would any other business.
If you contact a private investigator that works alone in a one-man business they usually operate from their home, in a home-based office. If this is the case, a simple phone call or email to arrange an appointment will be necessary. However, they may not accept clients to their home but instead will arrange a place to meet. Don't let the fact that the investigator won't accept you to their home as a bad sign, as they have to protect themselves and their family from reprisals, from people they have investigated. You may end up meeting in a business center or having a virtual meeting.
What Information Will A Private Investigator Want To Know?
Before any contracts are signed the investigator will want to get an understanding of why you want to hire them. They will want to know your motives. And before you are accepted as a client they will most likely need to ascertain if, 1) what you are asking them to do is within the law and, 2) if the assignment is in fact feasible and can be done.
No legitimate private investigator or detective will accept a case that requires breaking the law. They may come up with other legal solutions to your problem that will be within the law, but don't use a private investigator illegally, or ask, or expect them to break the law for you. If an investigator is willing to break the law for you then don't hire them. The investigator should have a good understanding of the legalities of their profession to be able to advise a course of action before you hire them. You may have a case that's going to be way too difficult to take on or just plain not workable.
A seasoned and professional investigator knows what his or her limitations and capabilities are and whether they are right for your case. Respect the investigator who declines your case due to insurmountable complexities, or a case that's beyond their experience and training. If an investigator turns you down because of this then ask if they can recommend another agent. There may be another investigator who will have the additional skills required. Keep looking!
What Happens Once The Investigator Decides To Take On Your Case?
When the company you want to hire accepts your case they will want to go over the following details with you:
- Subject(s) of Enquiry Details: These are the details of the person (or persons) to be investigated or involved in the case, including vehicles and addresses. This can get very detailed and is best if you have photographs to provide the investigator.
- Fees: The investigator will have an idea of how to proceed with your case and depending on the type of service offered will depend on the private investigator's fee. The investigator will more than likely ask for a retainer (payment up front to secure his or her services).
- Contract: Once the investigator has a clear understanding of your requirements and you have discussed costs, they will present you with a Contract or Agreement Form detailing the particulars of the case and conditions of hiring.
Once you agree and sign the contract the investigator will open a case file and start working on your case. At this point there is no more you need to know in how to hire a private investigator, or do, except let the investigator you hired do his or her job. You will usually be contacted either for more information or to provide you with interim reports as your case progresses.
The above guide will assist you in choosing the right private investigator and help you to weed out any bad candidates. By knowing these simple preliminary checks, even before contacting one, is very beneficial. Following and doing these steps will save you wasted time, potentially wasted money, and give you confidence in who you plan to hire. We hope this helps you and that you now have a good understanding of how to hire an investigator and what to look for. If you want to start looking for professional investigators you can search our private investigator directory.