Should you ever find yourself suddenly in need of the services of a private investigator, you are bound to quickly realize that it is not so easy to find an individual or firm that is just right for your particular case. After all, there are many service providers out there who all look capable enough to get the job done.
By making an effort to find out some key information about the private investigators you are considering, you will find it much easier to confidently choose one.
1. Is your private investigator properly licensed and insured?
Most folks may not be fully aware of the long list of possible problems that they can easily run into by hiring an investigator who is not licensed. For instance, such a PI will not be able to testify on your behalf in a court of law. Even written reports from such investigators can end up doing more harm than good to your case because the investigator can easily be blocked as a credible witness even if the information they have collected qualifies to be classified as critical evidence. And remember that life has all kinds of unexpected twists and turns so that at the time you contract a PI, you may not think the matter will ever end up in court. But what if it does? Are you prepared to have your investment go down the drain because of the legal issues surrounding the investigator you hired? You should also make sure that the investigator you hire has adequate professional insurance. Some states require this in order to obtain a license, but ask to see proof of an up-to-date policy.
2. Does your investigator have the experience and expertise to handle your assignment?
As much as a license is important, it is just not enough. There are other factors to be considered. The most important thing to determine is the experience of the investigator who will be handling your case. It really doesn’t matter if a company has fifteen years of experience or three years of experience, your case is dependent on your investigator, not the company.
You should always ask for the name and the private investigator license number of the person who will be handling your case. This can then be verified by checking their license on the state’s website. Most every state has this. It will tell when the person got his license. A person who has had a license for at least four years is usually someone who is serious about the profession. If the agency you call will not tell you the name and license number of the person who will be assigned your case prior to you signing a contract, this is a red flag indicating they are trying to hide something.
Ask questions about your investigator. Just because someone has prior law enforcement or military experience does not automatically mean they have much experience in covert investigations. Ask how your investigator learned to do surveillance and where they got their experience. The ideal investigator has done work for a large national private investigation company for several years in the past. These companies specialize exclusively in surveillance for workers comp/disability cases and are extremely busy so the investigator was probably assigned surveillance cases five or six days a week. The training and experience they got doing these are invaluable and can be used in all types of surveillance.
Find out if your investigator has training in report writing and inquire as to whether he has ever had to testify in court concerning his findings. A good lawyer can often tear apart a report and can make the investigator look incompetent in court if he doesn’t know exactly how to word reports and how to handle the questions asked of them. Your case can be won or lost based on this testimony.
Also ask if they have any other training that might be of value, such as a college degree in a related field, or prior jobs related to investigating. This may show the commitment they have to the profession of private investigating.
3. Are you clear on how billing works?
Many clients may not understand the billing system used by the PI they have hired simply because it may differ from one investigator to the next. You should always expect to pay a retainer. Find out if you must refresh the retainer when the money is spent or if they will continue to work and bill you the final amount when the work is done. Make sure that you know whether you are paying “door-to-door” or if you are only paying for actual case time. Find out how they charge for mileage. It is extremely important to ask where your investigator is located as this can quickly add hundreds of dollars to your case if you are paying mileage and “door-to-door” charges. This can vary greatly from one investigator to another so make sure you are clear on this.
Discuss any other fees that might be associated with the case. Some companies charge “set-up” fees which is merely a charge for them to take your case. Some charge report writing fees and fees for any video which may be obtained while others include it at no extra charge.
Remember that the hourly rate is not an indication of how good or experienced an investigator or his company is. It is merely an indication of how much overhead the person has or how much profit he is wanting to make from your case.
By simply asking and making the effort to understand all the small print related to billing, you can actually save yourself misunderstanding later.
4. Do you have a written contract?
Incidentally, a detailed written contract can also help to clear lots of possible future misunderstandings or misconceptions. Make sure all the charges are clearly stated. Do not expect to find a guarantee in the contract of the results you are hoping to obtain. The investigator is being paid for his time and expertise. No one can guarantee results. Do not work with anyone who refuses to provide you with a written contract. This will protect both you and the investigator should there be any problems. Read it carefully and ask for an explanation should you find something that doesn’t sound right to you.
5. Are they active in any professional association within their field?
Belonging to a professional organization or association in one’s field and being active in it usually sends out a powerful message about an individual’s commitment to maintaining and even improving the industry standards in their area. This is an ideal test that will quickly tell you how professional the PI you are considering hiring is.
6. Are they high pressured or do they want you to make an informed decision?
Unfortunately, there are investigators or agencies who have high pressure salesmen who insist you contract with them immediately or their price may go up if you wait. You may also be told that the price will be higher if it becomes a “rush case”. Most honest investigators will want you to make an informed decision. They also will not charge you extra if you have a case that needs to be done immediately. It is your money so don’t fall for stories or gimmicks from an investigator who is trying to get your business.
The truth is that private investigators can be extremely useful in many kinds of situations and can help solve many problems we face every day. By checking their license to find out how long the investigator has had his license, by asking about previous work experience as an investigator, by getting details about the billing, and by taking your time, you will be able to find an excellent investigator.