In 23 years in the business, there is one thing I hear within the first minute of a phone call from a prospective client. They tell me they have never hired a private investigator before.
Many do not know what to expect. Expectations are sometimes low. Sometimes expectations are high.
With increased advertising and competition on the internet, it would be helpful to know what to ask someone when you want to hire a private investigator. It would be helpful to know how much you should expect to pay. Here are a few ideas to get you started when you make that one time decision to hire a private detective.
There are a number of reasons to hire a private investigator close to you or the site of the investigation. While many people hire me over the phone after seeing my website, we take some time to answer their questions to address their concerns.
Lately, I have looked at some of the paid advertisements for private investigation that I have seen at the top of the search page. You will recognize the paid ads because, typically, they have the word “ad” next to their listing.
There is nothing wrong with this. These companies pay for each click they receive because they are not showing high enough on the search organically. However, some may be local companies while others may be nationwide located far away from you or the location of your investigation.
I decided to click on a couple of these ads just to see how they interacted with prospects. I never told them I had an investigation. I clicked on their online chat feature and I asked them questions like: Are you in Kansas City? Are you in Missouri?
They avoided answering the geographic questions. The closest answer I got was that they investigators nationwide. I asked them what their private investigator agency license number is in Missouri, because I did not see it on their website. The response was typically they needed to know more about my case (I never said I had a case). I told them under Missouri private investigator licensing laws they are required to have their license number on their website.
There are other companies like this who do get their license in several states. However, they are still located far away from both you and the target location.
Here is an insider tip on how to maximize your investment in a private investigator. When you hire one of these companies, you will pay them an hourly rate or a flat fee. After you hire them, many companies then will find a private investigator (hopefully licensed) and they will ask them to work for a reduced rate. So now, you may be getting an inexperienced investigator willing to work for $40 an hour rather than $100 an hour (an average hourly rate). Most experienced investigators will not accept a subcontract rate that low.
You would be better off hiring a local person knowing what you are paying for rather than financing a referral. Not always, but usually, you would be getting a better quality private investigator and you can speak directly to them rather than communicate through a middle man.
I have heard that there are some of these referral companies out there who may not actually use a licensed investigator for your case. I cannot confirm this. Wouldn’t you rather have someone who has went through the licensing process, is answerable to their state’s licensing board, and who may be required to take ongoing CEUS (continuing education units) to maintain their license? Wouldn’t you rather have someone that, if your case goes to court, your evidence is admissible and your private detective is eligible to testify in court. I would be pretty upset to spend some money on hiring someone only to find out if they are called to testify their testimony is thrown out because they are not licensed.
How Much Should You Pay?
This is going to vary depending on the experience of the investigator, what kind of case you have, and the location involved. Typically, a private investigator charges between $60 and $150 per hour. The higher end investigator might be working a specialized area such as computer or cell phone forensics. If you are hiring someone to do an audio and/or video bug sweep of your home or office, what you pay will vary by the amount of square footage involved. Many TSCM (technical surveillance counter-measures) professional will have a minimum due to the expensive equipment and training involved in this service.
Most private investigators will require your fees up front. However, expectations for both parties should be outlined in a contract.
You should expect to pay either a flat fee for the service, or an hourly rate, mileage and related expenses. You should also expect to pay for the time the investigator spends compiling a written report and video editing, as required.
Have a Contract
The idea of a contract scares a lot of people. However, you should require a contract. A good contract, or retainer agreement, will protect the interest of both the private investigator and the customer. You will know what the private investigator expects from you and what you are obligated to. For example, if you hinder the investigation you have forfeited your retainer. On the flip side, you know what you expect from the private detective for the money you are paying in retainer.
Do You Pay if Nothing Happens?
Some of these nationwide referral companies offer that you will pay nothing if nothing happens. Beware of this offer. They are either working in such volume that they are looking for an average financial return, or they are using such inexperience investigators that they are paying them a cheap subcontract rate and you are getting what they pay for.
If, for example, you hire someone to watch your spouse because you are expecting they are cheating, you should still expect to pay for that investigators hourly rate, mileage and any associated expenses (video medium). However, an ethical and professional private investigator will take video of the scene they are watching once per hour with a time/date stamp to show they were there and what they were observing at that time.
There are a variety of reasons why nothing may be happening. It could be, the target is not doing what you thought they were doing. In the case of a cheating spouse, it may be the other person was not available on that particular day.
Another possibility when it comes to surveillance is how paranoid is the person the investigator is watching. The more you have confronted him or her recently about your suspicions, the more likely they are going to be looking over their shoulder more frequently, making the investigators job tougher. If the target is driving well over the speed limit and running traffic lights, you cannot expect the investigator to put themselves and others at risk because of this.
Now You Know
This list certainly is not inclusive. However, now you may be more aware of what are reasonable expectations and how to maximize your investment in getting the peace of mind you are looking for.
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