You've been considering hiring a private investigator for some time, but whenever you mention your intent to do so, someone invariably warns you: private investigators are expensive! So is that the long and short of it?
Well, not really.
To be certain, there are people in every industry looking to fleece anyone they cross paths with. There are also some really great, honest people. Those in the latter category build their business based on their good name, fair pricing, and outstanding service. Those in the former tend to prey on people who blindly accept the first estimate given to them by the first person they talk to or the first Google search result they click. But you aren't going to be had quite that easily, because we are about to tell you some things you can do to prepare yourself for your search for an ethical, honest, and cost-efficient private investigator. What follows is a series of steps that will help you ensure that you find the right investigator and that you get real value out of each dollar you spend.
Define your objective(s)
Know exactly what you want before you ever pick up your phone or move your mouse. Do you want to know if your fiance has a shady past (or worse, is still married in another state) before tying the knot? Do you need to know the identity of a person who keeps calling and hanging up? If so, do you only want to know their name? Their address? Where they work? Whether they attend church services regularly? Be specific in identifying exactly what it is you want to know.
Write those objectives down
This may seem obvious, but keep in mind that when you first make contact with an investigator you are considering hiring, you are going to be engaged in a dialogue. Conversations have a way of drifting, and people have a way of forgetting about important points they need to make or important questions they need to ask. Write everything down and have the sheet of paper in front of you when you call your prospective investigator.
Compile useful information
The more relevant information that you can give your investigator from the outset, the better. Think names, phone numbers, vehicles, places frequented, hobbies, memberships in clubs or organizations, photographs, and anything else you think might be useful as a lead. Do this for your subject as well as his friends, relatives, and associates. Don't make your investigator waste billable hours finding out information you could have told her during your initial consultation. Don't worry though- a good investigator will debrief you early in the process to ensure you don't miss anything useful.
It doesn't make sense to hire the first plumber upon whose listing your eyes fall when something is wrong with your water supply. It makes even less sense to hire the first investigator you speak with. Call at least three investigators or agencies. Beware of prices that seem way too low as well as those that seem far too high. Pricing a few prospects will give you a sense of what is reasonable. Some investigators are specialists in a specific area, and some are generalists. Very few will turn down your money if you offer it to them, though. That's why it's up to you to screen out the duds. Think about the scope of the investigation you are seeking to initiate. If you have friends, relatives, or colleagues who have employed professional investigative services in the past, ask them whom they hired and if they were satisfied with the timeliness, completeness, and price of the services they received. If they respond to all three of these qualifiers in the affirmative, and assuming your needs are similar to what they had done, ask for the investigator's contact information.
If you live in a state that regulates private investigators and requires licensing, ask to see a copy of your prospect's license. This is especially important if you plan to use her deliverables in a courtroom. Many a case has been botched by an unqualified investigator whose collection methods were illegal or in some way did not comply with the rules of evidence. This isn't the wild west. Don't hire a cowboy.
If you are looking to have a simple background check run on someone, this may not be necessary, but we strongly recommend only hiring the services of an investigator who carries errors and omissions E&O insurance with a reasonable cap.
Talk to your lawyer (if applicable)
If you need an investigator as part of a civil or criminal case and you have already retained an attorney, talk with your lawyer before going forward with a contract for investigative services. Ask your lawyer if it would make more sense for the investigator to contract to them instead of you, as this can in many cases make the evidence he provides you with protected work product, and therefore not subject to discovery. Some lawyers don't understand the benefits of hiring an investigator, and do all of their fact-finding themselves. Others have in-house investigators, some of which are top notch. The bottom line is that it doesn't make a lot of sense for you to pay an attorney's hourly rate for work that an experienced investigator can do more quickly, more thoroughly, and at a lower hourly rate. It is also not in the attorney's interest to do so, as it will in nearly every case prove more efficient for her to outsource her fact-finding, leaving her with more time to build cases.
Choose your investigator
After completing the steps above, choose the investigator you think will best fit your needs. Arrange to meet and ask any final questions you have which may have come up in the course of your search. It is also important to remember that the dealings you have with your investigator can become pretty personal in terms of the information you have to share to have your case solved. So make sure you have good rapport and that your gut instinct tells you that the person you are dealing with is honest and decent and will keep your best interest at heart.
Sign and get a copy of the contract
Read the entire document before you sign, and ask the investigator to clarify anything that doesn't make sense to you. If he tries to rush you through it, slow down and read extra carefully. This applies to any contract you ever sign. And make sure you get a copy! It protects you in case things don't work out or the terms are disputed later on down the line. Make sure that the when, where, and how of payment are clearly spelled out.
Pay as agreed
Whether you and your investigator have agreed on a retainer against which billable hours will be charged, a flat rate, or a fee upon completion of the contracted services, be sure to pay as agreed. Just like most other people, private investigators work for a living and rely on timely payment to stay in business, eat, etc.
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We hope this post proves helpful in your search for an investigator who will deliver great results for the hard-earned money you pay. We hope you'll call us for a free consultation to see if our services match up with your needs. We are available around the clock. Call or text us at (256) 269-4989 or email us at email@example.com