Tips for Choosing a Private Investigator

If you have decided to use a private investigator, here are ten tips to follow as you search for the right private investigator for your needs:

  1. Research your state’s requirements for private investigators.  Most states require licensure and continuing education, as well as liability insurance.  If you reside in a state that does not require licensure, check with your city’s requirements because they may have laws in place even though the state does not.
  2. Verify a private investigator’s licensure status.  Make sure he or she is not on probation, not investigating under an expired license, or investigating without a license when it is required.
  3. Read testimonials if they are posted online or ask for them.  If a friend or colleague has recommended a private investigator to you, that’s a good sign, but follow up.  Ask questions.  Has your friend or colleague used that investigator before?  What was the investigator like?  Were they easy to work with?  Did they produce a professional report?  Did they communicate well during the investigation?  Did they stick to the price they quoted you?
  4. If you contact a private investigator and he or she does not require you to sign a contract to perform services for you, don’t use them.  You want an investigator who has taken the time, effort, and money to create a legally-binding contract that will protect both you and the investigator if such a need arises.  It’s just smart business.
  5. Avoid a private investigator who makes you feel uncomfortable, doesn’t listen, or just doesn’t seem to be the right fit for you.  This is even more important if your investigation is going to be especially in-depth, difficult, or time consuming.  It goes without saying if you are planning to use the investigator on a regular basis.
  6. Ask for samples of his or her writing, whether that be reports, blog posts, articles, marketing materials, or something similar.  You can also sometimes gauge a good writer by visiting his or her social media accounts or website.  It might seem obvious, but pay attention to their writing if you have exchanged emails.  The last thing you want is a sloppy report filled with errors and little attention to detail.  This is most important for attorneys who need to be able to count on their investigators to appear professional and communicate well through their writing.
  7. Hire an investigator who is a stellar communicator.  The last thing you want is an investigator spending your money but not returning your texts, calls, or emails.  You want a PI who contacts you to give you updates on your case, even when nothing much has happened.
  8. Question private investigator candidates on how they stay abreast of changes and developments in their field, especially if they are a one-man show.  Do they belong to any investigator associations?  Do they possess any specialized certificates?  Do they attend training?  Read industry-related books?  You get the idea.
  9. Don’t hesitate to ask a private investigator about their background.  Depending on your specific need, this can be a very important question to ask.  Not every private investigator has law enforcement experience.  If they do, dig deeper.  Is their 20 years of law enforcement experience as a patrolman?  Detective?  SWAT team member?  A combination of experience?  Also, not every good PI out there is former law enforcement, and not every PI with law enforcement experience is a good PI.  Just use your head and make yourself aware of their background and how it translates into helping you with your case.
  10. Be up front with your expectations, including pricing.  Be very clear on what you want the investigator to do for you.  Discuss a projected timeline.  If you have self-imposed limitations on the particulars of a case, voice those limitations.  Always be clear on pricing.  Are you paying a flat fee for a service?  Are you paying an hourly rate?  Will you be billed for mileage, meals, and other incidentals?  Is there a cap on your ability and/or willingness to pay?  Pricing details should be included in the contract, so just be sure to discuss this further when necessary before you sign on the dotted line.