Hiring a Private Investigator

Hiring a Private Investigator

When deciding to hire a private investigator, care must be taken to ensure the quality and professionalism of the private investigator to be hired. In addition, it is important for the person hiring the private investigator to feel confident that personal information will remain confidential. For these reasons, there are several things that must be taken into consideration when looking to hire a private investigator.

Know When and How You Should Hire A Private Detective
Are you looking for an old friend? Do you want to find out if your spouse is cheating? Do you need to check out a tenant or employee?

A good private investigator can help you find the information you need. However, as with any expert you want to hire, whether it’s a doctor, lawyer, or insurance broker, you want to be sure you get the best for your money. Look for a licensed private investigator with experience, a good reputation, quality business ethics, and verifiable references.

You might begin your search for a private investigator by asking your friends, business associates, or lawyer for a referral. This will give you the inside scoop. Take the opportunity to ask questions specifically related to your needs.

Go online and check your state’s associations of private investigators. Most have websites with a list of their membership. You can also check with the many national private investigators’ organizations for a referral in your area. One such organization is the National Association of Investigative Specialists. Your state’s legal organizations such as affiliates of the American Trial Lawyers Association or the state defense bar usually provide a directory of investigators.

Insurance companies frequently use private investigators, especially for surveillance and background checks. Your own homeowner’s insurance company is an excellent resource for recommending an investigator. Speak to a claims representative. With a few inquiries, you should be able to find out which investigators your insurance company uses and whether they can meet your needs.

Check the Internet and Yellow Pages for listings of private investigators, but remember that these are paid ads. If you select an investigator from these listings, ask for references. Make sure the investigator is licensed, as most states require licensing. If you’re going to court, make sure the investigator has courtroom experience. An untrained or inexperienced investigator may not know the laws well and do something illegal during an investigation. This could cause you problems.

In any case, when you speak to an investigator, find out if he or she has done work in the area in which you need help and ask about the outcome of the investigations. Also, ask to see examples of reports for cases similar to yours.

When speaking to a prospective investigator, gauge your comfort level. You want an investigator that is not only good, but one that you feel comfortable communicating with. Once the investigation begins, good communication will be critical. Also, be open minded, as your investigator may have new ideas that you haven’t thought of that are worth exploring. That is one of the main reasons for hiring an investigator.

Before speaking to an investigator, know your budget. Expect to pay a retainer fee up front. If a private investigator doesn’t ask for a retainer fee or offer a reasonable hourly rate, it doesn’t mean he or she is better or worse. You want to hire a competent investigator, not one who is hard up for work. A good private investigator can be your best resource for assistance.

The Difference Between a Private Investigator and a Private Detective
The terms “private investigator” and “private detective” are used interchangeably. However, some states use the term “detective” while most states use the term “investigator.”

Do you need a license if you only want to help a friend or family member find old friends or somebody who owes them money? Generally, depending on the state, you’ll need to obtain a license if you offer yourself for hire or accept payment from a person or business and provide or participate in the following:

Surveillance activities.
Obtaining or furnishing information related to a crime or to the identity, occupation, habits, acts, business, knowledge, movements, location, associations, affiliations, transactions, reputation, or character of a person, group, or business.
Securing evidence for use before a court, committee, board, or officer.
Locating or recovering unclaimed funds or lost or stolen property.
Determining the cause or responsibility for libel, loss, fire, accident, injury, or damage to a person or property.
Some states may also specifically include other items such as bail enforcement, process serving, personal protection, or genealogical research. Be sure to check your state requirements.

To be a private investigator, do you have to have a degree in criminal justice from a college or university? No. However, some states may accept a degree in criminal justice, political science, police sciences, or the administration of justice in lieu of the minimum experience requirements. Recently, a study conducted on behalf of the Virginia Department of Justice revealed that almost 57 percent of all private investigators do not have a college education.

You might wonder whether you have to have a background as a police officer or in another law enforcement-related profession to become a private investigator. Again, the answer is no. Most private investigators do not have a background in law enforcement before becoming a private investigator. While it is true that many private investigators have had a career in criminal justice, the field of law enforcement is very different from the field of private investigation. Few make the transition from law enforcement to private investigation without industry-specific training, as law enforcement does not prepare them for work as a private investigator.

Professional Experience
Many private investigators have entered the field after retiring from the law enforcement field. Other private investigators have little to no professional experience. Therefore, it is important to ask a potential private investigator about his prior experience to determine whether he will be capable of completing a thorough investigation.

When looking into the professional background of a potential private investigator, care should be made to ensure that the private investigator’s experiences are a good match with the type of investigation to be made. For example, a private investigator with an extensive background investigating murder cases may not be the best choice of an investigator to check on a suspected cheating spouse. Rather, an investigator with years of experience in surveillance might be a better choice.

In addition, private investigators who specialize in a field often acquire special certification. For example, a private investigator may obtain a Certified Legal Investigator license or a Certified Fraud Examiner license. This is another avenue that can be explored when searching for a private investigator to make sure he is experienced in a specific area of investigation.

Insurance
In most states that require a license in order to work as a private investigator, it is also mandatory for the private investigator to obtain insurance. The purpose of this insurance is to protect the client.

In some cases, however, the state does not require insurance. Only private investigators with insurance should be hired – and the more coverage provided by the insurance, the better. Information regarding a private investigator’s insurance status is often available with his license information.

Interview
When a professional, qualified private investigator is located, the next step the interview. During the interview, it is important to feel at ease with the private investigator and to feel as though he takes your case seriously. If not, a different private investigator should be sought.

In addition, an ethical private investigator will likely ask many questions himself. This is to ensure that the investigation is for legitimate purposes. In other words, the private investigator needs to feel assured the information he gathers will not be used to harm another person.

Costs
The next step in hiring a private detective is to determine fees and costs. Most private investigators charge an hourly fee. The amount of this hourly fee may vary depending upon the type of investigation needed. For example, surveillance of a suspected abusive nanny will likely cost more than researching the location of a long lost friend. This is because surveillance is likely to use more special equipment and to require additional manpower than research.

In addition to an hourly fee, most private investigators will expect reimbursement for certain expenses incurred from the case, such as hotel bills, airfare, care mileage. Exactly what items are subject to reimbursement should be made clear prior to hiring the private investigator.

The decision to hire a private investigator should not be rushed in to. Finding and hiring the right person is important to protect those involved and to ensure an accurate investigation.

How to Avoid Unscrupulous Private Investigators
As in any other field of work, there are private detectives or private investigators that do a good job while respecting the law and others who put ethics aside to make a quick buck.

Asking Questions to Eliminate the Unscrupulous
Regardless of why you need a private detective, you will want to ensure the person you hire is a licensed professional.

Be Sure to Sign a Contract
Investigations can be expensive, so you before beginning an working with a private detective, it is important for both client and investigator to sign a contract outlining what is expected in terms of deliverables and reports, and what the fees will be to attain those deliverables.

Check with Private Investigation Groups or Organizations
There are a number of private investigators’ groups or associations that require adherence to a code of ethics.

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