Why you nearly need a P.I. to help you hire a private investigator

So, you need a private investigator to help you catch your cheating spouse, or to work undercover in your business to find out who has been stealing or to follow the employee who is claiming workman’s comp, but you’ve heard he plays golf every weekend. What are you to do?

The first thing I would tell you is NOT to go to the yellow pages and pick out 5 phone numbers and ask how much they charge an hour. Hourly charges mean nothing. Think about it, how many of us would call up a doctor or dentist’s office and ask how much they charge an hour? Not to compare investigators with the medical profession, but your first priority should be: are they qualified to do the job?

This is the information age. You can research anything you want in mere seconds, without leaving the comfort of your own home. If you are looking for a private investigator in Washington D.C., or San Francisco, go to one of the main search engines and bring up all of the investigators located within a 30 – 50 mile radius. Do not worry if they are a little further away. Eventhough they will all charge you mileage, the more professional companies will have investigators spread out around the State or city in which they operate.

This is where you need to think like an investigator yourself and it doesn’t matter if you are the CFO of a $100 million dollar corporation or a stay-at-home mom. Her are some points you should seriously consider:
• Do they have a website
• Do they list a physical address
• Does their website list everything out clearly and concisely or do you feel more confused after reading it for five minutes
• Do they belong to reputable associations, both local and national
• Do they accept major credit cards
• Are they known for anything else – published books, white papers, speaking engagements, seminars, etc.

In 2008, there is absolutely no reason why a company would be without a website. A website “under construction” is nearly as bad. Several years ago it could be chalked up to cost. Smaller companies could not afford to pay many thousands for a site but these days you can have a website up and running in days for a couple hundred dollars.

A company who does not have a website, for the most part, is a company who is either not legal and must “fly under the radar”, or who is not making enough money to spend on one. If you hire a) an illegal company, you yourself could wind up being sued and if you hire b) the company who nobody else is hiring, you’ll soon find out why – but not before you have wasted your hard-earned money.

Any legitimate security company needs to let people know who they are and what they do. In order to achieve this, they belong to professional associations – local, national and even international. International associations are a good indicator that this firm is held in such a high regard that they command the respect of investigators around the world. Examples of international associations are: The Council of International Investigators (www.CII.org), INTELNET and the Society of International Business Fellows (SIBF).

Once again, do not be fooled because a security person tells you their company does international work or because he calls the company “Smith Worldwide Protection”. Ask for references. Most of the time, clients need to remain confidential, so ask for the name of the Chamber of Commerce to which they belong. Call up the Chamber, or the investigation association or the State Agency where they say they are licensed and ask if they are: 1) known, 2) currently licensed and insured and 3) have any complaints filed/received any disciplinary action.

Remember, the best source will always be a personal referral. Failing that, decide after you have done a little bit of research. ALWAYS ask to see their investigator’s license or registration AND a copy of their insurance certificate. If they can not show you insurance, walk away or close the door. If I am hiring a plumber or carpenter or electrician, I will always ask for their insurance. If they do not have it and anything goes wrong, what will be your recourse? Even if you are hiring a security guard for your business – make sure that guard’s company provides a copy of insurance.

I would even go as far to say make sure that they just don’t have minimum coverage. Even though the Department of Criminal Justice mandates that security companies in Virginia only need $100,000 worth of coverage, we voluntarily carry liability insurance of $5 million. We do this to better protect our clients. If a person ever sues, they are probably going to go for millions, not thousands.

If the security company you hire only carries the minimum $100,000 and a customer is suing for $1 million, who do you think they are going to go after? You of course. On the other hand, had the security company carried a higher amount of liability insurance, they could have just sued the security company.

There will not be a huge difference in price wherever you are. In the Washington D.C. area, prices vary from around $100 – $150 per hour. It is normal to want the best deal that can be had and nearly everybody likes to save money. However, if you wind up hiring an inexperienced company who nobody has heard of and who uses young inexperienced people to conduct the investigations, then the money that you thought you were “saving” could turn out to be a total waste.

Here is an example: Company “A” is run by a young ex-soldier who joined the army at 18 and separated from the military after four years of service. He was a corporal and after he got out, he went to work for a local security company for a couple of years as a supervisor visiting buildings where other guards stood on post.

According to the State regulations, he could be granted a security business license based on having three years of supervisory security experience. He can not afford to hire anyone else so he went to a training school for one week and became registered as a private investigator.

Company “B” is run by a retired Police Detective with 15 years experience investigating homicides, five years in the transportation unit where he specialized in vehicular manslaughter investigations and is a court certified expert in accident reconstruction and cold-case murders. He too owns his own company and employees a retired F.B.I. agent and three former detectives with decades of experience in white-collar crime, gang activities, narcotic trafficking and sexual predators.

They both ask for a retainer of $1500.00 (retainers are usually $1500 – $3,000, depending on the length of time your case is estimated to take). You choose company “A” because they tell you that they charge $95.00 an hour while company “B” charges $145.00. However, after attempting to follow a subject for four days and losing them for the first three days and getting caught by the person they are following, Company “A” is forced to drop out or else you fire them (most likely ending). You can not even hand the case over to another company as the person you had followed knows he is being watched.

Company “A” then gives you an invoice for $20.00, since his botched attempts took 16 hours, which at the “bargain rate” of $95.00 per hour, totals $1520.00. Even if you refuse to pay the additional $20.00, you are out $1500.00 with nothing to show for it. Most probably the more exspensive company, “B”, would have accomplished the goal in about 2 days, at 5 hours a day, costing you $1450. With company “B” you would have had a professional product/service and had an investigator capable of testifying in court to support your case if that was subsequently needed.

The motto is: Beware of false bargains, for at the end of the day, you get what you pay for. Good luck with your search and don’t rush into it.

What should done about employees stealing in the workplace?

Q: I think that an employee may be stealing from my company. I called the Police but they said they needed more proof before they could get involved. They suggested that I contact a private investigation company. How can I find out what’s going on when I am not there to watch?

A: Even though a case may be criminal in nature – such as in the case of an employee stealing, with all of the known and pressing problems that the Police have to handle on a daily basis, they usually do not have the manpower to act on a “hunch” or suspicion.

If it was a case of suspected drug trafficking or gang activity, they probably would be able to dispatch some undercover units since there would be a very real risk of personal injury and/or serious felonies being committed.

When it comes to the private sector, clients really need to take the matter into their own hands in the majority of cases. By “their own hands”, I don’t mean they need to investigate it themselves, but they need to hire a professional investigator with the training, skills, experience and license to deal with the matter.

A carefully chosen private security firm will be able to sit down and advise them on their options. After the initial meeting they should have a good idea of: 1) the costs involved, 2) the time it will take to resolve the matter and 3) how best to deal with their findings – termination of employee, filing criminal charges, initiating a civil suit.

Some time ago we were approached with an identical problem facing a local business owner. He believed one of his senior managers to be stealing materials from the warehouse and selling it to other individuals. The owner had heard stories circulating about the manager’s dishonesty but chose to disregard it for many years. We advised him that we would use different investigators and vehicles to follow the manager around and video tape him where he went and document the addresses.

From day one, our investigators had discovered that the manager would load up his truck with building materials from the warehouse and head out without telling anyone where he was going. Once he arrived at a location, our investigator would call the client and tell him the address while another investigator video taped the transaction at the site. Nearly all of the time – at least 90% of the time, the manager would go to a site that was not one of the employer’s sites. He was taped handing over stolen materials on several occassions. Other times he would have unauthorized persons in his company truck. If they had been hurt in an accident, they most likley would have sued the business owner for having been allowed to be carried in the vehicle.

After two weeks, we had compiled enough information on the manager to show that he was involved in a company on the side with members of his family that were known to the employer upon viewing the video. Just on one transaction alone, we discovered that the employee had managed to steal a $45,000.00 dollar contract that should have been handled by his employer’s company. A conservative estimate of the employee’s thieving over the years amounted to in excess of $1,000,000.00.

Even though our client’s main goal at the beginning of the investigation was to fire the manager if he turned out to be a thief, he was so disturbed by what he discovered that he asked us to work with the authorities to prosecute him. Our investigators took the final report with their findings along with the video to the prosecutor and in a couple of short weeks the Police had obtained warrants for grand larceny and had brought the manager to trial as a defendant. Based on the evidence obtained by our investigators, he plead guilty and received a jail sentence.

Not all clients will want to go to that extent and many have no intentions of prosecuting an employee. It is still a good idea to pursue a dishonest employee and gather evidence that they are stealing or conducting illegal activities on the company property. The benefits of such an investigation are many. If an employee is conducting an illegal activity such as using or trafficking in drugs, they may be directly responsible for an accident in the work place that could not only injure themselves but an innocent co-worker.

Since the employer has a duty to provide a safe work place for his/her employees, looking the other way or hoping that nothing happens could lead to a devastating law suit that might put the owner out of business and lead to the loss of jobs for every one there. If the situation persists and the local police get to hear about the problem, then they will take the matter into their own hands.

Screeching car loads of Police officers jumping out in front of your building with blue lights flashing and sirens blazing will not leave a good impression on your clients. Nor will seeing staff being led out in handcuffs make them feel confident about doing business with you in the future.

It would be far better to have the matter dealt with by a private company who could send in an undercover investigator to gather evidence and if it turned out that there was such illegal activity going on, those involved could be given the option of resigning or having the matter turned over to the police. It has been our experience that they prefer the option of walking away from their job rather than being driven away in the back of a Police cruiser.

One should also consider some of the other benefits involving the uncovering of employee problems and dealing with them in a firm manner. In the case of the thieving manager, we found out from talking with and interviewing other staff members that he had actually boasted about some of the things that he was doing. He became so conceited that others were beginning to fear him or worse still, admire him for his actions.

When it finally became known that the owner had hired investigators to find out the truth and then had personal protection specialists escort the disgraced manager off of the property, the other employees realized that the owner meant business. There was little chance that anyone there would be imitating the convicted felon any time soon. The owner could finally concentrate on making the company profitable and making sure that his employees had a stable future.

Who says Politics doesn’t pay and why can’t I find clients with pockets this deep?

I have never drank the political coolaid. I have little faith in big party politics. Give me an independent politician who does not have to toe a party line and I’ll show you a politician who has half a chance of being a decent advocate of the people.

I think one of the greatest wrongs that politicans commit is in their thinking of voters as idiots. I use the Washington Post article of 1/17/08 as a prime example. Staff writer Carrie Johnson writes in the Business section that GAO investigators will look into “NO-BID Contracts” irregularities involving the Justice Department.

This all came about when a firm led by the former Attorney General, John D. Ashcroft, drew attention for receiving lucrative (more like outrageous) contracts to oversee companies accused of fraud and other wrong doings. One firm in particular, Zimmer (famous for their “Zimmer Frames”), agreed to pay Mr. Ashcroft’s firm between $28 and $52 million dollars to resolve kickback allegations.

Two questions spring to mind; 1) How much was the original “kickback” amount when they can now afford to pay out $28,000,000.00 to $52,000,000.00? and 2) Does the recieving of (as much as) $52 million dollars by a former high ranking politician from a company with it’s back up against a wall not sound like a “kickback” in of itself?

What does Mr. Ashcroft’s firm deliver as a result of this outlandish payment? Well, as a “monitor”, they will make sure that Zimmer stops making illicit payment to doctors for using Zimmer products. There’s got to be more than that, surely? Kind of. Ashcroft said that he has already made several trips to Indiana to “understand Zimmer’s troubles.” Several trips to Indiana for $52 million dollars? Did they buy their own luxury jet just for those trips?

Private investigation firms all across America conducts similar services on a daily basis, only for a mere fraction of what Zimmer has paid to this former Government official. As a private security business owner I can attest to the fact that a typical investigation company would be delighted and thrilled to receive 2% – 3% of this amount and in so doing would employ highly skilled investigators with backgrounds and certifications such as Certified Fraud examiner in the FBI, United Nations and other Govt. and corporate investigative agencies.

You can be sure that Mr. Ashccroft is not the only former government offical riding the gravy train. The article states that several other former government officials with ties to the Bush administration have been awarded similar contracts since 2001.