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.