I get this question in my email and in the comments all the time; people asking how to find a good private investigator to work their case.
You need to know there is no silver bullet answer to this. There is no one place you can go, one resource, one accreditation that means that investigator is going to be the right one for you.
Usually, I suggest find your state private investigator association and contact them. Ask them for some referrals. Ask them for investigators who specialize in what you are interested in.
That is one place where you can find detectives who are willing to put in that little bit of extra effort and money to be a member of their state association. That’s usually a good sign.
The other way to find a private investigator is to start with a list of private investigators in your area and start calling down the list, talking to different investigators.
If you’re price shopping, as you go down that list, you’re going to get a whole different response from the detectives who answer their phones. Investigators get that call all day long, people calling and asking how much we charge for this service or that service.
Rather that asking right away, “how much do you charge to …”, try asking if they even work that kind of case!
You are going to get a different response asking about cost first than you will if you lead with saying, “Hey, I have this particular case or problem, is this something you specialize in?”
Even if you go first to the state association and get a list of people who they think might be right for your case, you still have to do the telephone interview part and ask them different questions.
You are going to want to ask…
Do they specialize in this type of case?
When was the last time they worked a case like this?
How often do they work a case like this?
Those are very important questions because a lot of investigators try to be a jack of all trades because honestly, they need to make money. They need to bring in clients. So there are investigators who will step outside their comfort zone and pick up cases that they’re not super-proficient in.
Another question you might want to ask of a potential agency is: Who is going to be working for you?
Is it going to be the primary investigator? This is the person who holds the license and they’ve got some experience and have been tested by the state.
It’s not necessarily bad of if they give your case to an employee to work because (theoretically), the licensed private investigator has made sure that the P.I. they assign to your case has experience working in this kind of specific case.
So if you’re a private investigator, how does any of this information help you?
I would say seriously consider being a member of your state association. When you’re starting out as an investigator, it may seem like a lot of money to pay those annual dues, especially when it may not seem like you are getting a lot of benefit out of it.
I wasn’t a member for years and years and honestly, I’m not sure joining helped me from a business perspective, but it greatly helped me from the networking perspective and from a credentials point of view.
Not so much because I was able to say that I am a “member in good standing” of the state association, but because soon after I came on, I ended up on the board of directors.
I had been going to the meetings every month even as a non-member. They were gracious and allowed me to do that. They had nothing to hide from other investigators or the public for that matter. So they let me come to meetings, I just couldn’t afford to join even though it wasn’t that much money!
I will admit to you, I think it was $120/year to be a member, and I had trouble in the early days coming up with that money! It just didn’t seem like the right place to put $120.
So when you’re looking at hiring a private investigator, do your due diligence. Call around and ask questions to see if they are the right investigator for you.
A final note for investigators…
Don’t forget the number one thing; you have to be ethical about all of this! Nobody wants to hire someone who is a cheat, who is lazy or who is going to cut corners on the case.
Committed to your success,
Larry Kaye, P.I.