A good private investigator can help you gain a sense of security on a wide variety of legal, financial, or personal matters. These matters include but are not limited to verifying a business partner or an employee's track record for fraudulent activity, a romantic partner's lie about their background, or a neighbor's history of sexual abuse of a minor. To allay any suspicions of a person infiltrating your life to cause you harm, a professional private investigation knows everywhere to look to ensure a worthy background check. Over the last decade, more than 20 million background checks are conducted in the US annually, with the figure for 2020 almost doubled at 39.69 million checks registered by the FBI.
When considering a private investigator near me, it is essential to be sure they can handle the full extent of a quality check required, including criminal records, civil records, employment history, personal references, and an education check. Other benefits of hiring a private detective near you include a more thorough investigation because of the invaluable knowledge of your locality and ability to quickly respond to new evidence. Proximity will also afford your local private investigator the chance to meet you at a moment's notice and lower charges due to short commute. Before concluding on hiring a qualified private investigator near you, you should also ask the following questions:
Are You Licensed, Registered, or Certified?
Private investigators in the United States are generally required to have state-issued licenses. The requirements for obtaining a private investigator's license vary by location, but they generally involve the individual being at least 21 years of age, having no prior felony convictions, as well as meeting state-mandated insurance and bonding conditions. Some states like Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Alaska, and Wyoming do not have state-level licensing requirements for private investigators. However, in states like these, counties, cities, and municipalities may have local-level licensing requirements.
Always make sure that any private investigator you hire is licensed in compliance with the requirements of your area of residence. You can contact your state's consumer protection agency to find out the specific requirements for your locality. In addition to this, many states have at least one professional association for private investigators. While membership in a trade association is not compulsory, it is always a good idea to hire a private investigator that belongs to one. These associations typically hold their members to a code of conduct that ensures that they perform their duties in the most professional way possible. You can contact the private investigator associations located in your state of residence to get recommendations on professional private investigators near you.
How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Private Investigator?
The cost of hiring a private investigator is influenced by factors like the type of task that the private investigator is expected to perform and the complexity of completing this task, the private investigator's reputation and level of experience, your location, and the billing structure that the private investigator utilizes. Private investigators typically charge clients hourly rates at a range of $40 - $150 per hour for their services. Some private investigators may also request an upfront retainer if the matter involves an ongoing investigation. However, for relatively straightforward tasks like background checks, bug sweeps, vehicle registration and criminal searches, and court document retrievals, private investigators may charge a flat fee. This fee can be as low as $20 - $30, or as high as $100 - $200.
When you have to hire a private investigator near you, there are certain steps that you can take to ensure that the cost of doing this does not exceed your budget. These steps include:
- Provide as much information as possible: Withholding relevant information can slow down the investigative process. This increases the amount of time that is spent on your matter, which in turn invariably increases the total cost of your bill at the end of the day
- Purchase hours in bulk: It is normal for investigations to take unexpected twists and turns and so it is always a good idea to pay for as many hours as possible at once instead of hiring the private investigator in snippets. For example, if you suspect that a spouse is cheating on you, paying in bulk means that the private investigator can spend longer stretches of time surveilling this spouse. This increases the chances of either catching your target in the act or quickly concluding that there is no infidelity going on. Either way, your matter gets resolved faster. Some private investigators and private investigation companies also offer discounts on longer jobs and you can negotiate refunds for unbilled hours
- Trust your private investigator: In many cases, hiring a private investigator is not an easy decision. However, it is important to pay attention to any ideas and procedures that this private investigator might have on how to proceed with the case. Doing otherwise might deter the process and cost you more money
What Are Common Private Investigation Expenses?
In addition to the standard hourly or fixed fees, you may also incur some additional expenses when you hire a private investigator. Some of these expenses include:
- Travel expenses: When you hire a private investigator near you, there is always the possibility of the investigation requiring the investigator to leave your immediate locality. Travel expenses typically include hotel fees, gas and mileage fees, airline ticket costs, and toll fees
- Court appearance expenses: If the matter that is investigated results in litigation, your private investigator may be required to testify in court. If this happens, you may be required to pay your private investigator an additional court appearance fee
Depending on the arrangement that you have with your private investigator, these expenses may either be deducted from your retainer or you may be billed separately for them. You should always discuss this before you hire the private investigator and come up with a payment structure that is suitable for both of you. It is also a good idea to request receipts, invoices, or any other form of documentation for these expenses for record-keeping purposes.
Who Will Do the Work?
You should always find out who will do the work when you hire a private investigator. Although many private investigators are self-employed, some of them work for investigative firms. If you decide to hire from a firm, then you should ensure that the actual private investigator that is designated to handle your matter is duly qualified and licensed per the requirements of your state of residence. You should also make sure that there is a direct channel of communication between you and this person. Make inquiries concerning how your information will be handled and to whom you can report any professional behavior on the part of this private investigator.
What Qualifications Should a Private Investigator Have?
Private investigators are typically required to have a high school certificate or its educational equivalent. These individuals typically pick up skills through on-the-job learning and training at the hands of more experienced private investigators. Some private investigators also have previous work experience in legal, law enforcement, and intelligence-related fields. Private investigation firms may also provide specialized training for their employees in their respective areas of concentration. For example, firms that focus on corporate investigations usually provide training on management structure, business practices, and other finance-related topics for their employees.
The United States Bureau of Investigation estimates that there are currently 32,200 employed private detectives and investigators in the country. Some of these private investigators obtain certifications from professional bodies like ASIS International and the National Association of Legal Investigators. Note that certification is not a mandatory requirement for becoming a private investigator. However, certified private investigators are generally more competent and professionally behaved than their uncertified colleagues.
Will You Provide References?
When you want to hire a private investigator, it is always a good idea to ask for references. You can get referrals on private investigators near you from trusted friends and family or local private investigator associations if you do not wish to involve any friends and family in the matter. When a private investigator is referred to you, you should also ask this investigator to provide you with references on past clients and cases. Doing this can help you determine whether the investigator is the right fit for you or if you have to find another more qualified private investigator near you. Note that due to confidentiality reasons, a private investigator may not be able to provide you with the exact names of past clients or exact details of past cases. However, experienced and reputable private investigators should be able to provide you with enough details and reports that you can use to assess their level of professionalism, skills, quality of work, and outcome consistency.
In addition to directly asking the private investigator for references, you can also get independent reviews on private investigators through third-party websites like Google Review, Better Business Bureau, and Yelp. These websites allow consumers to post unbiased reviews on individuals and companies that they have worked with, and they are a good resource for finding professional and qualified private investigators near you.
Quick Facts about Private Investigators
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Expert Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Private Investigators
Are Private Investigators Legal?
Yes, they are. Private investigators are typically required to obtain a state or local government-issued license before operating. This licensing legalizes their actions and also ensures that their activities are regulated by relevant authorities.
What Is a Private Investigator Allowed to Do?
Although private investigators are not bound by some of the restrictions that are placed on law enforcement officials, they must always operate within the confines of the law. This means that private investigators are allowed to search public records and online databases or carry out surveillance to get information on their targets. However, they are not allowed to commit acts that are considered illegal in the areas where they operate. These acts include tampering with mail or hacking online accounts to obtain protected information, trespassing into homes or personal property, impersonating law enforcement or public officials, or recording conversations without getting the consent of at least one of the parties being recorded.
Do Private Investigators Have Badges?
Yes, some private investigators have badges. Note that private investigators are not allowed to impersonate law enforcement officials, and these badges are purely for identification purposes to reinforce their licensing status.
Why Would a Private Investigator Be Looking for Me?
A private investigator may be looking for you for a wide variety of reasons, such as:
- You have information that is pertinent to a matter being investigated
- You may need to authenticate claims made to your insurance company
- You may have been listed as a reference by someone
- The private investigator may have been specifically hired to look for you
How Do I Get Rid of a Private Investigator?
Professional private investigators are skilled at avoiding detection by the subjects of their investigations. However, if you suspect or discover that you are being surveilled or followed, then your best course of action is to contact your local law enforcement authorities and report this. You should never physically confront anyone that you suspect is following you. Also, considering that private investigators are not allowed to trespass on personal property, it is a good idea to stay indoors until the matter has been satisfactorily resolved.
Can Private Investigators Be Charged with Stalking?
Private investigators that are licensed by the relevant authorities and work within the confines of the law cannot be charged with committing any crimes. Note that this does not stop you from contacting your local law enforcement authorities if you suspect that you are being stalked, regardless of whether this person may be a licensed private investigator or not.
Can You Sue Someone for Hiring a Private Investigator?
Licensed private investigators are statutorily authorized to perform their duties, and as such, you cannot sue a person for hiring one to dig up information on you. However, if this private investigator commits any illegal acts whilst doing this, then you can sue both the private investigator and the person that hired this private investigator. These illegal acts may include trespassing, intimidation, and harassment.
How Do I Get a Private Investigator License?
You can get a private investigator license by meeting all the requirements of the state or local government authority where applicable. These typically include being at least 21 years old, having a high school certificate, and having no prior felony convictions. You can find out the specific licensing requirements for private investigators in the area you intend to operate by contacting the consumer protection agency that oversees that locality.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Private Investigator?
There are no mandatory post-high school educational requirements for becoming a private investigator. However, some states may require higher institution educational qualifications or one to four years of work experience in law enforcement and other criminal justice-related fields before they issue individuals with private investigator licenses.
When Do I Need to Hire a Private Investigator?
You may need to hire a private investigator for any of the following reasons:
- You want to carry out a background check on a new business partner, employee, love interest, or potential spouse
- You are the victim of identity theft and you need to track down the party responsible for this
- You are thinking of investing your money in a company and you need to do your due diligence to avoid losing your funds to fraud
- You are involved in a personal injury investigation and you need to find witnesses or other relevant information that can help you with the case
- You are involved in a child custody case and you need to get information that can help you win custody
- You are involved in a family law case and you suspect that your spouse is hiding valuable assets or information from you
- You suspect that your spouse or romantic partner is being unfaithful and you need to verify this
- You need to verify insurance claims
- You need to verify the authenticity of certain documents