Angie's LIST Guide to
Hiring a private investigator

Yes just like on TV, you can hire your own private investigator to spy on an unfaithful spouse or catch an embezzling employee. Here's how to hire a private detective.

What is a private investigator?

Private investigators, also known as private detectives or PIs, are hired professionals specializing in research, surveillance and other methods of investigation. Although PIs are not police officers, many have a criminal justice background and certain states even require this experience to be able to work as a licensed private investigator. PIs will work for private individuals or companies and attorneys may hire private detectives to find out information for a case.

What does a private investigator do?

A private investigator can help research and find out information about individuals, companies or other entities. Though often hired by attorneys, they can be hired for various individual needs. (Photo by Katie Jacewicz)

Private investigators can cover a wide range of work. Not all PIs do all these things, so its important to find an investigator who has experience or expertise that matches the job you are wanting to have done. Common work for a private investigator includes:

  • Investigating an individual such as a spouse or partner suspected of cheating or a person suing you for an injury that you aren’t convinced is injured.
  • Finding an individual such as a long-lost relative or someone who owes you money and left town.
  • Locating objects such as stolen property.
  • Investigating crime such as in-house theft for a business or a home invasion of an individual when the client feels regular police attention isn’t enough.
  • Background checks for potential new employees or others.
  • Setting up surveillance equipment and monitoring including GPS monitoring.
  • Case research for attorneys.

How much does it cost to hire a private investigator?

For certain services such as background checks, looking up a vehicle registration or identifying a cell phone number, private investigators may charge a flat fee. Most commonly, though, private investigators charge an hourly rate. Depending on your location, complexity of the work and expertise of the private investigator, fees can range from $40 to over $100 per hour with the average somewhere around $50 an hour in the United States.

Be aware that depending on the work being done, there may be cost to hiring a private investigator beyond the hourly rate. You may need to be prepared to pay expenses such as plane tickets, hotel rooms, long-distance phone calls, equipment costs or gas milage. Some private investigators may require a deposit or retainer upfront to cover potential expenses.

Be sure to have a written contract upfront that outlines all potential costs. Your private investigator should inform you beforehand if something changes and will require an increase in the cost. Always ask for an itemized list of expenses and specific records of activities you are being charged for to be given to you at the end of the job.

How to hire a private investigator

Finding a trustworthy and qualified private investigator can be an intimidating task so here are some tips to help you know how to hire a private investigator.

1. Get a referral. It is likely that you will be sharing personal information with this person and so it important to find someone reliable. Do as much research on the investigator as possible. Ask trusted friends for recommendations and if you are an Angie's List member, you can search for any local consumer reviews on private investigators. You can, and should, also ask your potential private investigators for references you can call.

2. Check their license. The only states that don't require licensing for private detectives are Idaho, Mississippi, South Dakota and Wyoming, and licensing is voluntary in Colorado. A professional private detective will be able to give you their license number immediately and you can check it with your local municipality to make sure it’s valid, has a matching name to your private detective and if any complaints have been filed against them.

3. Make sure they have an office. If your private detective only works out of restaurants and over the phone, that is a sign you should get out now. You need to know where to find this person if they don’t follow through on their obligations.

4. Ask about their experience and education. To make sure your job gets done right, find a detective who specializes in the task you need. Ask about how much work they have done similar to what you want in the past and how those jobs worked out.

5. Consider whether they have insurance. Most serious private investigators are insured up to a few million dollars. While it’s not necessary for all jobs, if something were to happen during the course of the work, you, as the hirer, would be held liable if there was no insurance coverage.

6. Talk about confidentiality. You are very likely dealing with sensitive information when  you are working with a private investigator and you need to be sure your PI will be discreet and respectful of information shared between the two of you.

7. Feel comfortable with the private investigator. If you don’t feel like the private investigator communicates well with you or if they pressure you or make you feel uncomfortable in any way, you should probably choose a different private investigator to work with.

8. Get a contract. Your initial consultation with a private detective should be free and from there, they should be able to outline anticipated cost. If you choose to follow through with the work, make sure all fees and expectations are clearly outlined in a contract.

9. Be sure you are prepared for what a private investigator may uncover. You are hiring a private investigator to uncover something for you and especially when it involves people close to you, be sure you are ready to for whatever the PI may find. You may hope the private investigator will prove your fears wrong, but be sure you can handle what they may turn up to prove your fears right before you hire their services.


Who is the best divorce lawyer in Klamath county?

my home been broken , house been vandelized and door almost kicked in

The proper term for this is burglary of your home, which is a felony in all states.
You should preserve the crime scene of the house by not touching or disturbing anything both on the inside and outside of the house. Do not enter the house since the perpetrators may still be inside.
Immediately call police and report to them that you discovered a burglary at your home and that you do not know if the perpetrators are inside.
You should ask any of your neighbors if they observed or heard anything and if so make a note of their names and addresses and give this info to police.
If you develop information that perpetrators are inside, immediately pass this on to police via 911.

It is understandable that a private detective is a business. Of course they will not work for free. But it is an awful lot of money that they charge. Now I think when someone seeks help from a private investigator, they don`t always have that much money to pay them because sometimes their lives are in danger and in their situation, money is not always available. I wish they would understand that. I know nothing is for free but when someone asks for help from a PI, it is because they are in dire need for help or their lives are in danger.

Private investigation is likely the PI's only source of income. They need to make a livelihood and they can't very well do it for free or chump change. If your life is in danger, contact law enforcement.

There are many factors and out of pocket costs involved in formulating a rate for investigative services - Complexity of the case, danger/threat level, continuing education, licensing, insurance(s), bonding, office space, marketing, utilities, specialized vehicle expenses and an insane amount of equipment. For every billable hour worked, there can be anywhere from 30 - 60 minutes of additional non-billable work that is put into the case (phone calls, meetings, writing reports, processing video/photos, purchasing equipment and consumable supplies, etc.) Also, keep in mind that PI's have families, children in school, car payments and mortgages. Many are self employed, have to pay their own health insurance, have no company matched 401k and no guarantee there will be food on the table next week.
I know this because I AM a PI. It is my only source of income and has been for over 20 years. I have children in school and financial obligations just like everyone else has.
If someone's life is in danger and for whatever reason, they choose me over the police and I take the job, now my life is in danger and I must ask, what is that worth? Just for the sake of this discussion, I am put in a situation to protect my life or the life of my client to the point of deadly force. Now what? At the very least I am looking at sitting in jail until arraigned, tens to hundreds of thousands to bond out, and hundreds of thousands in defense costs and a lifetime impact on myself and my family.
No thank you!
Not for $80/hr, not for $200/hr

Let's remove the words "private investigator" from the paragraph posted by anonymous on 9-3-14 and replace those words with, "Architect" or "Nurse" or "Electrician" or "Roofer" or "Mechanic". Would you have a problem paying your Mechanic their asking rate for fixing your car? Would you be upset with a Roofer or Nurse or Architect for charging Professional rates?

Or do you only have a problem with the rates of Private Investigators?

All private investigators care about their clients and many offer a reduced rate for Public Defender cases and proof of low income. Hiring your own detective is expensive as most of us are former/retired police or military with advanced education and the cost of operating your own P.I. Agency is ridiculous plus all the licensing, annual training, equipment. How do you think that is paid for and yet make a profit??? Police detectives are paid well as they should be by the taxpayer, just as thousands of dollars in equipment is provided to them. Private detectives are paid by the client (meaning YOU) and occasionally by the tax payer if appointed to a court case. We are PRIVATE, a legal professional, hence you are paying for our professional legal services and we are not obligated legally or in anyway required to help someone because they ask for help..that is why you pay the police if you are in danger. Educate yourself before posting senseless comments and too many episodes of Magnum, P.I.. I have been in business for years and LOSE MONEY every year, can barely keep up with expenses. It is a luxury YOU pay for.

Make sure they are licensed by their State. I have an issue with Statement #3.

Many Investigators work from a home office because their job is 24/7. If they don't follow through, you don't need to find them, you need to notify the State Agency that licensed them, they will handle the complaint for you. Because of the nature of the work they do, they don't put signs on their vehicles or have offices in public places. Their clients want to be discreet. If they work strictly for businesses, that is different, they should have an office .

1) I get more business by word of mouth (referrals) from existing clients then any other source and it is greatly appreciated. However, it is my position that it is a violation of my existing client's confidentiality to disclose their name or phone number to a potential client.
2) Confidentiality and Legally Privileged information are two different things and it is important for the client to understand this. If an individual hires a P.I. any conversations between the client and P.I., notes, evidence, reports are subject to subpoena. If an attorney hires a P.I. then it is attorney work product and might not be subject to subpoena.
3) In the 30 years I've worked as a P.I. I have had clients come to my office a total of 3 times. Lawyers are too busy, any strategizing is done at their offices.

This is good and booming industry which helps to counsel clients on both negative and positive results of investigations

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