Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Choosing a Private Investigator

You've heard the stories, heck I've heard the stories. A woman goes to a private investigator because she thinks her spouse is cheating. The PI barely listens to her, condescends to her and then tells her he has got it covered. All he needs is for her to hand over $500 or $1000 or possibly more and sign the retainer agreement. Flash forward three weeks and he's calling her because he's used up the retainer funds, he's investigated and still he doesn't have the "goods" but he suspects the guy is cheating. He tells her he needs more time. She looks at her dwindling bank account and is mixed with dread and the emotion of not knowing if her spouse is really cheating. We've all been there, the nagging doubt, the suspicion and the absolute dread. Always we hope against hope that we are just being paranoid. She hands over more money, what can she do. She's in this far and she NEEDS to know. The PI has got her hooked. Maybe after more hours and more money, he finally gets the poor woman what she needs or maybe she just gets tired of handing over the cash with no results and cuts ties with the PI. She's then left with the same nagging doubt and far less money in her bank account. How do I know this happens? It happened to my mom and I've heard countless other stories from clients, co-worker and friends.

I'm going to let you in on a few secrets most won't tell you. Do your research first! If you need a PI and will be working within the legal system, speak with your attorney for recommendations or requirements for choosing a PI. The same is true for all marital, custody or civil cases. Often your attorney will already be working with a PI that they can refer you to.

Make sure the private investigator has a license to investigate. The requirements for investigators vary from state to state. Here in New York there is an extensive background check, a test you must pass and a certain level of hands-on experience you must have. The following link will allow you to check your state requirements. Don't assume because someone has a sign that says they are licensed that they are in fact licensed. Ask to see a copy of their license. State License Requirements Use the free confidential assessment if one is offered. This is a way for both you and the PI to get to know one another and assess your case. Investigative firms often have specialties but that doesn't mean they don't also do general investigations. Make sure they can do what you are asking and they have experience doing it. Ask questions about their background and experience. Listen to what they are telling you, questions they are asking you. How will this person come across if they have to testify for you in court? This is the time for you to evaluate the PI as much as they are evaluating you and your case.

Take a look at their website if they have one or other markting materials. Is it well done? Are there spelling and grammar errors. Remember this is the public face of their company and it's important and could be reflective of later work.

Make sure you feel comfortable with the private investigator. Ask if they will be working on your case of if it will be someone else in the office. Always remember you are an important witness in whatever case you have. The same level of attention to detail they give to the information you have to offer will often be reflective of the level of attention to detail they will give the entire case. The more they ask you questions and obtain your knowledge, the better prepared they will be to investigate. You are one of the most important interviews they will do.

Always ask up front about hidden fees. Yes they may have an hourly rate of $60.00 but then there could be a charge for video, a per picture charge, possibly mileage and my favorite charge "supplies." Make sure you receive an estimate on the overall charges for your case? Make sure you have a written contract that is clear and easy to understand. Some PI firms like Mission Possible Investigations charge a flat hourly rate inclusive of all these fees to keep it simple for you and for us. We simply have a different bottom line than other firms.

Assess what kind of equipment is used for surveillance. Is it newer technology or something that looks like it was dragged out of grandpa's attic? How computer tech savvy is the PI? These are important factors to consider.

Read all documents carefully. Never feel pressured to sign a contract. This is an important decision for you and you need to have all the facts about the firm you hire. Talk to the PI about what you want and make sure you understand what they are telling you. Often clients have an unclear expectation of what PI is allowed to do within the law. Make sure you discuss with them what you are hoping for and what it is they can really offer you. Make sure it's a good fit.

Does the PI have any references from attorneys or other clients? Always ask. How will they keep you up to date with information they find? This is important to know from the beginning.

Use your gut instinct. If you don't feel like you can trust or that you feel comfortable with the PI in front of you, keep looking until you find a good match. These are just some of the ways to choose a PI. It's important to always do your homework and a little research prior to choosing your PI or really any of kind of service you may need.

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