How to Hire a Private Investigator: The Complete Guide

How to Hire a Private Investigator: The Complete GuidePhoto from Unsplash

Originally Posted On:


The job of private detectives has been popularized by Hollywood for decades. The drama series Magnum P.I. was just one such example. Although maybe not as glamorous in real life, the work of private investigators fills an important role for individuals looking for answers to challenging problems that would be unsolvable without expert help.

Almost 90,000 men and women work for a detective agency as investigators. Are you looking to hire a licensed private investigator?

Read on to learn how to hire a private investigator. We’ll cover some of the important things you should look for when hiring a PI.


Brief Overview of the Private Investigator Profession

Before you hire a private investigator, it’s important to understand what a PI can and cannot do. In some cases, for example, you may be better off reporting something to a police officer or hiring an attorney.

Private investigators work outside law enforcement but perform similar tasks. Often, the fact-finding professionals come from a background in military intelligence, law, or law enforcement.

Private investigators must work within the confines of existing state laws and statutes while not violating the constitutional rights of the persons they investigate. The investigators are often hired to find someone’s biological parents, missing persons, or whether a spouse is cheating.

What a private investigator cannot do is arrest someone, even if that person is found to be committing a crime. As long as PIs follow laws and ethical standards, their findings can be admissible in court in most circumstances.


Six Steps for Finding a Private Investigator

First, let’s explore the steps involved in finding a private investigator. We simplified the process into six simple steps.


Determine What You Want the PI to Do

Private investigators are tasked with tracking down information and people. But their skills will vary. Some PIs and agencies are better suited to finding financial information, for example.

Early on in your search, think clearly about what you are looking for. Do you need an agency with experience doing background checks or do you really need good photography surveillance? Once you have a clear understanding of the skillset you need, you can hone your search for those skills.


Start Your Search

Once you have a clear understanding of what you are searching for, you can begin looking for names. Start by asking personal friends and colleagues if they have had success using investigators in the past. A good referral can save you considerable time.

If that doesn’t help, an online search can quickly deliver several local options. While many investigators work remotely, you’ll want to hire someone in your area if possible.

An out-of-state investigator won’t be able to perform surveillance, for example. For residents in North or South Carolina, Barefoot Professional Investigations is a trusted investigation agency that has been in business for more than 35 years.

Once you have a list of candidates, check out their websites. The pages should include clear information about the individual or group’s skills and specialized services. This can quickly help you decide whether the PI can even handle the type of case in Charlotte that you are looking for.


Dig into Their Background

A degree in a field like criminology, sociology, or criminal justice is a plus when looking for a quality private investigator. Beyond having a college degree in a useful field, you should see if the investigator has certifications like Certified Protection Professional (CPP) or Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). These certifications are offered by reputable trade organizations and require hard work to receive.


Double-Check References

As you begin to narrow down your search, ask for references. Those sources are trustworthy individuals who can vouch for the investigator’s ability and skills. Any credible private investigator should readily have references on hand.

Then, follow up by calling or emailing the references. Quality references should include but not be limited to members of the district attorney‘s office, local law enforcement, and respected local attorneys. Good references are not simply personal friends or co-workers of the PI.


Ask for Proof of License

Most states require private investigators to be licensed by state officials. South Carolina is one such state. Among states that require licenses, standards will vary.

If you are unsure where to look for license information, visit the website of the state’s licensing board. The boards should be able to provide the private investigator’s licensing number.

Beyond providing basic license-related information, the state board should be able to provide records of complaints.


Check for Insurance

The private investigator profession often requires investigators to carry liability insurance. This could be for aspects of the business that include carrying a firearm. PIs carry firearms for their own protection, not to carry out their work.

You can view a private investigator who has proper insurance as someone who is more prepared and responsible.


Watch for Red Flags

You will eventually be sharing very sensitive information with the private investigator. It is important that you feel comfortable working with them. You should take any sign that the individual is untrustworthy seriously.

You can get a sense of this by how the investigator interacts with you. The people you investigate should have a professional office and be very transparent about fees and other aspects of the service they provide.

If the investigator is not completely transparent, do not hire him or her.


Steps to Take Following the Hiring Process

During your first meeting with the investigator, bring relevant information. Depending on what your case is about, you may need to bring photographs, documents, and other sorts of general information. Here are some useful tips on what you can do once you begin working with the investigator.


Bring Photos

If you want the investigator to take photos, for example, you will need to bring photos of the person you want to watch. You will also need to bring an address and other related information.

Don’t worry if you do not remember to bring everything to the first meeting. You will have the opportunity to bring additional information as the case moves forward.


Learn More About the Investigator’s Background

As you get to know your investigator, you can learn more about their background and training. Important information includes whether they have ever testified in court.


Be Prepared to Answer Questions

Once you hire a private investigator, you will need to be able to answer questions or clarify things for the investigator. Remember, the investigator is making sure that he or she is not being asked to do something unethical or illegal.

Never lie or mislead the investigator. Doing so could only make your situation worse. If you do not know the answer to something, do not make up the answer. Find out and follow up with the investigator at a later time.


Finalize Payment

You typically will not be asked to pay the investigator right away. Hiring a reputable private investigator is a potentially costly endeavor, so clarify what the financial costs will be up-front.

Most PIs charge by the hour. These rates change depending on the experience of the PI and which state and city they work in. You should also expect potential additional charges like airline tickets or bills for long-distance calls.

You are paying for a service and not results. If you have a hunch that your girlfriend or boyfriend is cheating on you and they are not, you will still have to pay for the investigation costs.


Schedule Follow-Up Meetings

Once you begin working with your investigator, you will want to schedule follow-up meetings so you can stay on top of the details of the investigation.

The follow-up meetings will generally be more thorough. This is because, by this point, your investigator will be hard at work on your case. Be prepared to provide additional information requested during the original meeting.


Final Tips

Investigations can take weeks, months, or even more than one year to complete. The types of assignments that investigators work on are typically very complex and time-consuming.


Be Patient and Open

Be patient with the process. Once you hire the PI, give him or her several days or even a few weeks to get started. Try not to bombard them with questions from the get-go.

A good PI will let you know when they find relevant information. Throughout the process, be completely honest with the PI. Sometimes, finding the information you seek requires sharing embarrassing information.

Don’t worry; anything you share on a personal matter will be confidential. Without complete transparency and openness, your PI may not be able to perform their duty fully.


Be Mindful of What You Ask For

You cannot ask the PI for anything illegal. There are limits to what a PI can do, and they are restricted by their own ethical guidelines as well as state and federal guidelines.

A PI cannot wiretap, for example. There are certain types of records that can only be sought through a court order, which may require hiring an attorney. A private investigator cannot hack into someone’s social media accounts.


Avoid these Mistakes

Now that we’ve covered some of the basic steps involved in hiring a PI, let’s look at some common mistakes you will want to avoid.

If communication skills are a top priority for you, watch out for PIs who do not return phone calls or emails within 24 hours. Private investigators are busy folks, but it is reasonable to expect a reply within a day or two during business hours.

If the investigator agency works through a call center, that could be another red flag that you want to avoid. You should have access to the PIs smartphone. Here are some other common mistakes to avoid.


Not Meeting the PI in Person

Never hire a PI without first meeting them in person. This can be difficult at times because everyone is busy these days. Sometimes, you have to hire someone out of state, and you cannot meet them in person.

When possible, ask to meet the investigator at their office. That way, you can at least tell that they are successful enough to have their own office and staff. If they are working out of a coffee shop, you may need to find someone who has more experience.


Don’t Hire the Cheapest Investigator

It can be tempting to hire an investigator based purely on price. Would you shop around for the cheapest surgeon for your operation?

Being the cheapest investigator is not a plus. This usually means that the investigator has a poor reputation, little experience, or both.

Prices for private investigators vary widely, and the higher hourly rates often mean better quality. Going the cheap route may lead to surprise costs down the road. In the end, you are paying for results.


Avoid Hiring Subcontractors

It is not common knowledge, but some private investigator agencies hire sub-contractors. Those contractor workers may be listed as partners or even more commonly, as “part of our network.”

Some private investigators make a living contracting out work to low-level workers. The supposed investigators are simply taking calls and giving out assignments. There is no way to know if the lower contract workers have experience.

You can lose control over who is handling the case in these situations. In these situations, you, as the client, have little or no control over who the investigator hires to do contract work.

You can avoid this mistake by asking if the investigator is a general contractor. You can also ask if the investigator will be handling every aspect of your case.


Learn More Tips to Successfully Hire a Private Investigator

Taking the time to hire a private investigator can help you enjoy the best return on your investment. The peace of mind that comes with locating your biological parent or knowing that a potential hire’s background checks out is worth the investment of time and money.

All of our investigators are licensed at Barefoot Professional Investigators. We provide a wide range of services to our clients. Contact our office today for a free consultation.

Data & News supplied by
Stock quotes supplied by Barchart
Quotes delayed at least 20 minutes.
By accessing this page, you agree to the following
Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions.