|How Do I Choose a Private Investigator? -- "Very Carefully!"
In the investigative profession,
as in all professions, there are some investigators who are excellent investigators, there are many who are
good to average, and there are a few who are not any good at all.
Therefore, when choosing an investigator, you should put yourself in the position of an employer hiring an employee. Start with your own research to determine what investigative agencies are available for the type of investigation and geographical area that you need. After obtaining several names, you should contact the individual agency and arrange for a consultation with the agency owner in person if possible, or at least by telephone. Have a list of questions prepared, including a request for references. Contact these references directly whenever possible. A written reference is okay as long as a real name is attached, and you can determine that it is a real person who has given the reference.
Needless to say, advertisements that say great things about a company and have references without any names attached only tell you that the company has spent some time writing a nice ad about itself. It does not guarantee that you will get what you pay for or that the quality of the service is worth the money.
You should also be sure that the investigator and agency are licensed, are carrying
errors and omissions insurance, and have some experience in the type of investigation that you need. This does not mean that you need to rule out someone new in the field. A new person may have more
enthusiasm and time for your case than
established agencies, but their lack of experience should be taken into consideration. You should expect to pay less money for an inexperienced investigator than one who has years of experience.
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I've Always Been Intrigued with this Field -- Could this be the Job for Me? -- "Maybe."
Many people think they would like to
become professional investigators. After all, it can be a very exciting job. However, as in any line of work, there is a downside. While many investigations are very interesting, many are also very tedious.
In addition to a keen curiosity and a desire to
learn, a good investigator must have a lot of perseverance and patience. Investigating is hard work. The hours are irregular. The pay
may be lower than other professional work, especially for beginners. Investigators are often underrated and underpaid. On the other hand, the
profession is growing; the potential for making a good living is there, and the work is ideal for those who hate routine and love to learn. Investigating is about finding answers. The more you learn about a variety of subjects, the better an investigator you will be.
If you really think you want to be a private investigator, you should make your first investigation an investigation of the
profession itself. Find out all you can about private investigators. Read some books and take some courses. You don't have to spend a lot of money on this. There are books available through your local library, and there are inexpensive courses available through community colleges and adult education classes. Of course, the Internet is an excellent source for information about private investigators.
Click here to learn more about seeking a career as a professional investigator.
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Do I Need a Law Enforcement Background to be a Private Investigator? -- "No."
It is estimated that 60 percent of the investigators currently in the
profession have prior law enforcement experience but this type of background
is not a requirement for obtaining a P.I. license. A background in law enforcement can be helpful since a person in that field would have
likely gained knowledge of the law and courtroom procedures. Police detectives routinely conduct witness interviews and
surveillance, just as many private investigators do. There are some big differences, however, between police work and private investigations, and some former police officers have difficulty making the transition. The biggest difference between the two fields is that private investigators are working for private individuals or businesses while police officers are employed by State and Federal governments for the purpose of enforcing the law.
Another big difference is that private investigators often have to work on slim budgets. For example, when the government does surveillance, they often use several surveillance vehicles and sometimes even a helicopter. A private investigator employed by an insurance company is usually expected to do the surveillance
alone with only one vehicle!
While prior experience in a variety of fields can be helpful to the new investigator, one's attitude, motivation, and ability to learn are probably the most important factors in becoming a good private
investigator rather than their prior
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How Much Should I Expect to Pay for an Investigation? -- "It Depends.
. . ."
Charges by PI agencies typically range from a low of
$45 an hour to a high of $250 an hour. Rates vary according to geographical location and degree of experience. You should expect to pay less for an investigator who is new to the business. You can also expect that investigators in large cities will be more expensive than those in rural areas.
As in other professions, it is risky to choose an investigator because he or she is the cheapest. Someone who charges
$45 an hour but is not able to do the job is ultimately
much more expensive than an investigator who charges $75 an hour and is able to complete the investigation within a reasonable amount of time. It is a good idea to compare the rates of several investigative agencies in a particular area to determine what is the reasonable hourly rate that you might expect to pay
for a qualified investigator.
Once you choose an investigator, it is a good idea to have the agreed-upon rate and an initial
budget limit that is not to be exceeded without your authorization
in writing. The investigative agency may require a retainer agreement, which is generally for the protection of the agency but also spells out the terms of the investigation.
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Do I Need a Special License to be a Private Investigator? -- "In Most States. . . ."
Most states now have PI
licensing requirements which are required for all those who operate as private investigators, including the State of Washington. You many obtain information about the Washington State Private Investigator's License by
visiting the Department of licensing website at www.dol.wa.gov
, or calling: (360) 664-6611.
The requirements for a P.I. license vary from state to state. In
Washington State, a PI agency must have a private investigator's
agency license and each investigator who works
under an agency must have an individual private investigator's license.
P.I.s coming into the State of Washington to do temporary work can do so
only if they are licensed in another state with "similar" licensing
requirements and if the case they are working on
originally started in the state where they are
currently licensed for up to 30 days at a time,
not to exceed 90 days in any one year .
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I Think My Spouse May be Cheating on Me. Should I Hire a Private Investigator? -- "Perhaps...."
It is my opinion that cheating and/or the suspicion that someone is cheating is a symptom of
serious problems in a relationship. Therefore, the best use of your money is probably spent on some type of counseling, either individual or marriage counseling, to get to the root of the problem. Surveillance is very expensive for the average person and can be inconclusive. In other words, after you have spent $2,000 to $5,000 you still may not know for sure if your spouse is cheating.
You need to have realistic expectations of what surveillance can accomplish. Of course, in many cases the cheating is blatant enough for the spouse to be caught within a reasonable amount of time. On the other hand, if your spouse is an erratic driver, it may take a lot of surveillance for one investigator to be able to stay with him/her long enough to determine what is going on.
Remember, real investigative work is not like in the movies. When the traffic gets bad, we can't just abandon our car and jump on a motorcycle to cut through it
(this was actually shown in a movie once!).
Investigators also can't engage in high speed car chases -- the risk of detection and speeding tickets would be prohibitive -- yet in the movies the investigators routinely do this type of thing.
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