Hiring a Private Investigator

Steps to hiring a Private Investigator

You’ve tried everything to handle the matter privately and now you need a professional. Here’s what you need to know:

Where do I find a PI?

First, ask someone you trust for a referral; you don’t want anyone to know you hired a private detective. If your confidants can’t recommend a PI, you can use the Internet or phone book to find a licensed detective in your area. If you think your gambling childhood friend is headed for Vegas, hire an investigator in Las Vegas and the cost will be less.

License Status

All states except Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, and South Dakota, require private investigators have a license issued by the government. The license requirements are rigorous and the licensee cannot have a criminal record. State specific tests are given to ascertain the private investigator’s qualifications and experience. Some Private Detectives are required to have a minimum experience of three years in law enforcement.

Ask for the License Number and Verify It

After you have found the detective you want to hire, ask to see his license, write down the number and verify the number with your state’s licensing authority. It is illegal for you to hire an unlicensed person. If they don’t give you the number, do not use them.

The state police, department of public safety, or the state’s licensing board usually handles the licensing task. When you call, make sure the license hasn’t expired, that the name provided matches your investigator’s, and ask to see if any complaints have been filed against him.

My license is a Class C-CC License, #CC1000043. I’m a member of the Florida Association of Licensed Investigators.

Bonded and Insured

Bonding and liability insurance coverages are important elements you should watch for when hiring a Private Detective. To protect clients, some jurisdictions demand that the licensee be covered by a policy covering a certain amount of money. Professionals who care about their trade will have insurance coverage as high as a million dollars. Amateurs will not. Check the public record to make sure your detective is bonded and insured.


Your choice of an investigator is legal, so now it’s time to make sure he’s competent. Pick up the phone and ask for a consultation. You should know in a short amount of time if they know what they are talking about and is a good fit for your investigative needs.

Media Attention

Check newspaper clippings or Internet references to see if he’s been in the news. No news might be good news if they are keeping a low profile. Bad press might be a warning sign and let you know it’s time to look for a different private investigator.

Specific Experience

Ask if he has any specific experience with the type of investigation for which you are hiring him.
If he specializes in surveillance and doesn’t have the experience to find or locate your gambling childhood friend, you might need some other private detective.

Special Skills

In addition to being licensed, your investigator may have another certification. For instance, the National Association of Legal Investigators awards a CLI (Certified Legal Investigator) certification to experts in that field. Detectives specializing in fraud get a CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner) certification, which is granted by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.

Business Ethics

Contact the local Better Business Bureau or State Attorney General’s office and ask if there are any consumer complaints against your investigator or his agency. Ask your private detective if he provides, and abides by, a confidentiality agreement.

Final Questions

Ask questions that are relevant to your investigative needs. If you aren’t comfortable with this person, excuse yourself and leave. Ask how the detective got into this line of work. It will be an indicator of his ethics and proficiency level. Also, don’t be surprised if the detective asks you questions. He needs protect himself, and make sure you are not hiring him for illegal purposes.

Hiring Process

After researching and interviewing your investigator, you’re ready to hire him. It’s time to discuss payment. In this industry, the accepted method of billing consists of an hourly rate, plus job-related expenses like airline tickets, hotel fees, and long-distance calls.

Some detectives will work for a flat fee, with a deposit. They may be able to give you an estimate as to a final cost. Remember you are responsible for paying no matter what the outcome of the investigation.

Real-life private investigators are not like fictional PIs, hanging out in dark alleys, solving impossible crimes, and getting the dame. But if you need a private investigator for some down-and-dirty snooping, you now know how to find one.