Choose the right PI
Chances are there are dozens of PI’s advertising their services in your local area but not all of them will be suitable for your investigation. Try to find a well-established agency that holds appropriate licensing and specialises in your area of investigation. Do your own bit of detective work before hiring a PI to make sure they have a good reputation. A simple Google search will often suffice. In Queensland, PI licence checks can be carried out at http://www.fairtrading.qld.gov.au/security-industry-licence-check.htm
Have a budget in mind
If you are a new client, most agencies will require you to pay a retainer for their services prior to commencement of the job. Most firms will charge a minimum of four hours for surveillance. Most reputable agencies will also require you to sign a client agreement setting out the scope of the investigation and detailing what each party expects from the other during the course of the investigation including payment terms.
It’s always wise to have an idea of what you are prepared to spend on the investigation when you contact a PI. Knowing what sort of budget they have will help your PI plan the investigation more effectively and will also help them advise you as to whether an investigation on your budget is likely to reap results. Knowing what your budget is for an investigation may require some thought and often some soul-searching to determine what value you place on obtaining the information you seek. Reputable agencies with experienced operatives do not come cheap. Expect to pay hundreds, if not thousands for a result. In Australia, agencies charge between $80 and $150 per hour for standard surveillance for example.
While some agencies will give you a fixed price for certain tasks such as process serving, most investigations will be charged at an hourly rate plus expenses. These expenses may include travel costs such as vehicle mileage (if travelling over a certain number of kilometres from the base) or fees associated with public record searches. Most experienced agents will be able to give you a ballpark quote on expenses prior to commencing the investigation. Because of the unpredictable nature of many investigations, most agencies won’t give you a fixed quote but the experienced ones may be able to give you a fairly accurate idea of what you might expect to pay.
Be prepared to gamble
This is perhaps the most important piece of advice I can offer my clients. While some investigative tasks are certain to reap a result, the unpredictable nature of most human beings means that a favourable outcome can rarely be guaranteed. No investigation can be accurately mapped from start to finish. Most reputable investigators will formulate an investigation plan before commencing a job but they do so knowing full well that few investigations go exactly according to the original plan. The investigation plan may be changed several times before the investigation is complete. The uncertainty of this field means that no investigator worth their salt will guarantee you the outcome you seek. Most honest investigators will tell you it’s a gamble, admittedly an educated gamble but a gamble none the less.
The more information the better
If you’re working to a limited budget, supplying your investigator with good quality background intelligence is the key to keeping your costs down. An investigator is only as good as the information he/she is given to commence the investigation. The more you know about the person to be investigated, the quicker the process is likely to be. Investigators love details such as full names (including middle names), nicknames and aliases, dates of birth, previous addresses and places of employment. They love accurate physical descriptions – even better, photographs of the Subject, the names of associates and/or family members, hobbies and interests, habits and vehicle descriptions.
Of course, not having all these details doesn’t make an investigation impossible – a good investigator can find out just about anything given enough time and a big enough budget. But if you want to keep costs down, doing a bit of detective work of your own before engaging a PI can save you heaps.
Private investigators are not police
One of the biggest misunderstandings about private investigators is that they have the same powers to access information as police. This is simply not true. We are not like CSI – we cannot find out what underwear a person was wearing last Tuesday with a few taps on a computer keyboard. Sadly for us, a private investigator has no greater powers than the average citizen to access private information. The primary difference between PIs and the average citizen is that a licensed PI is legally able to conduct surveillance in return for payment without breaching anti-stalking laws. Conducting your own surveillance could land you in trouble so it’s best to leave it to the experts. So apart from the obvious benefit of not getting yourself arrested for stalking, the advantage of hiring a private investigator for your investigation is that they have the training, skills and expertise to obtain evidence and present it in a way that is acceptable to the courts. They are expert witnesses who often have a detailed understanding of the civil and criminal justice systems. They know how to conduct enquiries discretely and covertly and are expert interviewers able to record and analyse witness statements.