Never Pick a Private Eye Based Only On Price

img_2470I write to inform the public about the work I do as a licensed private investigator. My subject this time: How to pick a private eye.

I have always said that our business is like a construction general contractor or other specialized service provider. You don’t want to pick a lawyer, CPA, dentist, eye doctor, college, auto mechanic or even a beer because he/she/it is the cheapest. You want to select based on quality and the likelihood that the professional will cure or solve your problem or get you answers.

I could go into discussions on value and economic principles but I will be more direct: Never take the low bid. I had our house painted six years ago by a painter who offered the lowest price. His bid was about $3500 and the others were $5000 and $5500. I thought I was getting a good deal. But as soon as I paid him more than half his fee up front he started to slack and his quality dropped.

I had failed to vet him. I think I had checked one or two references but that was about it. He would not listen to what we wanted for paint colors, stopped showing up after two days and would not work when it was hot. The last straw came when I caught his worker allowing a young child up on a ladder on the side of our house. It’s a job site not a day care!

Perhaps everyone has a bad contractor story. I don’t want you to add a bogus P.I. encounter to your tales of consumer woe. Unfortunately, I have a couple peers I consider to be rip-off artists or incompetent. Every business has its bad eggs. We are no different. Here are a few things to consider in selecting a private investigator.

  • Beware the Experience Trap     

The private detective business is the ultimate “what have you done for me lately” profession. In our industry hardly anyone gets in trouble by the state licensing authority, the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services. This lack of oversight means that there are incompetent private investigators who have been around for more than 30 years. Obviously, you want someone who is experienced but beware when someone seems to be playing up that experience card a bit much. You want someone who is honest and who has a record of success and professionalism.

  • Pay Attention to Social Media Reviews

Read the fine print. There’s nothing wrong with having no reviews online but the investigator should be able to provide at least three professional references. In our case we have a good mix of reviews from attorneys we have served for years and from private clients. (If you read my Yelp reviews you will see that the only negative ones come from people I denied service.

  • Find the Right Man (or Woman) For The Job

I stick to our core strengths: surveillance, locates, civil and criminal defense investigations, background checks. I refer to other private investigators if the potential client needs more technical services involving computer forensics, electronic countermeasures, aka bug sweeps, adoption research or stationary camera installation. Ask the private investigator: what are you the best at?

  • Busy People Get Things Done

Be leery of the private investigator who says he’s not currently very busy.  Maybe they are not in demand because they are not very good or treat the work more like a hobby. For a professional, they know the flow of their own work and are disciplined enough to accomplish tasks in a timely manner. Certainly ask the private investigator about his work load if you have a big case. Ask them how long it will take them to do your job. If it’s a surveillance you are going to need to be patient.

This is not intended as a comprehensive be all, end all guide to hiring a private investigator. But starting with the investigator’s price range, these issues I bring up should also be discussed or considered.