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Like most investigative firms, we often hire other investigative firms around the country and around the world to obtain information, so we are in a unique position to answer questions relating to how to find a private investigator.

Below is a step-by-step process that we go through to find a private investigator.

Keep in mind that your mileage may vary.

STEP 1 – Look for a private investigator

Get a referral

The first and probably the most crucial step is to ask around — ask friends, attorneys, professional contacts, or others whom you trust.

Why is this step critical?

Chances are that you don’t have a private investigator on speed dial. Finding a trusted friend or colleague who has used someone before will not only give you a starting point, but that person should be able to give you an honest assessment of the work performed and be able to describe in some detail how the case turned out.

Professional organizations

There are a number of professional organizations that private investigators belong to, including the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, the National Council of Investigation and Security Services, and state organizations such as ALDONYS in New York or CALI in California.

For international investigators, there is the World Association of Detectives and the Council of International Investigators.

All of these organizations provide a directory where you can search be location or specialty.

Search the Internet

In addition to the above, you can always search the Internet, especially if it’s a matter for which you need a specialty. Just like some doctors and lawyers who have a specialty in certain types of cases and matters, so do private investigators. So if you need a comprehensive background investigationdue diligence investigationasset investigationforensic accounting investigation, or any other type of specialty, Google might be a good place to start.

STEP 2 – Verify who they are

Before I even go through the process of calling a prospective investigator, there are a few steps that I typically take.

Check their Internet presence

At the very least, I like to see that the company has a professional-looking website. While this may not be important to everyone, to me, this shows that 1) the company is not completely living in the dark ages and 2) they are legitimate. (You might be surprised to find that even in 2013, some investigative firms do not have a website.) I like to check to see who is listed on the website (if nobody is listed, I am immediately turned off), what services they specialize in, and whether they have a blog. Again, your mileage may vary.

Check their social networks/other Internet use

In addition, I like to see if they are involved in any social networks. While this is not critical, I like to see that a company is willing to have an open and active dialogue with potential clients and is not “hiding.” (There is nothing that drives me more crazy than investigators who feed off of a cloak and dagger image.) I am not the only one either – more than 50 percent of US adults expect — if not appreciate or even seek out — some sort of social marketing experience online.

I also like to conduct some general Internet searches on the main principal and the company to see if there are any complaints about them, if they have any recommendations on LinkedIn or if they have written for any trade publications or industry magazines such as Fraud MagazinePursuit Magazine, or PI Magazine.

STEP 3 – Call them

Once I have narrowed down the list to a couple of different firms based on the criteria above, I will either call them or email them to set up a time to discuss the matter. During this initial inquiry, I will provide them with the details of the matter, ask them how they would approach the case at hand, what previous experience they have had with matters such as this, and get a sense as to what they would charge.

While I am not looking for anything specific, I do want to feel comfortable with the person on the other end, determine who will be conducting the investigation, make sure that they will be conducting their investigation ethically and legally, and just try to get a general sense of how they operate.

If they can’t answer some simple questions like how they go about conducting the investigation and where the information comes from, or they start touting their “secret sources,” they are immediately knocked off the list.

STEP 4 – Confirm they are as legitimate as they say they are

In this final step, there are a few things that I want to make sure of. I check to make sure that they are licensed in the local state, confirm that there have never been any disciplinary actions taken against them, ask the firm for a couple of references whom I can call, and make sure that they can provide proof of insurance.

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