Private investigator Scott Ross called me a few months back and relayed a story about a Florida investigator whom he had spoken with a few years ago. Scott is a nationally renowned expert on cell phone towers and has worked some really high-profile cases. The Florida investigator had called Scott a few years back, wanting to pick his brain about a case that needed some analysis of cell phone records.

Scott and I share a similar philosophy. He is happy to share some insight and information about his expertise, knowing that if there is a serious need, he’s the guy that they will think of. Plus, it’s just a good human trait to want to help people.

Scott helped the investigator out. Never charged him a penny and didn’t think much about the investigator until several months ago, when Scott was about to be retained on a Florida murder case. Scott needed some police reports from a local Florida police department, so he called the Florida private investigator. The Florida investigator said he had a source in the police department who could get the records. Scott told the investigator that he hadn’t been retained yet, but if his source could get the record without too much trouble, it would be helpful.

Shortly thereafter, the Florida investigator sent the two-page document—and a bill for $100.

Even though he was a bit surprised by the bill, Scott sent the investigator $125 as a thank-you for his time. The Florida investigator said that there were several more police reports relating to the person in question. Scott told the investigator to hold off, since they hadn’t been retained by the attorney.

But shortly thereafter, Scott received six other police reports along with a bill for $300.

Scott was a bit perturbed, given he had explicitly told him not to do any additional work, but paid it anyway.

And that was that.

Or so Scott thought. 

Some time thereafter, Scott was making some inquiries about getting an autopsy from the same Florida murder. Unlike in California, where you have to pay a $76 fee and jump through hoops, he was told that the report was free. (Gotta love Florida Sunshine laws.)

Curious, Scott called the police department that had the police records he wanted. First, Scott asked about the original police report he had inquired about. The search was free, and not only did they have the record he was inquiring about, they had six others. The officer at the police department told him that the fee would be $10, copies cost $0.15, and that he could email the request.

So much for that “source.”

And the $400 in invoices.

And the professional courtesy of helping out another private investigator.

I too have had some similar experiences. 

There are a couple of things to learn from this.

  • When your source is an open records request, you have to rethink your business model. It’s 2019—people are too smart and have access to too much information to have the wool pulled over their eyes.
  • Nobody likes to be nickel-and-dimed. Nobody.
  • The investigative business is a small world; people find things out.
  • Investigators need to work together. Enough of the BS of your secret sources and desperately needing to increase your self-importance.
  • There’s plenty of work out there for all of us—if you are good at what you do. 

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4 replies
  1. Victoria Mckenzie
    Victoria Mckenzie says:

    Very surprising– and it shows the value of knowing your state open records laws. If you know someone who can get them faster, great! You may even decide it is worth paying someone for the service, since dealing with certain agencies can be a major time-suck. But that’s not what happened here…. poor form & ethics [and invalid invoice]. I’m glad to know there are generous types like Scott out there.

  2. Scott Ross
    Scott Ross says:

    Brian, Thanks for telling the story. I get PIs calling from time to time and I am always happy to offer a hand. I don’t expect anything in return but the truth. I’m still trying not to allow this person to sully my opinion of helping those who don’t know, Lord knows I don’t know everything. In a typical scenario, it’s us against them, PI’s need to work together. I am happy to pay for assistance when it is necessary, and I feel badly for that person that he is so desperate for work. With his work ethic, I can see why. I always appreciate what you do for our community. Best, Scott.

  3. EJM Investigations
    EJM Investigations says:

    You only have to look through online forums to see the number of rookies wanting to make contacts in the industry, and build connections. Yet the same people often put making a few quid quickly above the long term vision. I’m always happy to help a fellow PI with a bit of advice and guidance, but just like the above narrative, am often shocked when others then charge me for the same. I will always try and forward work to anyone who has helped me in the past. Whether they are in the industry, or outside it.

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