Over the years, we have written dozens of blog posts in order to answer some burning questions people have had about private investigators. Now I’ve decided to put these answers into one convenient list:

1Do private investigators need to be licensed?

In most states, yes; 45 of the 50 states require a private investigator’s license in order for someone operating as a PI to perform his or her duties.

2Can I hire someone who is just good at following someone or good using the internet?

Sure, but the person you are hiring is likely breaking the law. By definition, a private investigator is hired for a fee to obtain information regarding the habits, conduct, whereabouts or trustworthiness of people, among other things. And if that unlicensed person does something illegal, you may be liable.

3Is there a difference between a private investigator and a private detective?

No. The terms “private investigator” and “private detective” are often used interchangeably.

4Do private investigators have police powers?

No. Private investigators do not have police powers, and in most cases, private investigators do not have any more power than the average citizen does.

5What does a private investigator do?

A private investigator is typically hired by businesses, law firms or individuals to obtain specific fact-based information to help them make more informed decisions. Investigators find facts, identify risks, provide peace of mind and help you see the big picture.

6How do private investigators get information?

Private investigators get their information from a wide number of sources, including investigative databases, court records, human intelligence, surveillance, confidential sources and social networks. Tip: Most of the information a private investigator can get is publicly available; you just need to know where to look.

7Do I really need to hire a private investigator?

Before you hire a private investigator, there are some key questions you need to ask yourself, like: What is my expectation? What is my objective? Do I need a subject matter expert?

8How should I find a private investigator?

Referrals, professional organizations and some good old-fashioned internet research are some of the ways to find a private investigator. Make sure you verify who they are, check their license and have a good long talk with them before you make any decisions.

9How are private investigators different from “regular people”?

The fact of the matter is that an investigator and an “average Joe” are not all that different; however, we do have a level of expertise because we’re practitioners of our craft. Private investigators have access to information, know-how, experience and a network of sources to utilize for our investigations.

10What can a private investigator not get legally?

This question is the subject of many myths born from TV and the movies. Financial and telephone records are the most commonly requested pieces of information that a private investigator cannot legally get. Any investigator who tells you they can will likely be obtaining the information illegally.

11Do I need a local private investigator?

Maybe. A lot of information these days can be obtained through investigative databases, public records, social networks and a network of other sources online, and interviews can be conducted over the phone. If you need someone followed or a location staked out, or if it’s a case that has a lot of on-the-ground work, we would suggest contacting someone locally.

12How do I find the best private investigator for the job?

When choosing a private investigator to hire, you want to find one with the right skill set for the job. A more “old school” investigator might not be as adept at searching through someone’s social media accounts, while someone from the “new school” might not be as good at operating a long lens camera.

13What questions should I ask before hiring a private investigator?

There are some questions you should ask yourself before hiring a private investigator and spending any of your hard-earned money, starting with the main question: What is my ultimate objective?

14How much does a private investigator cost?

Another common question is: How much does a private investigator cost? This is a question without an easy answer. There is no set cost. Some investigators charge by the hour, and some charge a flat fee. Always keep this in mind: Just like anything else in life, you get what you pay for.

15Can a private investigator work on a contingency fee?

In some states, it is illegal to hire a private investigator on a contingency fee. But even in states where it is technically legal, we don’t recommend it because it can lead to potential ethical and legal issues down the road.

16How much does it cost to find a person?

The cost of finding a person varies depending on the degree of difficulty involved. For instance, finding someone named Rudy Longfellow in Bucksnort, Nebraska, won’t cost nearly as much as finding someone named John Smith in New York City. 

17Do you guarantee results?

Any firm that guarantees results is likely willing to resort to unethical methods to ensure their “guarantee” and therefore cannot be trusted. There are a few “types” to look out for when it comes to trusting a private investigator. We can guarantee that we will do everything within our legal abilities to find answers, but not much else.

18What is the best way to find someone?

The best way to find someone is through the plethora of personal information available online and through social media.

19What is included in a background investigation?

Most background checks will include a criminal background check, employment/academic degree verification and a credit check. In addition, there are many different pieces of information included in a background investigation, depending on what you want to know.

20How can I avoid having private investigators dig up my personal information?

There are many ways to stop investigators from digging up your personal information that don’t involve living “off the grid.” The bottom line remains, however: If you don’t want it out there, don’t do it.

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Two years ago as of April, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I came across an upset parent in my local community who was claiming that a private investigator in a white SUV had been parked in front of her house all day. The police were called and confirmed that the person was a private investigator and the reason they were there was totally legitimate.

I found this entertaining for a number of reasons. Even though I haven’t done surveillance in more than 15 years, I actually felt sympathy for the investigator. Where they were parked is a tight-knit community with a lot of kids, so doing surveillance in our town is next to impossible.

The more entertaining part was the local Facebook group, which was up in arms about the whole thing. Hundreds of comments poured in, ranging from “they are just doing their job” to “unnerving and invasive” and “what could they possibly be investigating?” The town assemblyman had even been contacted by dozens of concerned parents. People were also pissed that someone posting a picture of the car on a private Facebook page was putting everyone in the neighborhood “in danger.” And exactly zero people were “impressed” with the investigator, since the entire neighborhood knew he was there.

I had lots of opinions about the topic, but, biting my tongue, I said nothing.

The other bizarre thing was that the surveillance investigator was literally parked on the street where I had lived for a few years. Three doors down, to be exact, with the vehicle pointing in the direction of my old house. I had moved into a new house six months prior, but still, it was curious.

For a few days, I gave it almost no thought.

Then some weird things started happening. I started noticing things. Some random guy appeared outside my gym, and I kept seeing the same vehicles over and over again. Mostly a gray Jeep Grand Cherokee, but other cars too. I wasn’t sure if my mind was just playing games with me.

I recall going home one day only to see that same Jeep Grand Cherokee slowly drive by my house. I live off a main road, and my street is a horseshoe with two entrances to the main road. The entire road has fewer than 15 houses, and I live almost exactly in the middle of the horseshoe, so anyone coming around my neighborhood like that is bizarre. At least bizarre enough that I took down the plate number of the vehicle.

Again, I didn’t think much about it. I really have no reason for anyone to be following me.

Sunday Morning “Chase”

On Sunday, April 29, my daughter had a lacrosse tournament in the cold, pouring rain north of us. Like sideways raining. I told my son that he should come and support his sister. He insisted on wearing shorts and a sweatshirt. It’s not easy talking any sense into a 13-year-old, so I let him be.

About eight minutes into the first game, my son declared he was freezing and wanted to go home. Surprising no one, we left and headed home. I dropped him off in the driveway and immediately turned around to head back to the game. From a distance, I could see that same gray Jeep Grand Cherokee coming around the corner. The car slowly drove by my house.

Bizarre, I thought. I quickly followed him, checked the plate I had written down and confirmed it was the same car I had seen a few days earlier.

It was like a giant flood washed over me. These guys had been following me all along! The weird dude at the gym. The cars I had seen over and over again. The private investigators on my former street. (It only took them a week to figure out I wasn’t living there anymore.)

Frankly, it was nothing that had even entered my mind. In general, I really couldn’t care less. They could do surveillance on me all day, and all they would see is me working 13 hours a day, and in my spare time, hanging out with my family. My work doesn’t really bring me to places where I would put myself or my family in danger. Most of my work is covert, meaning that nobody even knows what I am working on.

At this point, I was fucking angry. I mean, I understand looking into my professional life, but a Sunday morning lacrosse game? What in the world are these guys going to ascertain from that? I do this for a living and, for the life of me, couldn’t think of one thing that a Sunday surveillance might actually accomplish.

So I decided to follow the guy. The car proceeded to head north on the highway, conveniently where my daughter’s lacrosse game was anyway. The car proceeded in the right lane of a three-lane highway, doing about 51 mph in a 65 mph zone. Not suspicious at all.

I called my colleague and asked him to run the vehicle plate. Surprise — the guy was a former police officer.

I had no idea what was going to happen, but I decided to follow him for a bit. After about 15 minutes, he pulled onto a one-lane road and proceeded to start speeding excessively along some winding slick roads. Figuring it was not worth risking my life, I let him go.

In my business, that’s what you call “getting made.” It happens to the best of investigators. Doing surveillance is not easy, and for most investigators, getting made usually signals the point when you give up surveillance, as the person you were doing surveillance on would now be on high alert.

I thought that would be the end of it. I was wrong.

I was slightly comforted by the fact that this guy was a former police officer and private investigator, not a crazy stalker. But nevertheless, why in god’s name would any private investigator worth their salt be investigating another investigator AND on a Sunday morning spending time with the kids?

I thought that would be the end of it.

I was wrong.

The Investigation

I spent the next few days digging through all the information on Facebook, talking to some of my old neighbors and digging up information on the guy who was following me. I was also racking my brain about why on earth anyone would be doing surveillance on me. I had some suspicions, but nothing concrete.

I also bought a slew of outdoor surveillance cameras so I could track people going up and down my street.

I got a copy of the police report, which listed the name of two other individuals who were doing surveillance on my old street. They told the police that they had been in the area for a week and that they were going to be there for several more days. So while I had pity for these guys when I first read about it on the local community page, now I was literally laughing that they were on the wrong street for more than a week. I had moved six months earlier. If they had half a clue, they should have figured that out pretty quickly.

At this point, while I was still on high alert, I felt better that I knew who the guys were, that they were licensed, former NYPD officers and that, hopefully, they weren’t doing anything too stupid. Nevertheless, I took precautions.

I was excited, not only for my niece’s graduation, but I was hoping and praying that these guys would follow me.

At this point, my wife knew what was going on, but my kids didn’t have a clue. I didn’t want to worry them. Although I was pretty sure it was nothing and it was probably over, it wasn’t worth the worry for them.

That week, although we didn’t see the same Jeep Grand Cherokee, other cars were slowly going by the house. At one point, my daughter, who still didn’t have a clue what was going on, noticed a car pass by our house several times and mentioned it to my wife.

Crossing the Line

Friday, May 4, we were getting ready for a 10-hour drive to Virginia. I was excited, not only for my niece’s graduation, but I was hoping and praying that these guys would follow me. Causing someone to pay a few surveillance guys thousands of dollars to follow me to Virginia to watch my niece’s graduation would be a bit of sweet revenge. I had even gone as far as planning on stopping for gas every 250 miles and staying in the slow lane to make sure that they stayed close and didn’t run out of gas.

But it didn’t happen. We got back Sunday night, and as our entire family was sitting in our sunroom, an SUV slowly rolled past our house. My daughter said, “That’s the car that has been stalking us!”

Now I was pissed again. I ran outside as the guy was sitting in the driveway across the street. The house was vacant, so someone sitting in the driveway wasn’t fooling anyone. I snapped a few pictures, and the guy left the area.

I went back to my daughter, who explained that she had seen that car many times, including at her school! That’s a line you don’t cross. I don’t care what the reason is.

Over the next week or two, the same creepy car would roll through our neighborhood. Usually once a day. The person had a very distinct car, too — a customized Honda Ridgeline with chrome all over the place. I guessed they replaced the former NYPD investigators with amateurs. Having a distinct car is a surveillance 101 no-no. The car would drive slowly enough to be noticed, but quickly enough that you couldn’t really do anything about it.

I spoke to the local police, but they couldn’t do anything about it. They weren’t harassing us. Although my kids were freaked out, the investigators weren’t crossing the proverbial line and had not made any contact with us. I had thought about sitting at home for days and following them around, but I didn’t. It wasn’t worth the effort.

Slowly, but surely, the drive-bys stopped, and it all went away.

The Aftermath

Although I had strong suspicions about who was behind this, I ultimately figured out who the investigators were working for. But it really didn’t matter.

What I don’t know is what they were trying to figure out. Or what they could possibly ascertain from surveilling me and my family on a Sunday morning. Or what justification in the world these investigators had for doing surveillance on me.

I just imagined someone calling me to do the same. I can’t think of many good reasons I would take a job doing surveillance on another investigator. It makes me wonder why people in our profession would do something like this.

Ultimately, they gave me and my family a good scare. So if that was their goal, they did a pretty good job.

I take solace in the fact that the person who did this paid thousands upon thousands of dollars for nothing.

I hope it was worth it.

For me, at least I got an 1,800-word blog post out of it.

And a lifetime of stories at cocktail parties.

That’s priceless.

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We have written extensively about the benefits of hiring a private investigator, but there are some inherent risks you may have never thought about.

1Getting Caught

If you are trying to conduct a discreet investigation, such as doing surveillance, there is always a chance that the investigator will get caught red-handed. Similarly, if you are making discreet inquiries, word can always get back to the person you are investigating. Even with the most diligent of planning, it can happen to the best of investigators.

2Unclear Outcome

When you hire an accountant to do your taxes, you expect your taxes to be completed once he is done. But you may spend hundreds or even thousands on a private investigator and you will still be in the same place as you started—with a lack of clarity.

3No Value

You don’t give a bartender $7 and hope she brings you a drink back. But you may have to pay a $1,000 retainer to an investigator and get nothing of value in return.

4Liable for Illegal Actions

There are dozens of examples out there of investigators providing illegal information to their clients, which ultimately got them burned. A few years back, a Massachusetts woman who hired a Virginia private investigator to find hidden assets had her case thrown out because the “evidence” that the private investigator provided on some offshore bank accounts “did not exist and was ‘created’ to turn a profit.”

5Lack of Expertise

Lots of investigators like to be all things to all people, touting their expertise in everything from executive protection to bomb-sniffing dogs to cyber investigations and computer forensics to lie detection and interviewing skills. It’s impossible to be great at everything.

6Lack of Evidence

You may need evidence that your ex is hiding money or that your legal opponent was conspiring with your competition or that certain testimony was false. But sometimes, you have to deal with bad facts, like your ex isn’t hiding money, the competition was conspiring against you, and the testimony was truthful. Unlike the movies, these things don’t always have a happy ending.

7Not Dependable

Investigators are not known as the most reliable group. I know because I have worked with lots of them who aren’t.

8Trust in Methods

There is an inherent trust that you put in an investigator about their methods of conducting an investigation. After all, you can’t be breathing down their neck.

9Secret Sources

Secret sources sound intriguing, but they introduce reliability problems into an investigation. If the secret source can’t be independently vetted or verified, it’s impossible to determine if the information was obtained illegally, through shady methods, or if it’s just a figment of someone’s imagination.

10Faulty Strategy

Part of hiring a good private investigator is coming up with a strategy that aligns with your goals. Having a faulty strategy can doom the case from the start.


If a person is hiring a private investigator directly (not through an attorney), your emails, text messages, reports, surveillance tapes, and memos are not privileged. Hiring a private investigator through an attorney establishes protections via attorney–client privilege and attorney work product. 

12No Support from Attorney

I’ve seen some clients over the years take matters into their own hands and hire a private investigator without support from an attorney. If your attorney is not on board, it’s very likely that you are wasting your time.

13Hiring the Wrong Private Investigator

Having the right tool is imperative to successful completion of the task at hand. Too many problem-solving efforts go awry because you are using the wrong tool for the job. Don’t use the wrong tool.

14Pay for What You Get

Like most professional services, you pay for what you get. So if you are looking for the low-cost option, you are probably going to get a low-cost result.

15Lack of Scope

When I ask clients who are considering doing a background investigation, “What are you looking to find?” and they answer, “Everything!” I know we may have a problem on our hands, in part because finding out “everything” may cost about $150,000. Having a defined scope of work at the outset of an investigation is key to keeping things on track and avoiding surprises down the road.


Are you hiring an investigator who is licensed in your state? Or someone just advertising that they are an investigator? (Check your local states.) Why should you care? Well, you may end up hiring this guy, who was not only running an unlicensed private investigation service but also operating a prostitution ring on the side.

17No Guarantees

When you hire a contractor to fix your roof, you expect it to not leak anymore. But if you hire an investigator, the end result is not guaranteed and you may be back in the same place you were when you started. 

18Specialty Bias

Every investigator has a bias to recommend work that they are good at. So a private investigator who specializes in surveillance may naturally be biased to recommending surveillance, while the task may be best suited for a forensic accountant or an open-source intelligence specialist.

19Telling You What You Want to Hear

I’ve spoken to dozens of potential clients over the years whom I have literally talked out of hiring a private investigator because whatever they were asking us to do was a waste of time and resources. Not every private investigator you talk to is going to talk themselves out of work, though; just be cautious before proceeding. Some will feed you what you want to hear, knowing full well that it’s not going to have a happy ending.

20Negative Publicity

Uber hired private investigators a few years back as part of a “dirt-digging investigation.” Frankly, many big firms do the same every day. The investigation firm Uber hired ended up using some pretty shady tactics. It’s not clear if Uber actually knew what the firm was doing, but nevertheless, the damage had already been done. Hewlett-Packard never recovered from the fallout after they famously hired an investigator who used questionable methods (obtaining telephone records) to spy on its own directors.

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Not everyone has thousands of dollars to spend on legal and investigative fees, which is why we get asked quite often whether private investigators can work on a contingency fee basis.

In fact, it is one of the most common questions we receive when interviewing clients about a new case. Can we conduct an investigation on a contingency basis? Or conduct the investigation for some type of reward?

It’s a reasonable question. Attorneys will frequently work under a contingency fee arrangement. But there are a number of reasons why we do not work on contingency and why you should not hire a private investigator on a contingency fee basis either.

First, hiring a private investigator in the state of New York under a contingency fee arrangement or for a reward is against the law. Diligentia Group is licensed to conduct private investigations by the state of New York, so this is a non-starter.

However, based on our research, New York is one of just a few states that have a specific rule against contingency fees for private investigators.

Aside from the legal implications, there are moral and ethical reasons why you should avoid hiring private investigators on contingency.

4 Reasons You Should Not Hire a Private Investigator on Contingency

Private investigators are hired to uncover facts and evidence.

The unbiased discovery of facts and evidence in the case should be the sole motivation for an investigator to find evidence. If an investigator is getting paid by the amount of evidence presented, false evidence is sure to be “found,” or at the very least, facts that may not be helpful may be “forgotten.” Finding facts and evidence runs completely counter to the motivation driving its discovery in the contingency scenario.

The moral compass of an investigator will be corrupted by a reward or contingency fee.

Let’s be honest, we are all in business to make money. If the job we are hired to do is now predicated on presenting some form of “results,” then some moral or ethical lines may be crossed in an attempt to produce something tangible to earn a paycheck. Greed is a pretty powerful thing.

False or unethically obtained evidence is of no value.

Information obtained from illegal sources is worthless. A private investigator may go to great lengths to present some information when hired on a contingency basis—finding information is the only way to ensure they get paid. If the information from the investigation is falsified or obtained illegally, what good is it? In fact, the investigator’s desperation to produce something tangible has now put you, the client, at risk. And a client may or may not be liable for anything obtained illegally by his or her investigator.

Testimony can be banned if there are questionable fees involved.

If you are contemplating hiring an investigator for a legal matter, chances are that the investigator may be called to testify as an expert witness. Judges don’t take too kindly to expert witnesses receiving fees based on the outcome of the case. Just recently, a federal judge banned testimony from a doctor who testified that a $450,000 surgery was “reasonable and necessary” to correct injuries and who would only be paid for his testimony if the plaintiffs received a favorable outcome in the case. So, if there is any chance of the investigator testifying, it may all be for naught.

Regardless if it is legal in the state that you reside, hiring an investigator on a contingency fee basis is a slippery slope.

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There are many things to consider when a law firm is hiring a private investigator.

Below is a guide to some best practices.

Licensed and Insured

There has been a troubling trend of unlicensed private investigators, so the first thing that a law firm should do is confirm licensing status with the local regulatory body.

In the United States, 43 of the 50 states have statewide licensing requirements for private investigators/private detectives.

As of June 2011, there are no licensing requirements in Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, South Dakota or Wyoming; Alabama and Alaska have requirements in certain cities.

Prior to commencing an assignment, the law firm should request proof of liability insurance to protect the firm in case something does go wrong.

Communicate Your Needs

It is critical to communicate to the private investigator as much information as possible from the outset, no matter how minute the details may be.

It is also important for the law firm to understand what information is potentially attainable and what may not be, within the confines of the law.

Subject Matter Expertise

The private investigator should have subject matter expertise relating to the situation at hand.

If the investigation calls for surveillance, finding a witnessintelligence gatheringdue diligence investigationcomprehensive background investigationasset investigation or an expert witness background investigation, a private investigator should be able to provide the law firm with examples of previous work done on similar matters.

Establish a Budget and Deliverables

The private investigator should prepare a descriptive agenda of your objectives and what efforts the investigative firm will make to accomplish those goals.

The investigation should be conducted in stages, with deliverables provided upon completion of each stage, so the law firm can have a measuring stick to gauge the progress of the assignment.

Engagement Letter

Included in the engagement letter should be an indemnity agreement in case the private investigator engages in professional misconduct or violates the law.

Additionally, the scope of the work, the agreed-upon budget, any agreed-upon retainer agreement and a termination clause should be included in the engagement letter.

Documentation of the parameters in an engagement letter can alleviate future disputes over objectives, timing and fees.

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Not every person, corporation or law firm needs to hire a private investigator on a regular basis.  Realistically and thankfully, a private investigator is not someone that everyone has on speed dial.

But if a situation requires one, before you hire a private investigator, take into consideration these questions:

What is your objective?

Are you trying to find someone, collect on a judgment, determine if it’s worth suing someone or perhaps investigate a complex matter? With some cases, the specific objective may be obvious, but often clients are not sure what they really want. Having an ultimate goal or objective before you hire a private investigator can help control costs and focus the investigator in the right direction.

Do you need subject matter expertise?

Investigators often have a specialty. These include surveillance, matrimonial cases, insurance disability matters, internal fraud investigations, adoption, computer forensics, forensic accounting, litigation support, due diligence investigation and background checks.  Hiring the wrong investigator for the wrong job may doom your case from the start. Before you hire a private investigator make sure the investigator you hire has a proven track record in the area you present to them.

What do you already know?

It’s important to collect every relevant piece of written or electronic information in your possession to provide to the investigator. Also, be sure to tell them everything you know—even if it’s not written down. This insures that the investigator has the best tools to be effective and efficient so that they can hit the ground running.

How will the information be used?

Are you trying to get information for your own use or do you anticipate litigation relevant to the information?  In the first instance, it may be appropriate to deal directly with the investigator, but if there is litigation in the works, your investigator should be retained by an attorney to protect work product privilege.

What are your expectations?

We all love a good Sherlock Holmes novel or an old episode of Colombo, but it’s called fiction for a reason. Understanding what the investigator can legally, properly and ethically do will save you from unrealistic expectations and trouble down the road.

What are the risks if inquiries become known?

What if the investigator is caught digging around? If the inquiries the investigator is making are exposed, what’s the backlash?  Think this through. This is key to developing a leak proof investigative strategy to avoid embarrassment or worse.  An investigative approach depends on the sensitivity of the case—make sure you and the investigator are on the same page about technique. Is it necessary to take every precaution and be sensitive or can the investigator go in with guns blazing?

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Hiring a private investigator is probably not something you do every day – not every attorney, investor, fund manager or individual has a private investigator on retainer.

In fact, you may rarely find yourself in a situation where you need a private investigator.  However, those tend to be the situations where it really counts.

Of course you want the best investigator you can get…but what does that really mean?  Here are some questions you should ask before hiring a private investigator.

Are you licensed and insured?

Every state has different requirements for licensed private investigators and the scope of the work they may perform.

Both the client and investigator have a responsibility to be aware of the laws in the states where the investigation is to be performed.  Investigators should also be able to provide proof of liability insurance.

Can you provide references and work samples?

Most experienced private investigators will be able to provide you with references and samples of several different types of cases.

It is important to understand that, due to client confidentiality, there is a good chance that work samples will have identifying information redacted or the facts of the case changed to protect the subjects’ identities.

However, samples are helpful to see the quality of the reports, the thoroughness of the investigation, and the various sources utilized by the investigator.

Who will handle my case?

In many cases, the experienced professional private investigator will manage the case and delegate lesser investigative tasks – or even the entire case – to other individuals.

It’s important that you know who will handle the case, and request information about their experience and background.

Request examples of their prior work and obtain an understanding of how closely the primary investigator will supervise the case.

As we’ve noted here previously, if there is an international component to the case, you need to ask your investigator detailed questions about the capabilities of the investigator’s international contacts (see related post International Background Investigation – What You Need to Know).

Do you belong to any professional organizations?

Many investigators belong to membership organizations such as the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) or the National Council of Investigation and Security Services (NCISS).

These organizations offer rigorous training and certification for investigators, have codes of ethics, and other education and experience standards for membership.

Do you use “shady” or unethical methods to obtain information?

Between a fully above board investigation and illegality lies a vast grey area.

Over the years, many clients have found themselves embroiled in scandal because of their investigators (e.g., HP , Anthony Pellicano, and others).

It is important to set parameters for your investigator at the outset – ideally through an engagement letter that explicitly outlines your expectations and requirements before.

Both you and your investigator should be aware of the laws in the jurisdiction where the investigation will occur.

Will our communications be privileged?  Do I need to tell you everything?

Privilege laws for investigator-client communications also vary widely by state.

Clients and investigators should be familiar with the particular laws in their state.

When it is an attorney who retains the investigator, additional legal work product and communications privileges may apply.

Of course, an investigator does not need to be told every detail.

However, providing the investigator with adequate information before hiring a private investigator, and throughout as new developments occur, will increase the likelihood of an efficient, thorough, and successful case.


Hiring a private investigator is not something that most people do every day. Asking the right questions before hiring a private investigator can help you avoid a potential disaster down the road.

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