5 Things to Ask Yourself Before You Hire a Private Investigator

By Tamara Shelley | Investigations

Dec 23

5 Things To Ask Yourself Before You Hire a Private Investigator – By Tamara Shelley

We’ve all thought it would be great to really know what was going on with someone, or where that long lost friend from high school is. There are tons of investigation companies out there offering to do just that, to satisfy the curiosity. However, there are some serious questions you need to ask yourself before you dive into the investigation process.

Curiosity in itself is not a good enough reason to have someone or something investigated. It costs money and in some cases emotion, not to mention the personal information you may need to give in order to have an investigation done correctly. A good, professional investigator will be licensed and insured and needs to be someone you feel comfortable divulging information to. That being said, there are some questions you need to ask yourself, and be HONEST with yourself about before you make that call.

I have listed five important questions to think about regardless if you are an individual or a business thinking of hiring an investigator to do a job for you.

  1. DO I REALLY WANT TO KNOW? This sounds a little obvious, but not everyone really does. Can you really handle the truth that you may suspect,  but don’t know for sure? I investigated a case where the person was sure something was going on and was ready to head to divorce court. The truth was, her suspicions were unfounded and she had to realize, there were other issues that drove her that far into the distrust. On the other hand, there have been other cases where the suspicions were in fact true and the hard reality and emotional toll was overwhelming. There have also been cases where someone wanted to find their birth parent. Once you open that Pandora’s box, it cannot be closed. Can you handle the truth?
  2. WHAT IS THE ULTIMATE GOAL OF THE INVESTIGATION? If you are simply curious, you have no end goal. There should be a plan for the information you are trying to obtain. You could be an employer who suspects an employee of theft. If the investigation proves your suspicions to be true, you have options. Do you want to have grounds for termination, make them pay restitution, or are you seeking prosecution? If it is a civil matter or a child custody issue, you may be trying to gain a superior position by proving fraud, abuse or illegal activities are happening. The goal is dependent on the nature of the investigation, but you need to have a clear (and legal) purpose for the information you are seeking.
  3. IS THE EXPENSE WORTH THE COST? What I mean by that is, investigations are not cheap! The good ones aren’t anyway. So before you invest money and time into an all out investigation, ask yourself if you can handle the emotional toll it may take, the time you may need to wait, or the feeling of “sneaking around” that some people feel. Even in business, there can be a huge emotional effect, especially if you are looking into a long time partner or employee. Investigating a wrongful death, missing person, or even a convicted family member can have a roller coaster of emotions that go with it. Be prepared for that.
  4. CAN I STAY OUT OF THE WAY? One of the toughest parts of any investigation I’ve done is client management. Not only are investigators trying to do the job and manage the moving parts, but we often deal with impatient and angry clients. Once a client finds out enough information to be angry, hurt or when they get impatient with the slow pace at which some cases unfold, they like to butt it. This can be detrimental to the case itself, and is often a breech of contract with the investigator. It can be difficult to contain emotions or wait for information from an investigator you have hired. However, one of the best things you can do to help the process is to stay out of it. You have hired a professional to do a job. A professional will not give you a play by play as the scene they are watching unfolds. We are often conduction surveillance, conducting an interview or tracking down information, the last thing we need is our phone blowing up with calls and texts asking what we found out. A good investigator will contact you and give you updates as relevant information comes in. Be patient, its the best thing you can do for your case.
  5. CAN I HANDLE AN UNFAVORABLE OUTCOME? Believe it or not, PIs do not have X-ray vision! We are not able to see what happens behind closed doors. Many people think that being a private investigator gives us superpowers. I wish! But if someone is doing something in private, and they want to keep it that way, they will. There are specific privacy laws from state to state that prohibit certain things from happening. For example, hidden cameras placed in bedrooms, taking photos through the crack in the blinds, etc are illegal activities in most states. If you think you will catch someone doing something illegal behind their closed doors, you may need to re-think it. If a subject carries on their activities in a public place, or in plain view, without a reasonable expectation of privacy, then it is fair game. But there is a thin line that needs to be walked. Talk to your investigator about what can and cannot be legally obtained before you expect too much. Not every investigation has a favorable outcome. You don’t always get the “smoking gun” or the “money shot” you hoped for. You must be prepared for this and come to terms with the fact that, we can only get what the subject provides. We cannot make them do anything they are not doing. This may mean you don’t get custody or may not have a strong lawsuit.

Investigations can be a very useful means of obtaining information and gaining a strategic advantage. Just know that Hollywood has glamorized and vilified this profession. We don’t always get our man, we don’t always get the actual “proof” even though we may know the truth. We also don’t all barge into hotel rooms with the scorned spouse and cause a scene. Be sure you are honest and realistic in your expectations when you consider hiring a private investigator to help you with a case. It can be rewarding, but you need to do your homework on who you hire. Most investigation companies will give you a consultation to talk through these exact questions. If they don’t, be wary.


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