10 Common Pitfalls When Hiring A Private Investigator Near Me – these are the pitfalls we have seen when clients come to us after another private investigation agency has messed up their case. We’re often called to try to “patch things up” when clients make the mistake of hiring an agency that’s less than honest and far from ethical.
Table of Contents
Most private investigators will never
tell you these important facts.
Hiring an investigator can be a tough decision to make. Usually, you’re at the stage where you can’t take the “not knowing” any more. You need some answers so you can make decisions and move on with your life, one way or the other.
First, you have to reconcile yourself to the fact you’re actually going to be snooping into someone else’s business. This is hard for some people to come to grips with but sometimes there’s just no other way to determine the facts about your situation.
This guide was compiled from Eagle Investigative Services, Inc’s actual interactions with clients that had been duped or ripped off by other private investigation agencies. Clients have described the actions of other private investigators to Eagle’s representatives and this guide was developed to protect consumers from “the bad guys”.
Private investigation is like any other profession – there are ethical private investigators and there are crooks. Maybe one day a news reporter will do an exposé on them similar those conducted on mechanics, loan sharks, etc. Eagle Investigative Services feels this would only serve the public and the industry well and might just get rid of some of the sleazier members of the private investigation community.
1. Make sure they are properly licensed
Every private investigator and private investigation agency in the State of Georgia must be licensed by the Secretary of State of Georgia in order to conduct investigations and investigative activities.
The license is what sets them apart from regular people, and the license is what allows them to legally follow people around, and conduct legal surveillance.
There are some limits to what the private investigation license allows an investigator to do. For example, a licensed investigator may not break the law, nor are they allowed to provide legal advice. So, any law that applies to an individual usually applies to licensed investigators, and this is especially true when it comes to tapping phones (illegal to do) and other illegal actions.
The license is obtained by taking certified classes and gathering experience as an investigator.
There are two classes of license:
- An agency license – this is the company license, which is also assigned to an individual who must be an officer of the company. The agency license usually looks like this:
The license number near the top left is very important. This is the license number issued to the agency by the State. You can, and should verify that this number is a valid number. State licenses are easy to forge. You can search the State website for free by visiting:
Here you will have the option to enter the license number and view the company information. You’ll be able to see something like this:
The information provided by the State can be very useful. For example you can see that Eagle has never been sanctioned or disciplined by the Georgia Board of Private Detectives for any reason.
If a private investigation company has ever received complaints or has been disciplined by the board the details will be listed on the above website. For example this company has been reprimanded by the Georgia Secretary of State for unethical behavior:
As you can see the company above has a Discipline Information listed. This means that the State Board has had a reason to investigate the company’s activities and found them guilty of wrongdoing. You can view the details by clicking the link on the State website.
You only want to deal with companies that have a License Status of Active and have no disciplinary action taken against them.
- An employee license – this is the license for an employee to work for the Agency. It is assigned to an individual, but is actually the property of the company. Employees should carry this license at all times.
An employee license looks like this:
The same rules apply to employee licenses that apply to company licenses. You should confirm that the employee working on your case has a valid license and has had no disciplinary action taken against them by the State.
Bonus Licensing Tip!!
Always make sure you get the FULL NAME of the investigator who will actually be conducting the work on your case.
Why? Because employee investigators move from company to company quite frequently and may even move out of state.
If your case goes to court – you’ll want this person to be able to testify to support any evidence you plan to present at court.
Quite often Eagle gets hired to track down investigators who obtained evidence in cases, but can’t be located by the agency that hired them originally!!
You don’t want to have your case jeopardized by something as simple as not knowing who exactly was working on your case.
Bonus Licensing Tip Number 2!!
Agencies in Georgia are notorious for employing non-licensed detectives to work on cases. Non-licensed detectives are less expensive than trained, licensed employees.
A non-licensed “detective” is actually breaking the law by conducting surveillance or any other investigative activity. Any evidence obtained by an unlicensed PI is inadmissible in court because that evidence has been illegally obtained. If you don’t do the proper checking, you might find that you’re paying for evidence you could never use in court!!
2. Make sure they have insurance
This is a very important factor in any investigation. Contractors (private investigators are essentially contractors working on your behalf) who get injured doing work for you or who cause damage to another’s property or person, may sue you if they don’t have the insurance coverage to cover a claim.
You might think this is a trivial matter, but consider this: most private investigators carry guns. If an altercation ensues and someone gets shot, lawsuits are the natural next step.
Courts have held in several cases that the CLIENT HAS LIABILITY for the conduct of his/her/its private investigator(s). The most famous case related to this is Nader Vs. General Motors. Ralph Nader (the “consumer activist”) wrote a book about GM’s Corvair model in the early sixties called “Unsafe at Any Speed”. GM hired a PI firm which in turn shadowed Nader so aggressively that Nader sued and won. Big time.
You could potentially be held responsible for your private investigator’s actions under the theory of vicarious liability. Be sure they carry the necessary insurance so you are not the one who has to bear any legal responsibility.
Bonus Insurance Tip!
Many investigative agencies carry a bond. This is the minimum required by the State. THIS IS NOT INSURANCE!! Usually the bond value will be about $50,000, which will be useless if you’re sued. Professional agencies like Eagle carry $3 MILLION in liability insurance. Make sure the agency you hire has at least this level of coverage.
3. Make sure you have a signed contract
You always want to get in writing what you’re paying for and the terms of what you’re paying for. This is common sense. Handing money over to someone without getting (in writing) explicit details of the services and duties to be performed is taking a risk with your money. Without a contract the investigator can take your money, provide you with no services and there won’t be much you can do about it. It’ll be your word against theirs.
Always have a contract between you and the investigator and always get a copy of any document you sign. If you pay cash – get a receipt and make sure it outlines what the cash is to be specifically used for.
Bonus Contract Tip!
Always ask the person you’re dealing with to show you some identification. Don’t accept an Agency ID or a business card – ask to see their driver’s license. Jot down their name and address when you see their license. If the agent/agency is legitimate and ethical they will have no problem with showing you their identification.
After all, if they do have a problem showing you government issued identification – ask yourself – what do they have to hide?
4. Make sure the contract shows a description/scope of services
In our contracts we have a section that outlines the services to be provided in detail, and the dates and expected times of these services. You want to have a good level of detail and you need to discuss it with the investigator. Never just let an investigator make their own judgment about when and where to spend your money.
For example, the contract should breakdown all expected costs that might be anticipated in a case.
The contract should also break down which tasks are charged for by the hour and which tasks are charged at a flat rate.
Everything should be spelled out clearly so there’s no confusion as to what service is being conducted and when it’s being conducted. You always want to have this level of detail so you know how your money will be spent.
5. Make sure there’s a limit on the
amount of time invested in the case
One thing that’s not always clearly specified in contracts is just how long the investigator SHOULD spend out there. Many times investigators will stay longer than necessary simply to rack up hours of surveillance time or investigation time and never inform the client of this activity. The first time the client knows about it is when he/she sees a bill from the investigator. This can often run into the thousands and you’ll be liable to pay it unless you protect yourself in advance.
One simple way to protect yourself is to add the following line to any written documents that don’t contain it:
“Investigation expenses will not exceed $X,XXX.00 without prior client written approval.”
This protects you from unethical investigators who might just run up charges on you.
6. Make sure you agree on a
Most investigators won’t give you a blow-by-blow update because it distracts the investigator to have to report every single turn or when the Subject stops to get gas.
Some investigative agencies will give you a final report, and some will update you at the end of every day. Make sure you know whether the agency will call you or whether you will call them.
Our policy is to update you at important events, such as, “she arrived at a hotel and went inside alone.” We’ll then discuss whether you want us to stay and how long you’d like us to stay.
Don’t expect the investigator to provide you with the address of the Subject while the investigator is watching the Subject – professional agencies just won’t do it. They may tell you an approximate location, but you won’t get exact address information until you get your final report, or until the Subject leaves that location.
7. Make sure you agree on
how you will receive your reports
Georgia state law requires that every client of an investigative agency must receive a report of activities unless the client specifically states they don’t want a report. Each agency has a different methodology for providing this and be sure you know when and how you will receive your reports.
Be aware, that there may be extra expenses incurred if you want your evidence in special formats or if you require several copies of reports or videos.
Also, an investigation that takes a long time might incur a charge to complete a final report. It takes time to eidt and check for errors, and this final report is the one that will most likely be used in a court case.
8. Make sure everything is in writing
Don’t agree to a course of action without first putting it in writing. For example, if you agree that the investigator must be at a certain location at a certain time, make sure it’s in writing. If you want the investigator available for court, make sure it’s in writing. If you’re allowing the investigator access to your property or personal belongings, make sure it’s in writing.
Having details in writing eliminates confusion later.
9. Make sure there’s a clause covering
costs for court testimony
Many agencies charge extra (above and beyond their hourly rate) for court testimony. Make sure you know the exact costs and if you’re going to negotiate the rates you need to do so before you enter into a contract with the investigator. Once the investigator has the evidence, there will be no room for bargaining and you will be at the mercy of whatever the investigator wants to charge.
Eagle’s policy is to not charge an excess fee for court testimony. Our testimony rates are identical to our hourly rates and each is clearly spelled out in our contract.
10. Make sure your attorney
knows you are hiring a PI
There are many reasons you want your attorney to know you are hiring a private detective.
Firstly, your attorney may have a private investigator they feel comfortable using, and one they trust in a case such as yours.
Secondly, it’s often a very smart idea to hire an investigator through your attorney.
There are two main reasons for hiring an investigator through your attorney:
- The work the investigator produces may be covered under the attorney-client privilege doctrine which might be very beneficial for your case strategy.
- The other side (opposing counsel) can’t simply subpoena the agency for their documentation or their reports. The opposing attorney will have to deal with your attorney. This provides a layer of protection for the evidence.
And last but not least, your attorney may not think a private investigator is necessary. If this is the case, you might not want to waste money on an investigator that could otherwise go towards legal fees or other important bills.
11. Make sure the agency can
provide you with a list of past clients
You want to be sure you are not the guinea-pig client for an agency and you want to be sure you hire an agency who has a proven track record with clients just like you. Ask the agency to provide a list of their past clients and if they don’t provide one – run.
Agencies will use all kinds of excuses like “Our client list is private” because they don’t have a client list worth talking about, if they even have one at all. Cases conducted for clients are private and you should never expect an agency to tell you exactly what they did for a client. Most clients will want to be associated with a professional private investigator and will be happy to have their names associated with such a firm. A perfect example can be seen here.
As you can see, no specific case details are listed here and these clients are happy to be associated with Eagle.
12. Make sure you can talk to
people who have used the agency
Make sure the agency either provides you with clients you can speak with (or email) or can provide you with a list of comments/testimonials from past clients. Beware of testimonials that are signed “M.V. in Chicago”. These are obviously fake comments and fake testimonials. An example of real testimonials is shown below:
“The work of Eagle was critical in convincing the Plaintiff that the case should be settled at mediation rather than risk the introduction of harmful evidence at trial. Eagle’s team were fantastic!
-Mitchell Allen, Bryan Cave
“Wow! They went to the edge for me in what was a stressful and hurtful situation. I was initially afraid to call an investigator. I was double crossed by one investigator, then another investigator stole money from me saying that he did an asset check, but never did. When I got with Eagle, I was so relieved. College Degreed, Intelligent, Competent, Very Professional. They helped me complete my case and used some very innovative ways to catch the SOB. I wish I could have found Eagle first.”
– Christine Matthews, – Alpharetta, GA
These are examples of honest and true client testimonials written by real people.
The most important bonus tip!
You should always go with your “gut-feelings” when you hire a private investigator. Never hand over money with the attitude, “Oh well, I hope this guy is the right guy for the job”.
You should always be absolutely confident that the investigator you meet with or talk to knows exactly what he/she is doing, and is able to communicate clearly with you what they plan to do.
You are at your most vulnerable when you speak to a private investigator. Often you will have to divulge the most intimate details of your life in order to provide information to the investigator. This can be embarrassing at times, but don’t let this cloud your judgment about the person you are speaking to.