by Craig Engstrom*
You may need a professional investigator for a variety of reasons:
- you need a thorough background or asset check completed on your business or domestic partner,
- you suspect your spouse or significant other is cheating,
- you want to know if the hospice where your mother or father resides is a good one,
- you want to know if your realtor is a fraud,
- you need to know if your child is hanging around the wrong crowd,
- you need to know if your mother or father is remarrying the right person,
- you want to know if the police have done a thorough job developing a case for prosecution, or
- you need to prove your innocence or mitigate a sentence.
This list could go on.
But where do you find a quality private investigator? The answer to this question is not simple. Evidence suggests that more people are turning to internet search engines to find businesses (2008, “Dial I for internet”). This is also true in the profession of private investigating.
Searching “[name of city] private investigator” through Google, Yahoo, or Bing can quickly generate a list of companies, but then you have to decide which companies to call or hire. If you’re not unlike most people, it is likely you will rely on the boxed advertisements or the top listed companies provided by the “search spiders.” While these may be good private investigation companies, sometimes they are not.
To assist you in making your search results work for you, here are two things to keep in mind:
800 numbers or vague links can be trouble. Among the listed and advertised local companies, there will be nationwide companies with a toll free number and generic website. The business model for these companies is to contract a case with you and then to locate a private investigator in the area where you need an investigation. While this may be a good model for florists and hotels, when it comes to legal matters, it is best to go straight to the company that will provide you with needed services. First, the “nationwide” companies have to charge you more because they will then subcontract to the local company. They may try to find the lowest-priced investigator. Why should you pay $85 per hour for a $50-per-hour investigator? It is not the money that is really at issue--a quality investigation is. Second, with the nationwide company you may not get direct access to the field investigator. This means that if you happen to have intelligence that will assist the investigation, it may not reach the field investigator in time. Similarly, the field investigator cannot contact you with field reports and give you timely updates. If you know that the target of the investigation is not doing much, you can direct the investigator to do it at another time (saving you money). In other words, you have less financial control of the investigation.
Advertised or top listed companies are spending more money on advertising. A good business person is not always a good private investigator, and a good private investigator is not always a good business person. By simply relying on top listed or companies advertising with “Adwords,” you may simply be hiring a good business person who pays a lot of money to web optimization companies. These companies can employ great investigators, but not always. You should contact several companies and be diligent and ask the right questions.
Keep in mind that the higher advertising expenses a company has, the more likely they’ll charge higher hourly rates.
The first thing you should look for when you click to a company’s website is their license number. It is the law in most states that private investigators display their license numbers. If the company does not follow this law, will they follow others?
Here is an alternative to search engines:
Begin with the yellow pages. Not to sound old fashioned, but there are reasons to still consider the yellow pages when searching for a private investigations company. You can even do this search online (www.yellowpages.com). While the same issues as above apply, the value of yellow pages is that it is a great selection mechanism. Consider the yellow pages as a reference book. The number of companies listed in the yellow pages is likely already to be sufficient for you to have an opportunity to find a quality investigator who can meet your investigative needs. While it may take a minute longer to look in the yellow pages than to do a Google search, you will save time because all of the search results are already filtered for you. You also know one thing for sure: companies in the yellow pages have been around a while. Each year hundreds of new private investigations companies start and just as many go out of business. A new company can immediately begin showing up in internet search results, but a company in the yellow pages has had to be around for at least a year. If your investigation is likely to extend over a period of time, it is best to go with a company with tenure.
Nothing, of course, will be able to assist you more than your own due diligence. Hiring a professional investigator can be the smart thing to do. Hiring a quality investigator should take you some time. Your decision should not be made by an internet search engine.
Dial I for internet. (2008, May 24). The Economist. Retrieved June 18, 2008 fromhttp://www.economist.com
*Craig Engstrom is a doctoral fellow at Southern Illinois University