If you are considering hiring a private investigator to assist you in an important matter, you should not rush into your decision. Do your research! Ask how long the investigator has been in business. What is their background and experience. Do they have references. What type of investigations do they specialize in. This is a good starting point. Some other things I would suggest, is meet the investigator face to face. How does he present himself; confident, knowledgeable, willing to answer questions? With the economy the way it is today, you have to make sure you are hiring a experienced investigator and not someone who had dreams of becoming a "PI" and started their business one day after passing the private investigators course and is now officially a PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR. One of the most important things you can do is go online to the Georgia Secretary of States web page. Click on Private investigator and look up the company you are considering to hire. Check and see if they have had any complaints filed against them. Or you can call the licensing board and request the information. I think you will be surprised what you may find. Private investigation is more than just sitting down the street in your vehicle waiting for your target to leave the house and then you follow them. I assure you that conducting mobile surveillance is very difficult and takes years to develop the skills to follow someone without being detected or losing the target. Also an investigator has to have "People Skills". He/she needs to know how to talk with people. They need to know how to conduct an interview and ask the right questions. They also need to know the difference between an interview and an interrogation. A good investigator has to have the ability to lead the interview in the direction he wants it to go and to obtain the information needed. If the subject begins to be untruthful the investigator has to be able to pick up on that. An investigator has to react quickly to these circumstances. There are several so called investigators out there that want to carry a badge and gun and bring attention to themselves. "Look at me. I am a PI." If that is their attitude run, don't walk. A good experienced investigator remains calm and is in control. Most of the time when an investigation is conducted that requires surveillance, an investigator should be able to "get in" obtain the video or whatever evidence they are trying to obtain, and then get out, without anyone ever realizing they have been there.
Another suggestion that has to be considered is cost! Ask them what fees they charge. Some charge a flat rate depending on the type of case and some charge an hourly fee and mileage. Most investigators are flexible and can work with you. Also be aware that most investigators will require an upfront retainer before starting the investigation. Most important is to set a budget and tell the investigator you do not want to exceed that amount. I would highly recommend a written contract which will detail the services and the fees. That will prevent confusion or problems on down the road. Another very IMPORTANT factor will be if the investigator knows how to testify in court and present the evidence they obtained. Just answering yes and no is not going to cut it. If a young or fairly new investigator has no experience or very little experience giving testimony in court, then I don't care how great the video is or how good the interview was, he is going to have problems. Especially if the opposing attorney is aggressive. You cannot get flustered or confused on the witness stand. It makes you appear to be unsure of yourself. If a judge or jury are not sure about the investigator, then they will not be sure about the evidence they are attempting to present in their testimony.
Over the years I have had several clients ask if we can monitor telephone calls or cell phone calls. Can we put a recording device in a vehicle or in the house. Can we get cell phone records. All of these actions are illegal and you can be prosecuted. If an investigator tells you he can do it, that should send up red flags. Not only is he violating the law, but you and he are subject to prosecution. In addition any evidence obtained during these illegal activities is not admissible in court. I always advise my clients up front that we will not violate the law in any way just to make the case.
To give you an example, I had an attorney call me last week stating that he represented the wife of a high profile professional athelete. He wanted me to obtain the bank records of the soon to be ex, stating that they believed he was hiding over $1,000,000.00. I told him that the federal privacy laws are very clear about bank records. His reply was, "I don't care how you get them, just get them." I told him he needed to find someone else. It would have probably been a well paid case, but it was unethical and illegal. If it came out on down the road, who do you think would be getting the blame? Not the attorney, I'm sure. In closing, just remember do do your research, ask questions and get references. When you choose a doctor, do you just look in the yellow pages and pick one? I hope not. You ask friends or relatives who they would suggest. If you have an attorney ask them. Just make sure you hire an investigator that has the experience and knowledge of the type of case that you require.
I am updating this blog for various reasons. Over the past few years, I have been contacted by clients who have used another PI company and they really did a poor job. As I have said before, anyone can write a very "nice" report that looks sharp and impressive, but it doesn't have anything in there that helps the client in their case. All it does is to make the PI look good or justify their high cost of the investigation. I have had several clients call saying they did not get anything for their money. Some PI's have not provided a written report or itemized invoice to the client for their services. I encourage anyone considering hiring a PI to please do their due diligence and check the Secretary of State web site to see if there are complaints and/or disciplinary actions against the company you are wanting to hire. Also do a Google search by the company's name and the owner's name to see what comes up. I would suggest you check at the local courthouse within the county where the PI company is located and see if there are any civil actions filed against the company and/or the owner. You will be very surprised what you discover.