You suspect your spouse may be having an affair. Your business partner seems to be embezzling funds. You need to track down a long lost relative. Whatever your reason for needing the services of a private investigator, finding the right one in Austin is indispensable.
Hiring a PI is a big decision that requires careful evaluation of their qualifications, experience and fees. Use this guide of questions to ask to help you select the most qualified one.
1. Are You Licensed in Texas?
The first and most important question is whether he is properly licensed in the state of Texas. This ensures they have met the requirements and training to legally operate as a private investigator in the state.
- Ask to see a copy of their active private investigator license issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety. You can also verify their license online.
- Avoid any investigator unwilling to provide license information or who is not properly registered. This could be illegal activity.
2. What is Your Background and Experience?
You’ll want to hire a PI with extensive experience in the specialty related to your case.
- Ask how many years they’ve been a private investigator. Look for 5+ years experience at a minimum.
- Inquire about their previous work and specialty areas. An ex-police officer may have more expertise in surveillance or tracking down people. A technology background could be better for hacking investigations.
- Request examples of similar cases they’ve worked in the past, without divulging confidential details.
- See if they have experience testifying in court if that’s a possibility in your case.
3. What Services Do You Offer?
Investigators offer a range of services, so discuss the specific ones you will need for your case.
- Background checks – Investigating someone’s history, employment, finances, credentials, criminal record etc.
- Infidelity investigations – Catching a spouse cheating.
- Missing persons – Locating lost loved ones or friends.
- Surveillance – Monitoring people’s activities, documenting behavior.
- Asset searches – Finding hidden assets, account traces, fraud investigation.
- Computer forensics – Recovering deleted computer files, tracking internet activity, hacking investigations.
Make sure the investigator is skilled in the services your case requires.
4. Do You Have Specialized Resources and Technology?
Modern PIs rely on sophisticated resources and technology to help solve cases. When interviewing, ask about the resources they have access to.
- Databases – Do they have subscriptions to large public and proprietary databases to uncover backgrounds, credentials, addresses, assets etc?
- Special equipment – Do they use things like hidden cameras, GPS trackers, drones, surveillance vans etc?
- Forensic tools – For tracking computer and cell phone activities, recovering deleted files, hacking tracing etc.
- Connections – Do they have connections with others in law enforcement, legal system, government agencies?
Their capabilities and tech resources can determine what evidence they can collect for you.
5. Who Handles My Case?
Find out if the person you meet will actually be working your case, or if they hand it off to other associates or junior staff.
- Ask who will be the primary investigator assigned to you. Do they subcontract out any of the work?
- Request to meet the lead investigator who will handle your case if it’s someone else. You want to personally interview them.
- Larger agencies may have more resources, but you risk getting passed down to less experienced staff.
6. What is Your Approach to My Case?
A trustworthy investigator should analyze the details of your specific case and explain their tailored approach.
- Present your case summary and ask the investigator to provide their strategy and next steps if you hired them.
- Their response will help indicate if they properly understand your needs and have a thoughtful process.
- Be wary if they gloss over the specifics of your case and provide generic, nonspecific answers about their approach.
7. What Are Your Rates and Estimated Cost?
The cost can vary greatly depending on the complexity of your case and types of services required.
- Ask about their hourly rates, retainer fees, or charges for specific services. Get quotes in writing.
- Request an estimated total cost based on your case details and their expected hours. But understand this is just an estimate.
- Inquire if they have options like discounted rates for certain client types like single parents or seniors.
- Be cautious of extremely low rates that seem too good to be true. But very high fees don’t necessarily mean better service either.
8. What Payment Options Do You Offer?
You’ll want flexibility in how you pay the investigator’s fees.
- Ask if they accept cash, checks, major credit cards, Paypal or Venmo.
- Inquire about payment plans, installment options, or discounted rates for large up-front payments.
- Never pay 100% of fees in advance. Stagger payments tied to delivery of results or work milestones.
9. How Often Do You Provide Updates?
You’ll want to know the status of your case on a regular basis so ask about their communication process.
- Do they provide formal progress reports? How often?
- Can they be reached for impromptu updates by phone, text, email?
- Are there restrictions on contact hours for more sensitive surveillance cases?
- Clarify your preferences for frequency of contact upfront to avoid misaligned expectations.
10. Can You Provide References From Past Clients?
Don’t hire without checking references to verify quality of work and client satisfaction.
- Ask for 2-3 references from previous clients, especially those similar to your case. But understand their confidentiality limitations.
- Contact the references by phone rather than just accepting written letters, which can be fabricated.
- Sample questions: Were you satisfied? Was pricing fair? Was communication adequate? Would you hire them again?
- Online reviews can also offer insights but balance positive and negative ones carefully.
11. Do You Have Liability Insurance?
Make sure the investigator has active liability coverage to absorb any potential errors, mishaps, or harm that occurs related to their work. Otherwise you could be liable.
- Ask for proof of their current liability policy and documentation of coverage details. Standard is $1 million minimum.
- If they balk at providing policy proof, or don’t have active coverage, consider it a red flag.
12. Can You Sign a Confidentiality Agreement?
Your privacy should be protected. Require the investigator to sign a non-disclosure/confidentiality agreement.
- This legally prohibits them from disclosing details of your case, their findings, or your identity.
- If they refuse to sign, you should seriously reconsider hiring them. Your confidentiality is not their priority.
13. Do You Have a Professional Website and Office?
Most reputable investigators maintain a professional website, office location and communication channels.
- A website demonstrates their legitimacy and transparency to new clients.
- A professional office provides a place for consultations and securely storing confidential records.
- Shared PO Boxes or virtual offices can be cost-effective but raise credibility concerns.
14. Are You Bonded and Accredited?
While optional, being accredited further validates the credibility of the investigator.
- Bonding means the business is insured against theft, fraud or other criminal activity.
- Professional private investigator associations like PICA offer accreditation programs to vet experience.
- Don’t necessarily reject an investigator without bonding or accreditation but verify their reputation even more thoroughly first.
15. Do I Need to Sign a Contract or Retainer?
Reputable PIs will request you sign a contract or agreement to initiate work. This provides legal protections for both of you.
- Make sure you understand all the terms and conditions before signing. Require explanations of anything unclear.
- The agreement should outline rates, scope of work, confidentiality, liability clauses, and other expectations and protections.
- Refusing contracts or retainers should raise concerns. But overly long, convoluted ones are also problematic.
Choose Your Private Investigator Wisely
Conducting due diligence by asking the right questions will help you avoid mistakes and vet professional, responsible PIs to meet your needs. Don’t rush the evaluation process or cut corners that could put you at risk legally or financially.
By following this guide, you’ll be prepared to choose the most qualified Austin investigator and have the best chance of a successful investigation outcome. Just remember to be discreet in protecting your confidentiality when interacting with prospective PIs.