Should You Hire a Private Investigator? What you HAVE to know (2024)

You’ve found yourself in a difficult situation. Perhaps you suspect your spouse is cheating, you’re involved in a contentious legal dispute, or you simply need answers that you can’t seem to uncover on your own. You may be wondering if hiring a private investigator is the right move.

This is not a decision to take lightly. Private investigators offer specialized services, but they don’t come cheap. Before making up your mind, consider the pros and cons of hiring a professional snoop.


The Benefits of Hiring a Private Investigator

Two PI's discussing work at a table

1. They are trained experts.

Private investigators have specialized training and skills for uncovering information. Many are former law enforcement agents who know how to navigate legal issues and use established channels for accessing records and documents. Their expertise can help yield results an amateur sleuth might miss.

For example, a private investigator who once worked in law enforcement may have connections that allow them to access cell phone records through legal methods. As someone unfamiliar with how these systems work, you would likely hit dead ends trying to get this type of information on your own.

In addition to formal training, private investigators also gain critical skills through years of field experience. They know how to conduct surveillance discreetly, approach informants strategically, and dig deeper using analytical tools. Rookies simply don’t have these well-honed techniques that often make the difference in solving or progressing a case.


2. They have flexible availability.

Unlike the police who take on multiple cases, a private investigator works only on the cases you hire them for. This means they can dedicate themselves fully to investigating your case and pursuing leads around the clock.

For example, if you suspect your spouse is having an affair, the investigator can conduct surveillance during evenings, weekends or other times when an adulterous partner might be sneaking around. An amateur sleuth is much less likely to have this kind of availability.

Moreover, private investigators are not bound by department protocols dictating standardized work hours or scheduled leave times. They have flexibility to work odd hours as needed, take on last minute jobs, and make themselves available on short notice when pressing leads emerge. Such expansive availability can greatly accelerate an investigation compared to DIY sleuthing.


3. They have access to specialized resources.

Late night PI working on his computer

Private investigators use professional-grade equipment and proprietary databases not available to the public. Resources like camera systems, tracking software, criminal record databases and more give them an investigative edge.

For example, a private investigator might place a GPS tracker on a suspected cheating spouse’s car to monitor their movements. They may install hidden cameras or microphones to capture incriminating evidence. Amateur sleuths lack legal access to such investigative tools.

Investigators also leverage networks across the industry to access additional resources as needed. If a case requires specialized expertise like forensic accounting or DNA analysis, investigators can tap contacts to help examine evidence. They know investigators across different regions too, facilitating information sharing for cases crossing jurisdictional lines. Such connections allow investigators to access niche resources laying beyond an amateur’s reach.


4. They know how to analyze evidence.

Collecting evidence is one thing, evaluating and making sense of it is another matter altogether. Seasoned private investigators know how to pore through messy details to identify patterns and irregularities.

For example, an investigator who has accessed your spouse’s cell phone records knows how to spotlight suspicious numbers called at odd hours. An amateur without analytical training can easily become overwhelmed trying to interpret stacks of phone logs.

Experienced investigators utilize logic, intuition and strategic processes to extract insights from complex evidence sources. They can compile disparate data points — from financial statements to witness interviews — to reconstruct events or reveal lies. Interpreting volumes of data and paperwork requires criminal justice training amateurs rarely possess.


5. They can provide reports or court testimony.

a private investigator reviewing documents

Written documentation and eyewitness accounts hold major sway in legal proceedings. A private investigator can provide official reports containing recorded evidence, observations and professional interpretations. This documentation can support legal actions like divorce or custody disputes.

Additionally, private investigators can serve as court witnesses if needed. Their seasoned testimony often carries more weight than amateur assertions in the eyes of a judge or jury. This can bolster your case during legal action.

Unlike amateur detectives, investigators have statutory powers granting them access to courtrooms. They know how to write factual reports aligned to legal standards and structure reliable testimony magistrates find credible. Their delivery tends to influence outcomes more than scattered notes or hearsay from non-professionals. Qualified testimony is hugely impactful.


The Potential Drawbacks of Hiring a Private Investigator

1. It can get expensive.

Professional private investigators have rates ranging from $50 to $150 per hour on average. Expenses like GPS tracking devices, camera gear and databases checks further drive up costs. Even a relatively simple case requiring a few weeks of work can cost thousands in investigators’ fees.

Make sure to get quotes upfront so you can budget accurately. Get details on rates for the investigator’s time as well as any expenses you may incur. Also ask what happens if the investigation drags on – will you get hit with unexpected extra hourly charges?

Beyond simple fees, paying an investigator means forgoing income you could generate devoting the same time to career-building. Complex cases involving weeks or months of PI work represent substantial lost opportunity costs. Compare the risk-reward tradeoffs versus advancing your education or job skills before shelling out.


2. PI work isn’t always legal.

an unidentified man browsing through files

Private investigators occupy a gray area in the law. While they may be retired law enforcement agents, they are not currently employed by legal institutions like the police department. This means many of the evidence-collecting methods available to police are off limits for PIs.

For example, a PI generally cannot wiretap your spouse’s phone or hack into their email account no matter how likely the case for infidelity. Doing so can constitute invasion of privacy or illegal wiretapping. Know that a PI operates outside of certain legal protections and restrictions.

Moreover, hiring a shady investigator could make you party to illegal schemes like blackmail or witness intimidation. Unethical PIs may overstep boundaries or even break laws in pursuit of payoffs. Tread carefully checking investigators’ backgrounds and sensibilities before establishing any formal agreements.


3. You may not like what you uncover.

Initiating an investigation means you’re prepared to get real answers – and sometimes the truth is upsetting or unwanted. If you hire a PI to follow your spouse, they may deliver damning photos of infidelity. In other cases, the investigator might turn up nothing even though you felt certain something was amiss.

Make sure you are ready for any potential truth before you engage a PI. Also know that once you uncover facts, you cannot undo them. An unpleasant revelation could upend your life, relationships or legal disputes in significant ways.

Coming to terms with difficult revelations also has costs. You may need extended counseling after learning disturbing news, which takes time, money and emotional bandwidth. Alternatively, seemingly fruitless investigations represent wasted energy you cannot recoup. Be prepared for all potential outcomes.


4. Background checks aren’t foolproof.

A common reason for hiring private investigator is to run a background check on someone before, say, entering a business partnership with them. However, databases aren’t perfect and digitized records only provide part of the picture.

A basic background check may overlook past criminal activity or financial problems not tied directly to the individual’s name. Don’t assume a quiet report means you are getting the full story on someone’s reputation and character.

Additionally, files mix ups happen, records get purged, and jurisdictions vary in reporting standards. Don’t assume an investigator will automatically unearth all skeleton’s in your partner’s closet. They can only access and report on available records, which offer an incomplete profile at best.


5. Investigators can make mistakes.

Finger of a detective pointing at a mind map

Even seasoned private investigators can follow false leads, misinterpret evidence, or simply come up short. Their skills and resources may not be infallible. Working with a bad or inexperienced PI can mean not just wasted money but missed opportunities or misguided information.

Vet several investigators thoroughly before choosing one. Look for certifications, an established career history and specialties matching your case needs. And remember – no investigator, even a highly talented one, can guarantee results. Sometimes a case simply goes cold.

Like anyone else, seasoned investigators still fall victim to cognitive biases. They may fixate on early hunches that divert attention from more promising leads. Fatigue and stress also erode analytical sharpness over long cases. Reflect carefully on second opinions before acting solely based on one PI’s fallible takes.


Key Questions to Ask Before Hiring

If you believe a private investigator may be able to help with your situation, make sure to ask these key questions during the research process:

  • Are you licensed in this state? Private investigators must hold a license to operate legally in most regions. This helps verify their legitimacy.
  • What is your background and area of expertise? Look for investigators who match the type of case you have. An expert in adultery may not have the best skills finding hidden assets.
  • What specific services do you provide? Services range from monitoring spouses to performing employee background checks. Be sure the investigator provides what you need.
  • What are your rates and how do you charge? Look for flat fees when possible vs hourly billing. Make sure you understand all potential costs.
  • How long have you been in business as an investigator? Look for an established history of 5+ years minimum. Avoid brand new investigators with little experience.
  • Can you provide references from past clients? Reputable investigators should be able to put you in touch with satisfied customers.
  • What happens if you don’t uncover any evidence or answers? The best investigators will still charge you for their time but may offer guarantees.
  • Can you provide official documentation or testify in court if needed? Make sure the investigator can back up findings legally if required.


Questions to Ask Yourself Before Pursuing an Investigation

Initiating a private investigation is a major decision with many implications. Before rushing to hire an investigator, ask yourself these reflective questions:

What specific information do I hope to uncover? Get very clear on the insights you believe are missing. This will help determine if an investigation is truly likely to provide answers.

Am I emotionally prepared for unwanted truths? Ignorance can be bliss. Make sure you are ready to process uncomfortable revelations before seeking them out.

How might my relationships be impacted? An investigation that exposes deceit could have profound impacts on personal or professional relationships in your life. Consider these collateral effects.

Could direct communication resolve my questions? Simply talking to your spouse or business partner may reveal truths without needing an intermediary. Explore this avenue first.

What alternatives to a private investigator do I have? Consulting friends, checking public records yourself or seeking free legal consultations are some alternative starting points to consider.

Am I okay with potential legal or ethical violations? Overstepping legal bounds is not uncommon during private investigations. Make sure you’ve reconciled your personal values with “the ends justifying the means” if needed.

Reflecting deeply on questions like these first can help confirm if hiring a private investigator is the right tactical step toward getting the clarity and closure you seek.


Making the Decision That’s Right for You

A detective doing surveillance in his car- next to him is food and the suspects picture

At the end of the day, deciding whether to hire a private investigator is a highly personal choice. You need to weigh factors like costs, risks and emotional readiness for potentially unpleasant discoveries.

For serious situations where all other options have been exhausted, an investigator may provide the expert help needed. But for more general suspicions, uncertainties or “gut feelings,” the costs may outweigh potential benefits.

Know yourself, the specifics of your situation and the scope of services private investigators can reasonably provide. Draw clear limits around what actions you consider ethical. With these practical considerations in mind, you can make the decision that brings the insights and closure you seek.

Additionally, recognize that an investigator should complement (not substitute) your own fact-finding efforts. If you anticipate needing to work closely with one for an extended duration, make sure your working styles mesh well. Like any service provider, an investigator serves clients best when the relationship allows for open communication and trust.

Ultimately by understanding your goals, assessing options realistically, and choosing an investigator carefully, their expertise can prove invaluable. Weigh the decision deliberatively based on your circumstances and resources. If the benefits outweigh the costs for you, a private investigator may hold the key to getting the answers you need.


What to Do If You Uncover Criminal Activity

A private investigation predicated on personal suspicions could reveal crimes like embezzlement, fraud or extortion. If your investigator uncovers reasonable evidence of illegal schemes, several options exist:

File a civil lawsuit: Seeking financial restitution for losses through a lawsuit may help reconcile damages from crimes. This may be preferable if relationships make criminal charges undesirable.

Report the findings to the police: Generally the most direct way to pursue punishment and apply justice. However, police may find insufficient grounds for charges and relationships could be severed permanently as a result.

Confront the perpetrator: Discuss the evidence directly and request return of stolen money or assets from them initially. This avoids immediate authority involvement but only works voluntarily.

Do nothing: Simply writing off losses without further actions is sometimes the pragmatic approach to avoid excess hassle if amounts are minor. However, this tacitly condones illegal behaviour.


What types of cases do private investigators handle?
Private investigators take on many types of cases, including infidelity, legal and financial investigations, missing persons, background checks, insurance claims, and more. Their diverse expertise allows them to assist in a wide range of situations.
Repeated sightings of the same unknown/suspicious vehicle, being photographed/filmed in public, unknown devices like GPS trackers found on your car, feeling watched can signal PI surveillance. Confronting the investigator can confirm.
Not without legal authorization or consent from the account holder. Ethical investigators will not cross legal boundaries to obtain records illegally. Proper channels ensure admissibility.
Local investigators know area records systems, laws and have local connections. But an out-of-state investigator may raise fewer suspicions conducting surveillance on local subjects who would recognize a neighbor.
Investigators can provide recorded documentation like written reports, photographs, videos and records obtained legally. Testimony may also be possible. Less scrupulous PIs may attempt to provide illegally obtained evidence.
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