We’ve all fantasized about hiring a PI to find a lost friend, get help with identity theft, investigate infidelity, do a background or asset search – or to help get information we just can’t find on our own. But what does hiring a private investigator really entail?
We spoke to Curtis Moore, a retired police office in Annapolis, Maryland turned private investigator (and highly rated Thumbtack pro) to get the scoop.
Can a private investigator actually help me with my problem?
Before you even start looking for a private investigator, you should first figure out if a PI will even be able to help you. Moore says a lot of people assume that a private investigator in real life can do anything that the PIs on television can do, but that’s just not the case. “People think we can find anything and that we’re like Sherlock Holmes, but I can’t necessarily find your lost engagement ring or help you track down the guy you met at the bar last night.” Because most people hiring a PI have never hired one before and have emotional reasons behind wanting to get the information they’re seeking, they’re willing to pay good money, he says, but it’s important to use common sense and have reasonable expectations.
So… What CAN a private investigator do?
Moore says the number one thing a PI does is gather facts and find information for people. “We can’t get private information, like health records, ” he says. But a PI does have access to information the general public can’t obtain. And though you need a court order to get things like marriage licenses, birth certificates, and adoption information, a PI can help you find a reason to get a court order.
It’s important to remember that a PI must obey the same laws as any ordinary citizen. Still, a PI can do a lot. From finding an address to uncovering improper relationships to analyzing documents for potential fraud to locating a missing person… But they don’t all do everything, so the challenge is finding a PI who specializes in the type of case you want solved. For example, Moore focuses on background checks and finding people, but doesn’t take cases that involve tracking people because it can get expensive for his clients. “You can follow someone for five hours and they don’t do anything, but that’s still a $250 to $500 bill.”
What should I know before I hire a PI?
First, you should make sure they specialize in cases that are similar to yours. Then, you’ll want to look at their track record. Check their reviews on Thumbtack or reach out to a consumer assistance group. Once you find someone you like, you can move onto the next step.
What happens next?
You should meet with the PI to thoroughly discuss the case and lay out what you want to know and what your expectations are. This is also the time to discuss how much you can afford to spend total.
At this point, the PI will determine whether it’s legal, ethical, and even possible to solve your case. Moore says at this point he often realizes a person could solve the case themselves with just a few steps, in which case, he just gives them direction instead of taking their money. That being said, if the PI does accept your case, you’ll work out a plan and a budget.
It’s a good idea to have a written contract that outlines what you want done, deadlines, fees, and other estimated costs, so that you avoid any misunderstandings or surprise charges down the road.
Finally, after all of the work has been completed, you’ll make a payment at which time the PI will provide you with a case report outlining everything that was found and determined during the investigation.
How much will it cost?
Private investigator rates vary by location, services, experience, and training. There are some services, like background checks or “bug sweeps” of the home/car that will usually be a flat fee. Hourly rates tend to range from $40 to $100, but there may be additional fees for mileage expenses, travel costs, etc. Ask for an itemized list of any additional costs and make sure you discuss your maximum budget up front.
Curtis Moore is a private investigator who finds people, does background and asset checks, and gives you peace of mind about people you’d like to know. You can find him on his website and on Thumbtack.