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Q & A

Answers to commonly asked questions from the experts on Thumbtack.

What does a private investigator do?

First and foremost, good private investigators follow laws. Unlike on TV, they don’t break in windows or hack into hospital computer systems to get you intel. When you hire a private investigator, you’re hiring a professional to gather facts and find information for you. Although they can’t obtain certain information (such as health records), they do have access to information that most civilians do not. Often private investigators are hired to perform surveillance or background checks or investigate cases such as adultery, child custody, missing persons, hidden assets, or debugging, and theft or other crimes.

Private investigators can be hired to interview people and provide that information to the client, perform photo or video surveillance, monitor activity at a location where you suspect criminal activities or questionable behavior, track a person’s movements, find missing people, do deep-dive background checks, and more. Private investigation can be helpful if you’re trying to get a court order but need evidence. Private investigators can also help find birth parents. Nationally, the average price range for private investigation is $70-$210 per hour.

What does a private investigator cost?

Private investigation isn’t just for blockbuster action movies. Hiring a private investigator can help in all kinds of situations ranging from finding a birth parent to improving personal security. Nationally, the average price range for private investigation is $70-$210, although pricing often hovers between $40 and $100 depending on the complexity of the services you need. Where you live in the country will affect your costs for private investigation; larger cities have higher business overhead and a higher cost of living, which in turn means higher service rates. The complexity of your case can also affect cost. A basic background check may have a flat rate, while hiring a private investigator to help with your child custody case may require more legwork and research, and therefore cost more. Some private investigators work on retainer. A retainer is essentially a nonrefundable deposit you pay to the professional — meaning you have retained their services — who then works against that amount. Here are some examples of average private investigation costs:

  • Hourly rate: $60-$70; costs can vary based on current fuel prices.
  • Flat rate: $100 for comprehensive background investigation services.
  • Retainer: $1,500 minimum retainer required by some pros before starting work.
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