Reaching out to hire a private investigator is not an easy thing for most people. Often times there is emotion involved. And what we've seen on television and movies and read in books is usually embellished.
So we sat down and gathered a list of the questions that we've heard the most when it comes to working with private investigators. At Trustify, we are dedicated to providing truth, trust and safety to everyone. We strive to make the process of working with private investigators easier and more transparent.
What is a private investigator?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, private investigators search for information about legal, financial, and personal matters. They can verifying people’s backgrounds and statements, finding missing persons, and investigating computer crimes.
Typically, private investigators are “problem solvers,” finding information through a variety of methods, including:
- Interviewing people to gather information
- Searching online, public, and court records to uncover clues
- Conducting surveillance
- Collecting evidence for clients
- Checking for civil judgments and criminal history
Private investigators are also described as those who “gather, analyze, compile and report information regarding individuals or organizations to clients, or detect occurrences of unlawful acts or infractions of rules in private establishment.”
What are some other titles for private investigators?
Because private investigators cover a wide variety of investigations, they are sometimes referred to specifically as:
- Field Investigator
- Legal investigator
- Private Detective
- Special Investigator
Do private investigators have specialties in certain areas?
Yes, some private investigators specialize, for example, in finding missing persons or performing background checks.
The United States Association of Professional Investigators has identified specialty tracks for private investigators, including:
- Civil investigation
- Criminal investigation
- Insurance investigation
- Investigative ethics
- Special victims/child abuse/nursing homes
- Terrorism and intelligence
What is the difference between a private investigator and private detective?
Nothing – the terms are interchangeable. Some state licensing organizations use the term “private detective” or “private detective agency,” other states use the term “private investigator” or “private investigator agency.”
Is there a difference between a private investigator and a bounty hunter?
Absolutely. Private investigators work on behalf of clients to conduct surveillance and collect evidence to be used in court.
A bounty hunter works on behalf of a bail bondsman to re-arrest and jail a bondsman’s client who has defaulted on his/her bail contract (“jumped bail”) and has failed to appear in court per his bail agreement.
Additionally, private investigators in the Trustify network must have five or more years of investigative experience, a clean background, and an expansive skill set. They are tasked with a variety of cases - it’s not just a one-dimensional job.
What does a private investigator do?
Private investigators use a host of skills in order to retrieve the evidence necessary for each case, including:
- Write reports or case summaries for use in legal proceedings or to be presented to a client at the conclusion of the case.
- Legally search computer databases, credit reports, public records, tax or legal filings, or other resources to locate persons or to compile information for investigations.
- Conduct background investigations on a person’s character, financial status or personal history for pre-employment checks or tenant vetting.
- Discover fraudulent insurance claims, stolen funds or investigate companies' financial standings or locate funds stolen by embezzlers.
- Obtain and analyze information on suspects, crimes, or disturbances to solve cases, to identify criminal activity for court cases.
- Testify at hearings, court trials, legal or legislative proceedings to present legally obtained evidence.
- Run a credit check with proper approval
- Question persons, conduct surveillance and obtain evidence and information about individuals' character or financial status for cases of divorce, child custody, missing persons.
- Observe and document activities of individuals to detect unlawful acts or to obtain evidence for cases.
- Confer with establishment officials, security departments, police, or postal officials to identify problems, provide information, or receive instructions.
- Perform undercover operations, such as evaluating the performance or honesty of employees by posing as customers or employees.
- Alert appropriate personnel to suspects' locations.
Private investigators are licensed to practice in the state in which they work, and may either work full time as employees or be contracted to work with private detective firms, police departments, private businesses and organizations, as well as individual clients.
What can a private investigator not do?
- Operate without a license
- Impersonate law enforcementBreak the law / Participate in unethical practices
- Break the law / Participate in unethical practices
- Tamper with mail
- Hack into a social media or e-mail account
- Hack a cell phone / wiretap a phone without consent
- Run a license plate without reason
- Obtain protected information without consent or legal purpose
- Make a legal arrest
- Obtain cell phone records without a warrant
- Present false testimony in court or legislative hearing
- Torture or any kind of physical, mental abuse; murder
Trustify investigators will immediately reject cases in which any such requests are made and will immediately notify local authorities. We operate with a commitment of truth, trust and safety to all parties.
What are the requirements to be a private investigator?
Private investigators typically need several years of work experience and the vast majority of states require private detectives and investigators to have a license.
Private investigators have previous work experience, usually in law enforcement, the military, federal intelligence or as bill/account collectors, claims adjusters, paralegals or process servers. Sometimes, individuals in those roles are able to retire after 20 or 25 years of service, and may become private investigators in a second career.
Most learn through on-the-job training, typically lasting between several months to a year. Additional training depends on the type of firm that hires them.
The private investigators in the Trustify network must have at least five or more years of investigative experience, a clean background, and an excellent skill set. They must pass a probationary period before they are finalized in the network. In fact, only 8% of those who have applied to join the Trustify network are accepted.
You can find information about licensing here, and a step-by-step break down of becoming a private investigator can be found here. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the private investigation profession is projected for 11% growth through 2026.
What kind of skills do you need to be a private investigator?
Private investigators need to be good communicators, first and foremost:
- Active listener
- Good communicator (speaking, writing)
- Social perceptiveness
They also need to be able to gather the evidence to build the case:
- Critical thinking
- Reading comprehension
- Complex problem solving
- Active learner
- Good judgement and decision making skills
And this is a customer service oriented role:
- Service oriented
- Time management
Some specialized cases, such as accident reconstruction, involve advanced scientific mathematics skills, while financial cases such as embezzlement and employee theft involve accounting and other financial skills. In catfishing or social media investigations, computer forensic skills are important so as to not leave a digital footprint or compromise the data.
What kind of additional training will a private investigator need?
Additional skills training may involve:
- Arrest procedures
- Evidence collection
- Firearms training
- Investigative and legal procedures
- Non-lethal weapons
- Pursuit driving
- Surveillance and surveillance equipment
- Use of force laws and codes
What kind of tools and equipment do private investigators use?
This list is just some of the tools that private investigators can use to conduct their surveillance to gather evidence:
- Biological evidence collection kits
- Desktop, laptop computers and other devices
- Digital camcorders / video cameras / digital cameras / still cameras
- Digital audio recorders
- Fingerprint evidence kits
- GPS receivers
- Handguns (most state PI licenses require additional training, licensing)
- High-powered binoculars, telescopes
- Night vision goggles
What kind of resources do private investigators use?
Databases have made researching easier for private investigators and those in the Trustify network utilize several databases which they have to hold a license in order to access. Social media, public records, industry blogs and websites, and even networking are some other resources that private investigators have been known to use.
How much does a private investigator make? What is the average salary?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for private detectives and investigators is $24.38 hourly, or $50,700 annually as of May 2017, but the range is $28,780 to $86,730. Nationally, private investigators charge an average of $86.00/hour based on internal Trustify research and this number can reach $200/hour.
There are over 41,000 private investigators in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the private investigator industry is projected to experience higher than average job growth – almost 11 percent – than most industries. By 2026, the BLS projects that there will be nearly 46,000 private investigators.
How do I check if a private investigator has a valid license?
A private investigator should present evidence of a license upon request. This can then be verified with the state licensing body. You can check state-by-state.
What is the difference between on location and remote research?
On location means the private investigator is physically on site. Remote research typically involves electronic research and investigation.
A case is considered “on location” when it requires an investigator to be physically on site with the subject of interest, often to get photographs and/or video footage. Remote research is usually done through databases and other online resources and can be conducted from any state or location.
How do you hire a private investigator?
You can reach Trustify through the following ways to start your case:
- Click here for a business-related case
- Click here for a personal case
- Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Or call us: 888-887-5120
If you decide to look outside the Trustify network, please make sure you research the investigator that you hire: verify that he or she is licensed in your state or that where the case is taking place and look for customer reviews to make sure that this person is a fit.
How long is a typical case?
For private investigators in the Trustify network, typical research cases can range anywhere from 2-10 hours and surveillance cases can range anywhere from 4-20 hours or more – it all depends on the case.
Each investigation is unique and cases can vary based on a number of variables. We we ask for some basic information when you first reach out to Trustify to give you a ballpark figure on how long the case will take. However, your private investigator will be the one to answer exactly how long the case will take.
Will anyone know I have hired a private investigator?
If you hire an investigator through Trustify then no, they will not. While our services are 100% confidential, if an investigator is subpoenaed by a court of law, he or she is legally bound to appear and testify.
We take your privacy very seriously – no one other than you, your investigator, and members of our customer support and sales staff at Trustify will know you have hired a private investigator.
We recommend to our clients (and to anyone that hires a PI) that they don’t tell anyone that they have hired a private investigator until the investigation is complete.
Are there additional fees or expenses outside of the hourly rate that I should anticipate?
Many cases can involve fees for expenses outside of the regular hourly rate an investigator is paid such as drive time or database fees.
If you hire an investigator through Trustify, you’ll be aware of extra costs or charges ahead of time. In the event that additional database fees or travel costs are needed, your investigator will alert you to the exact costs and get your approval before moving forward. You’ll also be warned during your consultation of any likely fees.
Who uses private investigators?
In short, private investigators are utilized if you need access to information that an average individual can’t obtain. “We’re problem solvers,” said an investigator in the Trustify network.
Some common examples of clients and use cases are:
- Businesses looking for someone to investigate for illegal activity, such as embezzlement or theft of corporate secrets, or even investigating bogus workman's comp cases.
- Background checks of candidates for jobs, or potential renters by the leasing office or landlord.
- Those involved in child custody cases or other family law situations.
- A victim of an accident or an insurance adjuster looking to determine the cause of the accident.
Why would I hire a private investigator?
In addition to their experience and expertise, evidence collected by private investigators is much more likely to be admissible in the case than evidence collected by an individual involved with a case. This is attributed to the fact that the evidence has been gathered by someone knowledgeable concerning the rules of evidence.
Private investigators are trained to be unbiased, and not emotionally, financially or personally attached to the case. This is their job and they are objective.
What is the value of using a private investigator?
Experience: private investigators know the ins and outs of locating a person, collecting data/evidence, and following legal procedures. They can help the best case possible and maximize your chance of winning.
Do private investigators have to identify themselves?
Private investigators do not have to identify themselves, although some do if they believe it will help gather evidence and information. If an investigator “gets caught” more than likely they will deny everything. Some investigators will give the local police a “heads-up” that they are in the area if they feel it is necessary.
What do I do if a private investigator is following me?
Private investigators are there to do their job and conduct research – not to confront you – and certainly do not want to get into an altercation or compromise anyone’s safety.
If you feel unsafe, find a well-lit, public space and alert local law enforcement that you are being followed and give them a description of the person. If they are a private investigator, they will likely leave the area after being approached by police.
What’s the story behind Trustify?
Trustify co-founders, Jennifer Mellon and Danny Boice built a business that would change the world for the better. As serial entrepreneurs who founded four startups collectively, they started Trustify on the premise that it would have a social mission, be fully data-driven and built by the most talented and diverse team.
Can you tell me more about Trustify?
- Since 2015, we have completed over 10,000 cases, serving over 5,000 customers, including individuals and corporations.
- See our 150+ reviews on TrustPilot
- We have been accredited by the Better Business Bureau
- Our headquarters are located in Arlington, VA but our network of investigators stretches nationwide. They are independent contractors and work from their individual locations.
How do I inquire about working with Trustify?
To learn more about how we can help you or to start a case, we begin with a brief consultation to learn more about the problem you’re facing:
- Click here for a business-related case
- Click here for a personal case
- Email us at email@example.com
- Or call us: 888-887-5120
We understand that everyone – whether it is a personal or business situation – has different needs and we’re committed to tailoring our services to best fit you. Once we know what your needs are, we’ll present you with a few options to choose from that meet your needs at different price points. From there, your private investigator will be able to tailor the investigation.