What are the risks of hiring a private investigator? We often have customers hopping on to our live chat to ask about the pros of buying surveillance equipment vs. the risks of hiring a private investigator. To answer your questions, we thought we'd put this piece together and explain some of the issues we've come across. And to give you a fair, balanced view, we've also added some benefits - because private investigators can be helpful in many situations.
Some of our best clients are professional, reputable private investigators, so we know how much work goes into doing the job properly.
As a bonus, we've added two of our favorite gadgets to rival any top-class private investigator. Scroll down below to see those, or keep reading to understand the risks of hiring a private investigator.
When Would You Hire a Private Investigator?
Our audio, GPS, and visual surveillance equipment are perfect if you want to do some inexpensive surveillance on your own. But when you require specific, detailed information for a divorce, child custody ruling, fraud suspicion, or if you think you're under surveillance, then using a private investigator could be helpful.
Some other common reasons for hiring a private investigator include:
- Finding stolen assets and property
- Locating a missing person
- Conducting background investigations
- Conducting counter-surveillance
- Collecting evidence
- Getting background information on someone
What Are the Risks?
Private investigators don't have the same privileges as law enforcement. In fact, they operate on the same line of the law as you and I. Bad private investigators won't care about this line and they'll take unnecessary and potentially illegal risks. They cost a lot of money - around $200/$300 an hour, so there's a lot that can go wrong when you're hiring one. Here are some of the risks you need to be aware of.
You Might Hire a Shady Investigator
A private investigator might need surveillance on someone and gather evidence through - sometimes - questionable but not illegal ways, like following someone, doing a stakeout, looking through the trash, or interviewing friends and family of the person they're surveilling.
The laws vary state by state, so P.Is have a license in whichever state they're working. A licensed P.I. will know what they can and can't do.
The evidence a licensed P.I. finds can be used in court in some states, but it will only hold up if the P.I. is legally working. If the private eye you've hired has a faulty strategy and doesn't conduct an above-board investigation, it can dredge up many legal ramifications.
They tread a fine line between fair and legal investigation and crossing into illegal territory; they can go through someone's trash, but they can't trespass on personal property. The legal consequences of trespassing can be pretty severe, and as the client, you could be liable too.
You could be liable if you hire an unlicensed P.I. who doesn't follow the law either because they don't care or don't know. Any proof the P.I found will be illegally obtained, and it won't be admissible in court.
Private investigators don't need a license to work in Mississippi, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana, but every other state requires private eyes to be licensed. Some states are more strict than others.
So, how do you find a licensed private investigator?
You can use a reputable website like findyourinvestigator.com, which has a list of all the different licensing rules for various states, and when you click on a specific state, you'll be able to type in your location and zip code to find a licensed P.I. close to you. Our customers often ask, "where can I find a private investigator near me?" Although we can't give you exact information, we can say that the find your investigator website is reliable and trustworthy, and you won't risk hiring the wrong private investigator.
To see if the private investigator you've hired is legally registered, you can search their license number on your state's security and investigative services website. Each state usually has one. As an example, Texas Online Private Security is the private eye website for Texas. You can also google your private investigator's name and "state investigator license." Click on the first link that isn't an ad to find where your private investigator is licensed.
Private Investigators are Expensive
When it comes to the risks of hiring a private investigator, searching for a licensed P.I. is the easy part. The hard part is the cost of hiring a private investigator. Experienced, reliable private investigators start charging around $200 an hour and a $2k - $3k retainer. Ouch! There may be hours where they're doing nothing but surveilling a house, and even if they don't find anything, you'll still be charged. Don't expect a free consultation here; it costs money right off the bat.
Not finding the proof you're looking for has no bearing on their actual billable hours.
Following someone, interviewing friends and family, and going through old records all take hours, and it still might not yield the results you want.
It's rare to complete an assignment quickly, especially if you want to gather enough irrefutable evidence to back up your case.
You have to weigh up your options and decide if your return on investment is worth it.
Experienced private eyes will be able to give you an estimated time for your case as long as you honestly give them all the information you know. That will at least give you an idea of how much you'll be spending. Even in these cases, though, it may cost you more if collecting evidence proves more complicated than they initially thought.
We've seen clients spend between $5000 and $8000 on affair cases for professional investigators. If they don't find the evidence and you've run out of money, you're back at square one, with thousands of dollars out of pocket.
Good Chance of Poor Quality Work
If you decide to go for a cheaper professional investigator, you may pay for work that takes a lot of time but will never produce proper proof, even if they have good intentions. In some cases, the investigator might obtain evidence illegally, and you don't want to with any legal action from that.
On the other hand, experienced investigators are often retired police officers or bodyguards who know how to search for evidence and document this proof properly. They have contacts and resources they can reach out to for specific information.
The requirements for becoming an investigator are pretty basic:
- They have to be older than 18-years-old.
- They need to have a clear criminal record with no criminal laws broken.
- They need to take a few short introductory courses.
They don't need years of experience under their belt for a license, but you can imagine the difference in work quality when comparing years of police experience with someone who just did a few courses when they turned 18.
We often get Private Investigators calling us for advice, and based on their questions, it becomes apparent that they're new to the industry, which is slightly alarming. The only way you can prevent this is by doing your research.
Professional Investigators Can Be Unreliable
We've seen this one quite often. Some private investigators aren't as reliable as you need them to be, especially considering the money you're spending and the nature of their work. Getting regular progress updates is essential, yet we've had a few customers mention that contacting their P.I.s was hard. If you want to hire a private investigator, it's probably best to resign yourself to the fact that they'll be hard to contact.
Some reasons private investigators might not be reliable are:
It's relatively easy to become a private investigator, so it attracts all sorts of people - especially chancers.
Many of them find that keeping a low profile helps their investigations, but this might mean that you, as a client, find it hard to contact them.
They could be working on multiple assignments simultaneously, which would delay your results of yours.
They can adjust their billable hours, and you wouldn't know. They might stake out a house for three hours and bill you for five. It's hard for you to keep track of this.
Sometimes, they'll be on assignments where they have to be focused and quiet, so answering your calls or responding to your messages might take a backseat.
- The evidence they gather might not be admissible in court.
Private investigations still need to be done with consideration of state laws. Reliable private investigators will know when they're overstepping a line to gather evidence. They'll know that the proof might not be legally liable in court, which can be detrimental for both the client and investigator.
But even in those situations, it's easy for lawyers to pick apart how the professional investigator gathered evidence. Depending on the case, one small, wrong step and faulty strategy might be enough to have it thrown out.
This doesn't usually apply to cheating spouse cases because photographic proof is pretty straightforward. But in fraud cases or situations where you may have found hidden assets or property, it's vital to ensure that your private investigator gathered evidence legally and that there was no way to tamper with it. The legal pitfalls of illegally obtained proof aren't worth the risk.
The Pros of Hiring a Private Eye
We mentioned that some of our best clients are incredibly successful private investigators. We have a lot of respect for them and their work, so while there are risks to hiring a private investigator, we have to include the benefits because there are many.
One inexperienced or unreliable investigator can throw all of these pros out the window. However, hiring a private investigator can save you time and emotional energy if you find the right one. The points below are for investigators who are experienced, licensed, and good at their job.
If you want to hire a private investigator, here are some pros you should expect from them.
They Provide Detail and Context to an Investigation
We'll always advocate for our spy equipment. We've seen our hidden cameras, audio recorders, and bug detectors gather all the proof people need to prove their point or win their case.
But they're not humans, and they won't know when to pay attention to something specific and look into it deeper. You can plant an audio recorder in a meeting room and then have to sift through hours of recording, and missing one thing could mess up all the work you've done.
When professional, good investigators do an investigation, their clients will reap the benefits.
A private investigator is tuned to what they need to listen to and watch out for, and they can follow up on this. A good P.I. has excellent attention to detail, and they're precise when it comes to gathering and documenting proof. They're also quite adept at cyber investigations, thorough background investigation, finding hidden assets, and alerting you to any inherent risks and possible legal action.
They Work With Law Enforcement
Good private eyes have good relationships with law enforcement officials, and they're able to reach out to their contacts for legal tips and information.
If they find evidence of illegal activity, they can call their contacts to arrest the perpetrator and present the police with the evidence they've gathered. This relationship and teamwork provide strong backup in court cases, and you're far more likely to get the results you want when your private inspector works alongside law enforcement.
They Do Background Checks.
Background checks and following people may sound illegal, but it's perfectly legal for private eyes to do in-depth background checks on people in most states. They have access to subscription-based websites to dig into any previous criminal history.
They're also adept at scouring social media profiles and public online activity. If there's a secret someone's trying to hide and there's evidence online of it, a private investigator will find it.
You'll have peace of mind that someone did the job correctly, even if they didn't find any evidence. t
Even the best private investigator won't be able to find evidence that doesn't exist, and sometimes, that's the case. You may be about your suspicions, but they could be completely unfounded.
When you hire a good private investigator who spends a decent amount of time on your assignment and still doesn't come up with anything, it may be time to conclude that you were wrong.
In a lot of cases, this could be helpful. Cheating spouse suspicions, cheating business partners, hidden assets - they could bring in more money for you, but that comes with a lot of emotional turmoil. Knowing for sure that you were wrong can save you from that.
Things to look for when hiring a professional investigator:
Before you start looking for a P.I, write down your reasons for hiring one and what you hope to get out of it.
Work out how much you're willing to spend on hiring an investigator. If you can afford a little more, do it.
When searching for an investigator, find someone with good, solid reviews and check their license on your state's security website.
Meet with them in person and ask them questions about how long their investigations usually take, what processes they follow, and how and when you'll be able to reach them if you have any questions.
Ask them to explain what happens if they get caught, if they find evidence, and how you can use the evidence they've found.
Asking these questions early on will help you find a reliable investigator. They should be able to answer everything without any issues. The costs of hiring a private investigator are high, but if you find a really good one, then it's definitely worth your while. Make sure you do your searching and enquiring properly.
Can you sue someone for hiring a private investigator?
The short answer is no; you can't. Private investigators are allowed to do background checks, they're allowed to interview your friends and family, and although they can't trespass on your property, they can do things like go through your trash once you've moved it off your property. If they're legally registered and licensed and follow the law when doing their work, you can't sue them.
Is hiring a private investigator stalking?
Hiring a private investigator isn't stalking, even if their job is to follow someone and talk to their colleagues and friends. Again, as long as the investigator is licensed, they have more free reign than the average person.
However, hiring an experienced, licensed detective will be more expensive than buying surveillance equipment.
BONUS! Our favorite private investigator like products:
Divorce case? Shady business partner? The smoke detector camera can help you confirm and or deny your suspicions. It records videos at 1080p resolution, only records when there's motion, and has night vision.
The voice-activated recorder pen is one of our top-selling products because of its solid sound quality, ability to record from 45 feet away, and compatibility with all computers.
These products are top quality, and they come in at a fraction of the price of private investigators, so if you can't afford an experienced P.I., then we strongly recommend getting these products instead of going the cheap P.I. route and putting yourself at risk.
Legal tip: check to see if your state needs two-party consent for recording.