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Choosing a Private Investigator

It’s a nightmare. You suspect your spouse is cheating, your life is turned upside down and you want to know the truth. Your personal and financial future hang in the balance, and you’ve wisely decided against trying to get proof yourself or by getting friends and family involved. Or perhaps you have realized your spouse or ex is exposing your child(ren) to unhealthy situations and you know you need proof. After all, you telling the judge you’re the better parent won’t get you very far, since virtually every parent believes the very same thing. A professional investigator is the way to go, but how do you decide on one? A quick internet or phone book search reveals dozens of private detective companies in your area. It’s crucial that you find one that provides quality work at a fair price, who will be there for you if your case goes to trial months or even years later. It will take some time to gather information to make a wise choice, so take a deep breath and promise yourself that you will not make a hasty decision.

If you have an attorney, or know attorneys who handle family court cases, call and ask for a referral to an investigator they have used in the past. A referral from an attorney or other legal professional is a strong indication of quality, but by no means should you simply hire the first firm you are referred to. The vast majority of professional detective companies have invested in a good quality website that provides a wide range of information. Use your favorite search engine to search for firms in your area, and take some time to look through the sites you find.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the site professionally designed and free of spelling, grammar and punctuation errors?
  • Does the site give you information on the investigators’ experience, training, equipment and surveillance capabilities?
  • Is the company locally owned and operated, or a national company with (or without) an office in your area?
  • Does the firm have an office location?
  • Does the firm make unrealistic promises?
  • How long has the company been in business?
  • Are its owners and/or employees involved in the community?
  • Do the owners and/or investigators have specialized training, education or experience?
  • Do any of the company’s investigators teach classes or write articles?
  • Are they considered experts by their peers and the community?

Overall, what impression do you get from their site? Compile a list of three or more firms you feel the most confident about.

Make a call to each of the companies and ask a few preliminary questions, such as:

  • "How do you set your fees?"
  • "Who will do the actual work on my investigation?"
  • "How do you handle multiple investigations simultaneously?" and any other questions you may have.

Find out if the company offers a free initial consultation. Ask yourself whether each person you talk to is compassionate, professional and knowledgeable. Most likely, your impressions from the website will be consistent with your impressions from the phone conversations. If not, go back and look through more sites and repeat the process until you have no less than two companies you would like to interview, and call for appointments.

When you arrive for your meeting, look for indications that the firm is well-established, professional and reputable. A clean, well-maintained office, small or large, is a sign that the owner is willing to invest in the company and is financially stable. Ensure that the company is licensed, if required by your state. Look for signs that the company and/or its employees are involved in the community. Memberships in the Better Business Bureau, local Chambers of Commerce, Professional Associations and civic groups are a good indication of the firm’s commitment to quality business practices and professional development.

Assess the people you meet as you would any professionals:

  • Do they dress, speak and conduct themselves in a businesslike manner?
  • Do they treat you with courtesy and respect?
  • Are they interested in helping you or just in how much money they can make?
  • Do they answer your questions honestly and completely?
  • Do they promise you too much or are they careful to give you realistic expectations?
  • Are they organized, efficient, on time and attentive?
  • What about them impresses or concerns you?

Make notes during and after your meeting.

Remember you are the customer; you are interviewing the investigator to determine if you want to hire him or her to handle one of the most important issues in your life. Try to resist the temptation to hire the first company you interview on the spot. Follow through with interviewing the others you chose, then if at all possible, make your decision only after a day or two of careful consideration. Once you’ve made your decision, the company should provide you with a written contract, answer any questions you have about it and work with you to decide on an investigative strategy that fits within your budget. Be prepared to pay a retainer up front, just as you would with an attorney or other professional firm. Once you’ve made your decision and have an investigator on the case, trust your decision and let the investigator handle matters from that point forward.

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