Before You Call for Help

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Thinking of hiring a private investigator? Here are some tips from the experts:

Do your homework. You may be desperate, in a hurry or in a bind, but do as much research as possible before you hire someone. You want to make sure the investigator is reputable and skilled. Find out if anyone you know has used a private investigator and get their feedback. You can also check with state associations, such as the Maryland Investigators and Security Association ( and the Private Investigators Association of Virginia (

Ask for a prospective agency's or investigator's licensing number and verify that the company or person is licensed in your state. Contact information for state licensing agencies is available through the International Association of Security and Investigative Regulators ( Also be sure to find out who would be working on your case and how much experience that person has.

Understand the costs. Having someone tail your spouse or track down a missing relative isn't cheap. (For domestic cases, expect to pay at least $55 to $150 per hour, plus expenses.) Even database searches can be expensive, and though high prices aren't always a sign of quality, be wary of Web sites that claim to do extensive background searches at low cost. It may pay to talk to several investigators about rates.

Contract with care. Once you agree on the scope of the investigation and rates, get it in writing. And read agreements carefully. Be wary of agencies that ask for open access to your credit card or bank account. The contract should stipulate how much they can charge your account and require your permission to exceed that amount.

Look for scruples. Private investigators are subject to the same laws as everyone else, and you should avoid any who suggest methods that skirt the law. Similarly, an ethical investigator will probably try to determine whether you have nefarious aims (trying to find someone who has good reason to hide from you, for example). If he or she presses you on why you want an investigation, consider it a good sign.

-- C.B.A.

What's in a Job?

Facts from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

· In Virginia, Maryland and the District (as in many other states), private investigators must be licensed. In Virginia, they are licensed as private investigators; in Maryland and the District, the term is private detective.

· Median annual earnings in the United States were $33,750 in 2006. ( lists the current average at $43,431.)

· Many private investigators have some college education or a degree; some have military, police or investigative agency backgrounds.

· Most investigators who work for corporate clients must have a bachelor's degree; some have a master's in business administration or a law degree or are certified public accountants.

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