A few tips & faqs for working with a private investigator.
We hope this page is helpful and informative. This page is meant to help you have a better understanding of the investigation process and how to find/what to expect from an investigator so you can make the best decision for you.
We only want what’s best for you and that means we want you to be aware of how we work. After reading through this information, take the next step and contact us now! We’re standing by ready to help!
Click on the plus sign to reveal more tips and what to expect when working with a PI.
Don't be secretive with us. Tell us what you are trying to find out.
Don’t contact us and ask “How much to get an address from a phone number?”, “How much to run a license plate?”, “How much to get someone’s cell number?”. Instead, tell us what your objective is and let us proceed with the Investigation. Typically prospective Clients are hesitant or feel embarrassed about the need for the investigation. Don’t be shy. We’ve heard it all.
So when you contact us, ask instead, “I think my spouse is cheating; how can I find out?”, “I’m trying to find out if my ex is employed for a child support modification.”, “How can I find out if my ex is exposing my child to illegal activities?” Then we will do what we do best and use the tools we need to use to find out for you.
Hire us to find the truth, but be objective.
HIRE US TO FIND THE TRUTH. Don’t decide for yourself what the truth is and then hire us to prove you right. Let us do our best to determine the truth and the facts. You may be right in your suspicions. And you may be wrong. Its our job to find out what the truth is and report back to you or your attorney. Your need to know the truth is vital. But let us get the truth for you. Wishing does NOT make it so.
- In one case the client insisted the target doesn’t drive. We filmed him driving. Then the client told us he can’t afford a car so it must belong to someone else. We obtained the owner info and it was indeed his car. Then the client told us that he must be driving illegally because his license is suspended. We checked his license and it was valid.
- In another case the client told us he always leaves work at a certain time and he has been coming home late every day so that can only mean he’s seeing someone else. It turned out he was just staying at work late then going home late.
- When a Client says, “He never drives the van.”…the target will drive away in the van.
- When the Client says, “She never takes First Street.”…the target will take First Street.
- When the Client says, “He always goes out on Friday nights.”…the target will stay home alone, have pizza delivered, and go to bed early.
- When a Client says, “Oh, I know he doesn’t have another bank account.”…he’ll have at least one bank account stuffed with money that was opened during the marriage without her knowlege.
- When we suggest surveillance, don’t say, “Oh that won’t work because he’s too smart.” We’ve been at this a long time and we’re good at what we do.
- When we suggest a bank search, don’t say, “Oh you won’t find anything.” Maybe not. But what if we do?
- When we suggest a background, don’t say, “I already know about his background.” Maybe you do. But what if you don’t?
Our point is you really don’t know. That’s why you hire us. Please be objective.
Investigations take time.
IT TAKES TIME
Don’t expect immediate results whether we’re doing a background or a surveillance.
- Don’t do the Client equivalent of the man looking in the refrigerator. In other words, don’t say “You didn’t see anything so it must not be there”. If we don’t get what we want on the first surveillance or trash grab, we try again on another occasion. And then again. And again. We’d like to get lucky the first time out but that is rare. What we’re looking for, might be behind the milk.
- On TV, investigators type on a keyboard and get instant results; and they get information that is not accessible in the real world. Unfortunately, this is what many of our clients have come to expect. We don’t blame our clients; we blame Hollywood.
- Reality check: Even with computer technology and sophisticated databases that we have access to, often the results are only leads that we then have to follow the old fashioned way. Or in the case of court searches, the results may be just numbers and dates, and we have to then personally contact the courts to find out what the case is, the charges, dispositions, etc. Some courts do this by telephone. Others require we send them a letter with a blank check. Others require we go into the courthouse in person and take a number and wait in line and talk to a clerk and order court records. One local court will only copy the first 20 pages of a case for us, then make us come back the following week for the next 20 pages, etc etc! More and more courts are becoming fully automated but the process is slow and their budgets are tight. And remember, if you are looking for a court case that predates the internet, we may not find it at all, without personally visiting the court; and even then they may have “purged” the records entirely. The courts don’t have the personnel nor the budgets to pay people to digitize thousands of old court records going back years.
- Attention Attorneys: Don’t call us at Noon and demand results by the end of the day because you’re going to trial first thing in the morning. You knew for some time when you were going to trial. We’ll do our best to accommodate you but please be realistic. Some results take time. We want to provide you with outstanding results but we need your cooperation to do so.
How to work with us.
- CONFIDENTIALITY – All consultations and communications with us, we treat as strictly confidential and are exclusively between you the Client, us and with your permission, your attorney or anyone else you so designate. While the only court recognized “confidentiality” are Doctor/Patient and Attorney/Client, we will not share your information or case details with anyone unless ordered to do so by the court. And of course our work product may be discoverable when it goes to trial.
- CONTRACT – You will be asked to complete our Investigative Agreement which protects you as well as us and acts as our contract for investigative services. All charges, fees and services to be provided will be spelled out in the Agreement and its attached Fee Schedule and no work will be performed without that signed Agreement.
- DETAILS – Give us as much information as you can on the subject of our investigation. No bit of information is too trivial and in fact the smallest detail may be very useful. A client had us tail her husband to his work place. But he surprised us by diving off the freeway suddenly and we overshot the ramp. After finding him at the Starbuck’s the client told us “Yeah he always stops there on the way to work.”. Details Details Details, please.
- COMMUNICATE – Keeping us apprised of any changes in the target’s plans is vital. We chased a vehicle’s GPS signal 100 miles before the client told us it was her daughter who had borrowed the target’s car to pick up her friend at the airport! The client had forgotten she had us place a GPS tracker on the car. The actual target was sitting at home in front of the fireplace.
- LET US DO WHAT WE DO BEST- We understand you are anxious for results and updates and we will accommodate that as best we can. The most effective use of the retainer is to tell us what you’re looking for and then let us do our job and report back to you with results. We know where to park; how to drive; how many investigators to use; what kind of cameras are best; how to set up a perimeter. We use many combined years of street sense, law enforcement training, surveillance experience and state-of-the-art equipment, including GPS tracking and aircraft. We use dedicated radio repeaters and car-to-car tactical radio channels to optimize communications between investigators including between the aircraft and ground units.
What we can do.
WHAT WE CAN DO:
All the below that we CAN do, are done in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, Federal Driver Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) 18 U.S.C. §2721 through §2725, State and local laws; and may come with specific limitations because of other privacy laws. Note that the below list of what we can do is not all inclusive; there is more we can do. And please know that just because we CAN do the following, does not mean we WILL do the following. If we believe the information will not be used for a lawful purpose, we will not do it.
Example: We had a Client who told us she was looking for an old high school classmate just for kicks, but when we located her, she began to harass the classmate because the real reason the Client hired us was she believed the classmate had an affair with the Client’s husband in the 1970s! A clear violation of our signed Agreement with the Client. When something like this happens as a result of deceipt by the Client, we will terminate our relationship with the Client including all confidentiality and we will cooperate fully with the other party’s legal team.
- We CAN do stationary and mobile surveillance at any time of the day or night.
- We CAN re-investigate traffic collisions.
- We CAN do protection and civil stand-bys.
- We CAN do various kinds of undercover work in both criminal and civil cases.
- We CAN serve legal papers such as subpoenas, restraining orders, and evictions.
- We CAN get names and addresses from phone numbers.
- We CAN get individuals’ cell and unlisted phone numbers.
- We CAN get individuals’ credit card transactions.
- We CAN find out where someone has utilities in their name.
- We CAN “sweep” a home or business for transmitters.
- We CAN conduct interviews in both criminal and civil cases.
- We CAN write reports & declarations and testify in court.
- We CAN test suspicious substances to see if they are drugs.
- We CAN obtain and submit forensic samples for comparison and DNA analysis.
- We CAN get individuals’ banking accounts, brokerage accounts etc, but no account numbers are returned. Just the institution, address, account holder, balance and in some cases, recent deposits, depending upon the institution.
- We CAN get individuals’ vehicle registration and driver records. In Calif we do not get the address due to Calif privacy laws. In Wash we get everything, but the vehicle owner is then notified by Dept of Licensing that we obtained their name & address which usually results in an angry phone call to us asking us why we obtained their information which makes the benefit of obtaining their info academic.
- We CAN track a vehicle by GPS – GPS tracking of a vehicle is a nice tool but not a “solve-all” for the case. It will get us to the intersection or parking lot where our target is but wont’ tell us which apartment she went into or which motel room he entered. Detective work is still needed. We use the best, most reliable trackers on the market available to the private sector. We are not the CIA or the NSA and will not invest thousands of dollars on a device that will get lost in a car wash. Unlike Hollywood, trackers can not be slapped onto the side of a car as we walk by it. We prefer you bring us the car (registered to you) so we can install the tracker on the car in a controlled environment. And the same for removal of the device.
Here’s how GPS trackers work: They use satellites to “learn” their location but they use cellular to “call in” their locations to the servers. Consequently, if the target parks in a covered garage or drives into an area with no cell service, the signal will be temporarily lost. The tracker is still tracking its location, but it cannot “call in” its location to the servers until it has cell coverage again. They are not hard wired into the vehicle’s electrical system. They have their own batteries which will run down so we’ll need to recover the unit before that happens, usually in a couple of weeks, depending upon how often we have instructed the unit to “call in”.
Legality: Some states (like California) only permit GPS vehicle tracking with the registered owner’s permission [Ca. Penal Code §637.7(b)]. Consequently it is useful for a spousal case or to track a teenage driver’s use of the family car, or an employee of a business that own’s the car. Other states have no such laws…yet.
What we cannot or will not do.
- We WILL NOT run a red light because the target does. And no, it doesn’t mean they know we’re tailing them; it means they’re idiots. This is one of the benefits of using aircraft. The aircraft can continue following the target until the ground unit(s) can catch up.
- We CANNOT get copies of Tax Returns. Clients ask us to get other peoples’ tax returns. Would YOU like it if we could get copies of YOUR tax returns?
- We CANNOT get copies of other peoples’ Credit Reports.
- We CANNOT do fingerprint identification. We could lift latent prints, but then we could only use the print card for a bookmark. We do not have access to AFIS, the Automated Fingerprint Identification System that law enforcement uses.
- We CANNOT perform lie detector tests. We don’t have a Polygraph or Voice Stress Analysis device.There are other ways to find out if someone is lying.
- We CANNOT get copies of phone records or texts from the phone companies. We used to be able to get that info through “data brokers” but ever since CNN did an expose´ on data brokers, Federal privacy legislation was passed and now it is a crime to obtain that information and our sources have gone out of business.
- We WILL NOT do surveillance on your behalf if you are a restrained party in a protective order which names the subject of our surveillance as the protected party.
- We WILL NOT install GPS tracking equipment on any vehicle not registered to you.
- We WILL NOT tap anyone’s telephone, including your own.
- We WILL NOT secretly record two party conversations when there is an “expectation of privacy”. To do so is a crime.
- We WILL NOT install video cameras in someone else’s house.
- We WILL NOT serve legal papers except when incidental to an on-going investigation.
- And finally, we WILL NOT do the work but hold your check ’til pay day or bill you later.
Investigation results made available to you.
- SECURE ACCESS – Results of our investigations (photos, video, audio, reports, etc) will be uploaded to our secure client/investigator web portal for you to view and download our work product. (Click on the Client & Investigator login link in the upper left corner of each page. Or access from the folder icon on the home page). You will be provided a log-on and a password for your case so you can view case results 24 hours a day, even after the case is closed. Only the Investigators and the Client (or the Client’s attorney) have access to our secure web portal. You can even upload new cases via this same web portal.
- REPORTS – Our reports are thorough have been accepted by the courts on face value, enough to find the subject in contempt often without our having to testify to them.
- INVOICES – Our invoices are so detailed attorneys have used them to show due diligence.
- VIDEOS – Our videos are not only evidentuary in value but also show the client we were where we said we were when we said we were. (There’s a good sentence in there somewhere).
- PHOTOS – Still photos are good but video is better in most cases, especially workers comp and personal injury cases where range of motion, etc is best shown on video.
- MEDIA – For those clients who are not comfortable with the internet (and there are many) we will burn a DVD of surveillance video for you to view, and a CD of photos taken, which you can take home and watch. Attorneys often prefer DVDs for use in court also. And Attorneys may want only certain excerpts of surveillance video to enter into evidence.
What are you waiting for?
WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? All too often we are hired by a spouse, for example, who has suspected for some time that infidelity was taking place, or that their spouse or partner might have a criminal background, or been married more than they admitted, etc. But by the time we are hired to investigate, the infidelity has stopped; or the client has already been battered. Too often we are told, “Oh I should have hired you long ago!” Peace of mind is priceless and your safety is paramount so contact us today.
DON’T WAIT TO DO SOMETHING WITH THE INFORMATION WE PROVIDE YOU. Unless you just have a need-to-know for your own peace of mind which is fine, don’t be afraid to act upon the information we have provided you. Many times the information we provide you should be presented to court in a timely fashion. If you wait too long to do anything with it, the information we obtained will become “stale” and less credible or not even usable in court. If we’re documenting employment for example, act on it and show the court we’ve documented that the target is working or not working if that’s the case. If you wait too long to do so, the target can always say, “Oh well yes, they asked me to come in that week to help out but I’m still not able to find regular work so I still can’t pay child support.” And then you’ll be calling us to do it all over again.
Private Investigation fees and costs.
OUR INVESTIGATORS ARE EXPERIENCED AND EDUCATED PROFESSIONALS. We do not work for minimum wage. Our rates are very competitive and reasonable. There are flat rate fees for some services and searches while surveillance cases and some other types of work start with a small retainer and the fees are deducted from that retainer as our work progresses. Retainers are a “deposit” for services to be provided. The more a client can put down up front, the further we can go without having to stop in the middle of a case. How fast we use up a retainer depends upon how many hours are worked and the amount of the retainer. This is why we will ask you what the best days and best time of day is to watch the target. We don’t want to watch an empty house all day any more than you do. Payments are made by cash, check, money order, PayPal or credit cards. Any unused funds remaining after the case is closed may be refunded.
What to expect if you already have hired an attorney.
IF YOU HIRE US, WE WORK FOR YOU,
NOT YOUR ATTORNEY. We will work with your Attorney to make best use of the retainer for the best possible outcome of your case. But in the end, we work for you. Don’t let your Attorney talk you out of something you really want. Remember your Attorney works for you. Its not the other way around. There’s only one other profession in the world where you pay someone to tell you what to do; and its the oldest one. Your need-to-know is respected, if for no other reason, than your peace of mind. If you want something done, we’ll do it, as long as it is legal and ethical, and within the scope of our profession.
IF YOU PAID YOUR ATTORNEY A RETAINER,
and then your attorney told you to hire an investigator, you need to know these three words: Client Trust Account. You have already paid for our services with your retainer to your Attorney. Your Attorney can pay us out of the Client Trust Account, also called an Escrow Account; something each Attorney is required by the State Bar to maintain for working your case including such things as, yes, hiring an Investigator. We don’t enjoy hearing from prospective Clients, “My attorney told me to hire you but he took all my money.” One way to avoid this is to call us before you call an Attorney.
IF YOU ARE AN ATTORNEY:
We have found that Attorneys often don’t really understand what PIs can do for them. They often think we are Process Servers and they haven’t a clue about what we are really capable of doing. INVOLVE US IN THE CONVERSATION WITH YOUR CLIENT. You may be doing yourself a disservice if you do not. Just tell us what your goal is and let us suggest the best way(s) to achieve it. This is for two reasons; 1) You may not be able to suggest the proper course of action if you don’t speak with us first, and 2) we know what specific information we need to conduct a surveillance; you do not. We also have a very informative and entertaining Power Point presentation designed for attorneys entitled “What Private Investigation Can Do For You,” addressing various areas of law practice. Invite us to show this presentation to your law firm, local bar association or civic group.
How to choose an investigator.
- DO hire an investigator that does the kind of work you need. For example, some investigators only do employment backgrounds preferring to work at home in front of their computer. Others only do criminal defense, enjoying being handed work by defense attorneys and conducting interviews. Many don’t like to do surveillance due to the long hours, monotony and stress involved. We like it.
- DO hire an investigator that is licensed in his/her state. That means he/she has passed an exam, a criminal background and depending upon the state, is either insured or bonded.
- DON’T choose an investigator because he/she has a lot of fancy titles and memberships in “professional” organizations. Any licensed investigator can pay an annual dues and become a member of those associations and put their logo on their website and letter head. It means nothing. Membership in those associations is obtained by having a license and writing a check. It has nothing to do with experience, credibility, professionalism and the ability to do the job.
- DON’T hire an investigator because he/she says they have investigators all over the country or have a “worldwide network” of investigators at their disposal. All that means is if you need an investigator in BlahBlahville, they will just Google “BlahBlahville Investigators”, hire them to do the work and then mark up their rates to you. You can do that yourself and save money.
THE MURPHY'S LAWS OF SURVEILLANCE
These kinds of things happen frequently and illustrate why we use more than one vehicle on a tail. We have to have a sense of humor about it or we’d go nuts:
- What can go wrong, often does. (video, right)
- If tailing the Oscar Meyer Weiner Mobile, there will be two Oscar Meyer Weiner Mobiles on the same road, at the same time.
- If tailing an orange Ford Pinto…orange Pintos will be everywhere.
- A vehicle we’re tailing will enter a car wash and a minute later a different identical make, model and color vehicle will be exiting the car wash.
- The target will unwittingly take us to one of the few remaining places on the planet that is devoid of cellular signals and blocks out all radio and satellite communications.
- We can maintain visual contact with a car or a person for hours and just when they get ready to move, a big yellow school bus will stop right in front of us with flashing red lights and when the bus is gone, our target is gone.
- School Crossing Guards will always let our target pass by before jumping out in front of us with their “Stop” sign. (This applies also to construction zone traffic control personnel).
- If parked in front of house A to watch house B a block away, the occupants of house A will get nervous and call law enforcement on us within 30 minutes. In most cases, we’ve already notified law enforcement of our surveillance. (In one case our Investigator was chased in his car by someone we weren’t even watching, but who thought he was watching them! As it became road rage we had to call law enforcement to intervene).
If we are parked in front of your house, we’re not watching YOU.
Besides, we’re the good guys.