There is a lot of information you can find out about someone online. For example, you can use a people search service and find out someone’s criminal background, where they work, and even things like whether or not they’ve gone through bankruptcy. 

While this is helpful, there are other situations where you need something more to find the answers you’re looking for, which is why you might think about hiring a private investigator. 

The following are things to know about working with private investigators or PIs. 

What Does a Private Investigator Do?

Private investigators can find information for criminal cases or civil situations. They gather evidence, and they have to know what laws are guiding their work. PIs, as a result, understand state and federal laws, and they have to make sure they’re never in violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act or invading someone’s right to privacy. 

A private investigator can track a person down, as well as assets and evidence. They can access both public records and private databases. 

These civilian investigators are hired by both individuals and organizations. 

What Are the Reasons People Hire Private Investigators?

Some of the most common reasons to hire a PI include the following:

  • You suspect infidelity from your spouse or partner. A private detective can gather proof for you, so you don’t have to wonder. You’ll have concrete evidence. 
  • Employers and individuals might hire a PI to do a background check. You can learn more about someone’s history when a professional does the investigation than you might be able to do on your own online. Even if things don’t show up on a background check you did, a PI might be able to find something. 
  • Child custody cases are a common reason that many people end up hiring private investigators. Child custody cases get very difficult, and there might not be any evidence on either side, so it turns into a he-said-she-said battle. Kids don’t necessarily get to have a say in these cases a lot of times, or they could be too young. Private investigators help find evidence that will prove the other parent isn’t fit. 
  • Private investigators might be hired to find a missing person. Police forces are often overburdened as it is, and they might not give a case as much attention as someone you privately hire can. 
  • If you have a business, you could hire a PI to determine if fraud is going on. For example, as a business owner, you might suspect there’s fraud or an employee is embezzling, but you don’t know how you can prove it or even figure out who’s doing what. 

What Good Private Investigators DON’T Do?

There are certain things that a PI can’t and shouldn’t do. These include harassing people or impersonating someone. They shouldn’t impersonate law enforcement, trespass on private property, or abuse access they have to various databases. No PI should engage in hacking, make an arrest or tamper with mail, nor should they use bribery as a tactic in their investigation. 

Good private investigators follow the law and adhere to an ethical code. They also will set realistic expectations with you from the start, and if relevant, make sure they’re bringing you results that will be admissible in court. 

If you’re interviewing potential investigators and one is telling you things like they’re going to get you the answers you deserve, that’s a red flag. They shouldn’t tell you that because that’s framing the situation as if they’re going to tell you what you want to hear. You want a fair, well-done investigation. 

If you’re worried about a particular strategy being legal, talk openly with an investigator about it. You don’t want someone who’s operating in a gray area because it could end up costing you a lot of money, and all you’re going to get in return are more problems. 

A good PI will prepare a book of evidence that you can use in court if you’re hiring someone to help you gather evidence. They will testify on your behalf if they need to, and that means you need someone who’s credentialed and has a strong reputation. 

Is It Expensive to Hire a PI?

Finally, the costs to hire a good private investigator can vary quite a bit, depending on the scope of work, the scale of your case, and how much investigative work they have to do. 

A PI will usually work on one of two fee structures. Some companies will require a retainer, and they then bill against that retainer at an hourly rate. They may also charge you expenses, like mileage related to your case. 

Other PIs will charge a flat fee for their services.