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Checklist for Hiring a Private Investigator

Looking for an old friend? Want to know if your spouse is cheating? Need to check out a potential tenant or employee?

A good private investigator (PI) can help you obtain these answers. And as with any expert you hire-a doctor, a lawyer, an insurance broker-it benefits you to take the time to ensure you're hiring a professional who has experience, quality reputation, and good-business ethics. Below is a checklist that will help you find just such a private investigator:

1. Ask friends, business associates, your lawyer for a referral. Word of mouth gives you the inside scoop, and the opportunity to ask questions specific to your needs.

2. Check your state's private investigator associations, most of which have web sites that post their membership directory.

3. If you can't find a private investigation association for your state, there are multiple national PI organizations that refer investigators, such as The National Association of Investigative Specialists ( Also, check your state's legal organizations-for example, affiliates of the American Trial Lawyer's Association or the state defense bar-which typically have a directory of recommended investigators.

4. Insurance companies use PIs constantly. Especially if your needs fall into surveillance and background checks, an excellent resource is your own homeowners insurance company. Ask to speak to a claims representative. With a few inquiries, you should be able to pinpoint which investigators your insurance company uses, which is a good referral.

5. Check Internet and Yellow Pages for private investigator listings, but remember these are paid-for ads. Ask for references; check if the PI is licensed (most states require a PI to be licensed, a few don't); if you're going before a judge and jury, ask if the PI has courtroom experience. NOTE: An untrained investigator may not know the laws and end up doing something illegal during an investigation-which causes you problems.

6. Before you speak to an investigator, decide what's in your budget.

7. When you speak to an investigator, ask if he/she has done the type of work you're seeking. More important, ask them the outcome of that type of investigation.

8. Ask to see examples of reports they've produced for similar cases.

9. Gauge your comfort level while speaking to the investigator. Good communication will be critical after the investigation begins. Also, be open minded-your investigator may have new ideas that are worthy of exploration.

10. Expect to pay a retainer up front. Just because a PI doesn't ask for one (or even a reasonable hourly rate), doesn't mean he/she is better at what they do. You want to hire someone who's competent, not hard up for work.

Remember, a good private investigator can be your best resource!

Subscribe to Highlands Investigations & Legal Services, Inc. free quarterly e-newsletter, which provides leading-edge legal, forensic, investigative articles, and more. All subscribers are automatically eligible for free gift drawings. To subscribe, go to

Colleen Collins, Highlands Investigations and Legal Services, Inc.

Highlands Investigations & Legal Services, a product of two logically related sets of background and training--attorney and information specialist--offers a unique blend of investigative and writing/research skills. To learn more about our services, go to

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