Complete Guide to Hiring a Private Investigator

private investigator
By Ben Hartwig
24 March, 2020

Whether you need to find a missing person or find out if your spouse is cheating, you may, at some point, need to hire a private investigator (PI). Thankfully, this guide should help you with any questions you may have and get you started.

What is a Private Investigator?

A private investigator is someone with specialized training, and experience who is good at obtaining information. They observe, ask questions, interview people, and carefully examine facts or evidence. Often, a private investigator will have a background in the military, police, the legal profession, or other law enforcement.

A private investigator is a privately-owned business and does not work for any government agency or in an official capacity for the public. Clients hire private investigators for many different reasons.

Is it Legal to Hire a Private Investigator?

The act of hiring a private investigator is completely legal, and any individual, business, lawyer, or legal entity can hire a private investigator. However, certain practices performed by a private investigator may infringe upon the law. Things, like impersonating a police officer, trespassing, and wiretapping a phone, are all illegal actions that could cause problems. Other things to be wary of are mail tampering, gaining illegal access to private information like financial records, credit information, or phone records.

If your private investigator follows all the laws in your jurisdiction, then you shouldn’t have any trouble. Although tailing someone may cause them to accuse you of stalking, as long as your PI follows the law, there is no legal basis for their claim.

How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Private Investigator for a Cheating Spouse?

Cheating Spouse

There is no simple answer to that question. Every private investigator charges their clients differently. Some use an hourly rate, some charge by the service. Others use set fees and charge for time and expenses. It depends on what you want them to do and what types of reports you want in return. Some of the options are:

  • Surveillance with photos.
  • Criminal investigation.
  • Find a missing person.
  • Gather evidence in a criminal defense case.
  • Investigate insurance fraud.
  • Proof of extramarital relationships.

Some other things they might do for you are:

  • Procure a background check.
  • Run a license plate/vehicle tracking.
  • Serve legal documents.
  • Gather witness statements.
  • Provide status reports.
  • Use the internet, phone calls, and other resources to gather information.

Along with regular service fees, private investigators charge for expenses. Some of the more common expenses are:

  • Gas/mileage.
  • Hotels and other travel.
  • Special event fees.
  • Flights.
  • Lab services, etc.

What are the Risks of Hiring a Private Investigator?

As with most things, there are going to risks when hiring a private investigator. The biggest mistake people make is hiring one they can’t actually reach on the phone or meet in person. There are plenty of scammers out there just waiting to take your money.

Another big mistake is to hire the cheapest private investigator. You really should do your homework and ask for references. Hire someone reputable, known to follow the laws, and who charges a fair price, not necessarily the cheapest.

A PI that labels him or herself as a “Jack of All Trades” can be dangerous. You want someone who specializes in gathering the type of information you need for your situation. Someone who says they are good at everything probably doesn’t have a lot of experience.

Watch out for any investigators who subcontract work out to other people. You want to know who you are hiring and who will be doing the actual work.

Can You Sue Someone for Hiring a Private Investigator?

to sue someone

Many people think being tailed and photographed by a private investigator is harassment, and it is not. It is entirely legal for a private investigator hired by an insurance company, other business, or individual to observe and photograph you in public. However, you have the right to file a civil lawsuit for anything you like. If the private investigator follows all laws while doing their job; however, you will most likely lose in court.

When Should You Hire a Private Investigator?

There are dozens of reasons someone would need to hire a private investigator. Some typical reasons are:

  • Employer – doing a background check on a potential candidate.
  • Criminal Investigation – finding information to help a court case.
  • Locating a missing person or someone who owes you money.
  • Insurance – sometimes insurance companies hire a PI to investigate workers’ compensation fraud.
  • Cheating Spouses – if you think your significant other is cheating, a PI can usually find out for sure.
  • Business – if you are considering going into business with someone, you may want to have a private investigator thoroughly check them out first to search for any skeletons in the closet.

Questions to Ask Before You Hire a PI


Before you plunk down your hard-earned cash and hire a PI, ask a few critical questions and do a little background checking on them.

Some things to ask are:

Are you licensed?
Be sure they are licensed to work in the state where you live.

Are you insured?
Ask to see a certificate of their insurance before hiring them.

How long have you been working as a private investigator?
Longevity is key. If they have a long career in law enforcement before PI work, even better.

What areas of investigation do you specialize in?
Again, some PIs are better at getting information in certain types of cases. Make sure yours knows their stuff when it comes to your particular circumstances.

What hours do you work and are you available 24/7?
Their availability may or may not matter to you depending on the situation.

Can I have a copy of your references?
Always do your due diligence and call references to get a feel for how they work and how well they do their jobs.

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