How To Hire An Investigator

(The following is not intended to constitute legal or professional advice. It is solely the personal opinion of the author.)


A good Investigator - by definition, one who is honest, capable and acts professionally - could be one of the most important and valuable business relationships that you ever establish.

Conversely, retaining an Investigator who is not capable of skillfully and honestly conducting the investigation for which he has been retained could cost a client money, reputation, or worse.

Following is an overview of how to quickly and efficiently "investigate the Investigator" prior to making any hiring decision.


Verifying License Status


The first and most important step in retaining an Investigator is verifying that he or she is legally permitted to provide investigative services.

In nearly every U.S. State and Canadian province, a person intending to act as a "Private Detective" or "Private Investigator" must (usually) pass a background and character investigation, must complete a test or review of their qualifications and experience, and must obtain a special license.

In New York, Texas and California, for example, in order to receive an "Investigative Agency" license, an individual must have a clean criminal record, must be able to prove at least three (3) years of prior significant law enforcement or investigative experience, and must be able to furnish multiple character references. He (or she) must also furnish proof of bonding and/or liability insurance coverage prior to a license being issued. (See: "Bonding and Insurance Coverage", below.)

In most jurisdictions, a person furnishing investigative services without a license is committing a criminal act - and so it is a fairly safe bet that if you hire an unlicensed "investigator", you have retained a person who, probably due to a lack of experience or a criminal record, could not qualify for the appropriate licenses. By hiring such a person, you may be putting yourself, or your client, at legal and financial risk.

Most states have written into their lawbooks very specific and detailed definitions of what sort of activity constitutes "private investigation". In New York State, for example, a person offering to report on the "background, character, reputation... ...etc." of an individual or a business must obtain a New York State license to conduct investigations. A person offering to locate "stolen or missing items" must also be licensed.

Verifying the legal status of an "Investigator" is as simple as asking the Private Investigator for his (or her) license number, and then calling the appropriate state's licensing authority to confirm that the Investigator is in fact licensed. Private Investigator licenses are "public record", and you should be able, at the very least, to verify that an Investigator is licensed, the date that the license expires, and the name(s) on the license. Many state's licensing authorities will also inform you of any complaints filed against the Investigator - if you ask.

(A list of state licensing authorities is provided at the end of this page.)

Remember: if you hire an unlicensed "Investigator" in a State or Province that requires a license, you may be hiring someone who is legally considered a criminal.


Bonding and Insurance Coverage


Most licensing jurisdictions now require that an Investigative Agency maintain a bond, or liability insurance coverage, or both. Texas, for example, requires that every Investigator be covered by a minimum of $300,000 in liability insurance coverage, and New York requires that every Investigative Agency obtain $10,000 in bonding coverage.

Often a "quick and dirty" way of separating the true investigative professionals from the "part-timers" is by the amount of insurance coverage that their agency carries. The majority of full-time agencies now consider one million dollars ($1,000,000) of insurance coverage to be the minimum acceptable amount of coverage - an opinion with which the author of this FAQ strongly agrees.

Most corporate clients, insurance company S.I.U.s (Special Investigative Units) and law firms now require that an Investigator provide them with proof of one million dollars in coverage prior to being retained.

In the (very) few remaining jurisdictions which do not license Investigators, insurance coverage - or the lack thereof - is often one of the best ways to separate the "good guys" from the ones who possibly should not be hired.

In most states, the Certificate of Insurance (or Bonding) is considered to be part of the "public record" portion of the license holder's file, and so the potential client can easily determine the details of the Investigator's coverage at the same time that the Investigator's license status is verified.

The Investigator's bond or insurance is there for your protection, so verify that it exists. No legitimate investigative professional will object.


Background, Reputation and Experience


Despite public perception, and contrary to what is reported by television "news" programs, which often seem more interested in entertaining than informing, most Investigators are true professionals.

A large number of Investigators enter the private sector as retired lawmen, after 25 - 30+ years of prior law enforcement experience, and many Investigative Agencies have hundreds of years of combined investigative experience in-house.

Still, it is important to make certain that the personal skills of the Investigator you retain will match your investigative requirements.

When contacting an Investigator, ask him (or her) about his experience in conducting the specific type of investigation for which you intend to retain his agency. Although he may be, in general, and excellent Investigator, he may not have the particular expertise needed for your case. An expert in the field of surveillance might only perform a mediocre background investigation, and a top homicide investigator might not be your best choice for locating a runaway teenager.

Many Investigators who specialize in certain types of investigations have qualified for, and received, unique certification and recognition in their areas of specialization - i.e. the "CLI" ("Certified Legal Investigator") designation granted by the National Association of Legal Investigators (NALI), or the "CFE" designation granted to a "Certified Fraud Examiner" by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE).

Often, a good source for verifying an Investigator's experience or competence is the media. Many Investigators have received coverage for dramatic cases that they have solved, and if your Investigator has been "written up", ask him to fax you copies of the articles.

(Note: in this author's opinion, press coverage, or lack of coverage, while possibly useful for determining an Investigator's experience level, should not be a deciding factor in whether or not you retain a specific Investigator. Many Investigators maintain a low profile, toil away, and do an excellent job for their clients.)

As with all other professions, a call to the appropriate Better Business Bureau or State Attorney General's office could be useful in determining if the Investigator that you are considering hiring has any history of consumer complaints filed against his agency.

Before retaining the Investigator, ask him to briefly describe how he intends to handle your case. If he begins by hinting at "sources" and "friends in the police" - what the director of a national investigative association calls "gray-area whispering" - then this author recommends that you run, not walk, to a different Investigator. While an Investigative Agency license may be an indicator of legal status, it is by no means a guarantee of character or competence.

Finally, an important bottom line: if you are unable to reach an acceptable "comfort level" with an Investigator, trust your instincts, and don't hire him.


Interviews Go Both Ways


A few years ago an Arizona-based Investigator was hired for what he thought was a routine license plate trace. Unfortunately, the client turned out to be a mentally-unbalanced fan of television star Rebecca Schaffer, who used the address obtained for him by the Investigator to locate Ms. Schaffer, and kill her.

You should not be offended or concerned if the Investigator you are interviewing seems to also be interviewing you. To paraphrase an old saying, "with special ability comes special responsibility", and any ethical Investigator will want to make certain that your stated reasons for wanting to hire him are genuine, and that the results of his investigation will not be misused. Such scruples should not be viewed as a potential inconvenience, but rather as an indication that you are retaining an ethical Investigator.


Investigative Fees


Investigators typically charge an hourly rate, plus reimbursement of expenses directly related to your case. Reimbursable expenses might include airfare, hotel bills, vehicle mileage, vehicle rental, gasoline, tolls, telephone calls and payments to sources of information (confidential or otherwise).

Depending on the type of case, an Investigator might be willing to work for a "flat fee", or for a "contingency fee", subject to state law. (In New York State, for example, an Investigator is prohibited from working "on a bonus or commission basis".)

Regardless of the final cost, if the Investigator that you have retained has solved a previously unsolved crime, located a missing person, recovered a valuable item, or otherwise increased the amount of "justice" in your life then, in this author's opinion, you have gotten your money's worth.


State Licensing Authorities


(Note: contact information for any state agency is of course subject to change. If any of the following information is found to be outdated, current information can be obtained by calling Directory Assistance for the appropriate state's capitol city.)



Security Guard Licensing Department, Alaska State Police

5700 E. Tudor Rd, Anchorage, AK 99507

(907) 269-5594



Department of Public Safety, Licensing Division

P.O. Box 6328, Phoenix, AZ 85005

(602) 223-2361



Arkansas Board of Private Investigators & Private Security Agencies

P.O. Box 5091, Little Rock, AR 72215

(501) 221-8245



Bureau of Collection & Investigative Services

1920 20th St, Alonzo Hall, Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 322-7788



Department of Public Safety, Special Services Unit, Division of State Police

1111 Country Club Rd, Meriden, CT 06450-2098

P.O. Box 2794, Middletown, CT 06457

(203) 685-8046



Detective Licensing, Delaware State Police

P.O. Box 430, Dover, DE 19903

(302) 739-5991


District of Columbia

Security Officers Management Branch, Metro Police

Security Unit 2000, 14th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009

(202) 939-8722, Fax (202) 673-7418



Department of State, Division of Licensing

325 John Knox Rd. Suite 5103 Building 4, Tallahassee, FL 32399

(904) 488-5381



State Board of Private Detectives

166 Pryor St. SW, Atlanta, GA 30303

(404) 656-2282



Board of Private Detectives & Guards, Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs

Honolulu, HI 96823

(808) 586-3000, 586-2701



Department of Professional Regulation

100 W Randolph, Chicago, IL 60601

(312) 814-4500, Complaints: (312) 814-6910



Professional Licensing Board

302 W Washington St, Indianapolis, IN 46204

(317) 232-2980



Administrative Services Division, Iowa Department of Public Safety

Wallace State Office Building, Des Moines, IA 50319

(515) 281-3211, (515) 281-6937



Justice Cabinet, Division of Grants Management

417 High St. 3rd Floor, Frankfurt, KY 40601

(502) 564-3251



Louisiana Board of Private Investigators

2051 Silverside Dr #190, Baton Rouge, LA 70808

(504) 763-3556



State Police Licensing Division

State House #164, Augusta, ME 04333

(207) 624-8775



Licensing Division, Maryland State Police

1711 Belmont Ave, Woodlawn, MD 21244

(410) 486-3101



Dept. of State Police, Special Licensing Unit

20 Somerset St, Boston, MA 02108

(617) 727-6128



Michigan Department of Consumer & Industry Services

Lansing, MI

(517) 241-5645



Dept. of Public Safety, Private Detective & Protective Agent Services Board,

1246 University Ave., St. Paul, MN 55104

(612) 642-0775



Board of Private Security Patrolmen & Investigators

1424 9th Ave, Helena, MT 59620

(406) 444-3737



Attorney General's Office, Consumer Affairs Division

State Capitol, #2300, Lincoln, NE 68509

(402) 471-2554



Private Investigator Licensing Board, Office of the Attorney General

198 S Carson St., Carson City, NV 89710

(702) 687-5534


New Hampshire

State Police, Division of Licenses and Permits

Hazen Drive, Concord, NH 03305

(603) 271-3575


New Jersey

State Police, Department of Law & Public Safety, Private Detective Unit

P.O. Box 7068, West Trenton, NJ 08688-0068

(609) 882-2000 Ext. 2680 or 2474


New Mexico

Regulations & Licensing Dept.

P.O. Box 1388, Santa Fe, NM 87504-1388

(505) 827-7172


New York

Department of State, Division of Licensing Services, Investigative Unit

162 Washington Ave, 4th Floor, Albany, NY 12231

(518) 474-4664


North Carolina

Private Protective Services Board

P.O. Box 29500, Raleigh, NC 27626


North Dakota

Private Investigative Security Board (PISB)

P.O. Box 7026, Bismarck, ND 58507

(701) 222-3063



Ohio Department of Commerce, Division of Licensing

Two Nationwide Plaza, Columbus, OH 43266-0546



Council on Law Enforcement Education & Training, Private Security Division

P.O. Box 11476 Cimarron Station, Oklahoma City, OK 73111



No statewide licensing authority - licensing authority in each county.


Puerto Rico

State Police

GPO Box 70166, San Juan, PR 00936

(809) 781-0227


Rhode Island

Attorney General's Office, Department of Licenses

Providence, RI 02903

(401) 277-2416


South Carolina

State Law Enforcement Division, Regulatory Services

P.O. Box 21398, Columbia, SC 29221-1398

(903) 737-9000


South Dakota

No license currently required.

Buisness licenses and weapons permits are required.

Contact State Dept. of Revenue for details.



Private Protective Services Division, Department of Commerce & Insurance

500 James Robertson Parkway, Nashville, TN 37243-1158

(615) 741-4827



Board of Private Investigators & Private Security Agencies

P.O. Box 13509 Capitol Station, Austin, TX 78711

(512) 463-5545



Department of Public Safety & Law Enforcement Services, Bureau of

Regulatory Licensing

501 S 2700 W, Salt Lake City, UT 84119

(801) 965-4461



Office of Secretary of State, Board of Private Detectives

109 State St., Montpellier, VT 05609-1101

(802) 828-2191, (802) 828-2363



Enforcement Section, Private Security Board

3600 W. Broad St, Richmond, VA 23230

(804) 786-4700



State of Washington, State Office Building, License and Certification for

Private Detectives Section, Olympia, WA 98506

(206) 664-9070


West Virginia

State Department

State Capitol, Charleston, WV 25305



Department of Regulation & Licensing

1400 E. Washington Ave, Madison, WI 53708

(608) 266-2112, Fax 267-0644



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Permission to quote from this FAQ is hereby granted, provided that credit is given.



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(**For informational purposes only. Does not constitute legal advice. Please consult appropriate licensing authorities with any questions.)