“I was told I need a private investigator, Now what?”

A checklist for your acquiring the right person in your corner.

You probably should be asking if know what a private investigator can do for you.  If you know the answer, great if not there is a ton of material out there. What I wouldn’t do is rely on reruns of “Magnum PI”, “Murder She Wrote”, or cult classic films like “Whose Harry Crumb”.  Now you might glean a little from watching “Matlock” or very old black and white television with “Perry Mason” but honestly your probably not anywhere near real world private investigation.  What I would rely on is web sites from private investigators or private investigator associations.  A very easy way to get acclimated to investigators is to look up private investigators near my location.  Now not all web sites are created equal but in an ever-changing industry you will find some very good web sites.  Many investigators feature blogs just like this one. 

Typically, a private investigator is sought after and retained when a problem, crisis, personal issue, private matter, or legal case needs holes filled in.  The list could have gone on for pages for the reason “why” you might need one but for most a light bulb turns on (or in some cases a friend of yours has a light bulb turn on).

For the sake of this blog we are going to assume that you now have a good idea what a private investigator can do for you or at least the right questions are formulating in your mind.  

We’ve compiled a “What Now” list.  We hope this check list will help you! 

With today’s tools in our hands, search engines like Google, Yelp, and Bing take all guess work out of starting this journey. “Private Investigators near my location”.  From here you will see investigators individual personalities or lack of any personality. 

  1. Just like any type of specialist you might look for, keep in mind these three words:  Trust, Knowledge, Background.  No need to explain trust, knowledge can mean several things but basically does this agency know what they are talking about. Lastly, the agencies background…investigators are a sum of parts, which makes them who they are.  Does it look like the sum of their past experiences can make them a good investigator for your needs? What is your first reaction to their site, Quality of Work, History, Integrity, are they Licensed and Insured. Make note of your first reaction, this is important, especially for female clients.
  2. Before you leave their site and move on to the next, make sure you check what services they offer.  If you do not see your immediate need, make sure you ask if you choose to still call them. Many times what you were asking is a lesser included word to a term they used.
  3. Before we leave the site, scroll down to the bottom of the main page.  A majority of the state who require licensing have rules about investigators placing their license numbers, full company name, and information regarding insured/bonded, etc.
  4. Time to organize your thoughts, you’ve picked out several companies that seem to fit your needs.  A little suggestion here is don’t stray away from single operator or small companies and likewise don’t stray from large nationwide companies.  They both have benefits so don’t cancel one out over the other without more insight. 
  5. Time to make some calls or emails (for some companies even text or items like Google message).
  6. Pay close attention to how you are being treated even as early as the greeting.  
  7. Be prepared for “brow beaters” and “my way or the highway types”.  Bottom line is you know how you like to be treated at a restaurant by wait staff so don’t take anything but what you’d normally demand from any other industry.
  8. Beware the investigative company that tries to put your need into a box full of other similar investigations.  Bottom line is your case is unique to you and should be treated as such.
  9. If you are halfway through a consultation and you aren’t feeling comfortable it might be time to move on.  There is no reason to feel embarrassed or have any obligation to stick around.
  10. Let’s assume that you’ve found a few you like and now you need to narrow it down.  It’s time for more education on their skills.  Hopefully you’ve taken the time to educate yourself about the issue you have at hand.  Ask the hard questions or even questions with no answer and see how they treat the challenge.  
  11. Where is the “Hog Wash” meter on what you are hearing?  We’ve spoke about investigators that might not treat you well.  This is the flip side of that.  Are you hearing fluff coming out of their mouth but no real solid foundational answers?  Time to wrap it up and move on.
  12. Lastly, make sure you have covered what you need.  
    • Do you understand the costs involved?
      • Don’t run from a price you think is high.  Remember an investigator can save you thousands in legal matters over having your attorney do it.  Their expertise and access to resources might be invaluable.
      • Beware the undercutter.  This is never good, if you are getting prices consistently in a range that maybe fluctuates $20-$30/hour and someone comes in slick talking with a half price…well you get what you pay for. Industry people like this are trying to make quick bucks and mostly we hear things like “they never showed up”, “how do I know they even went”, and “they were horrible, now I’m dealing with…” Additionally, if you went with the undercutter going back to those couple investigators you wanted maybe difficult if they’ve gotten wind you supported an industry back stabber and now want them to fix their mess.
      • Twice the headache is not something you want! Avoid being talked into something.  Listen to your gut, is the investigator talking ideas, brainstorming with you, articulating possible plans…that is a good sign that someone is spending energy to help.
    • Do you understand the skills of the investigator or agency that you’ve picked out has? This might be too technical but don’t be afraid to ask. If they get “huffy” it’s time exit stage right…
    • Do you understand all the “negatives” and scenarios in your case? This is very important…I like to call it the “cards on the table”.  I take the time to explain all l the negatives that can happen in a case.  I’d rather not take a case or have a potential client not move forward.  My theory is if everyone is on the same page and knows the variables then synergistically we can move forward. 
    • Double check credentials and reviews.  Reviews are not easy to get as investigators.  We handle a very intimate portion of peoples lives.  Sometimes our client will only confide in us and no one else in their lifetime. It’s hard to expect clients to leave recommendations in those scenarios.  I usually tell respective clients to consider every legitimate review work 10-20 reviews for a normal business.  

Now it is time to gain a new advocate.  Whatever got you to this point can be in the crosshairs for moving forward.   You’ve decided it’s time to get this item taken care, get answers, or time to hurdle a hard object in your life.  

In my experience, the clients that let me in and mutually develop a relationship work the best in most cases.  If your investigator approaches you like he intends to make you a lifelong friend, then I feel you are on the right track.  This is more than likely an intimate part of your life and you’ve chosen this person to not only be hired regarding it but also to forever be part of it.  It is time to take the first steps! 

Good luck and embrace the journey!

About the Author: 

Jax Atwell, a licensed private investigator in Arizona and Montana with a broad resume of experience. Former law enforcement in California and Arizona with undercover narcotics, tactical units, and training. A huge proponent of investigators having under cover experience. A sum of many parts and a natural empath when seeking evil.  Jax spent a season on History Channel’s “Missing in Alaska” and was the main character in an award-winning short film, “the Survivors”. Known for his ability to locate the impossible and take on the hard cases. With plenty of education titles to list, Jax prefers to acknowledge the forged items of life experience and self-education that God has opened the doors and led him through as his true education. Jax Atwell, husband, father, son, investigator, protector, and a here by the grace of God.

Jax, and his wife Carrie, are advancing their investigative company into the future with digital forensics/cyber research, Arabic speaking investigator, international banking investigations, aerial surveillance with FAA licensed drone capabilities, and night vision and thermal surveillance options.   

The above article is his expressed opinions based upon his past experiences. The above does not represent any company, business or any products. These are the opinions and experience of the writer.