For many people, the idea of hiring a private investigator seems like something reserved for the rich and famous. The majority of consumers assume that hiring the services of a private investigator is too expensive and beyond their reach economically. As a result, the consumers never receive the answers that have been troubling them, and the private investigator may lose out on what could have been a potentially challenging and rewarding assignment. However, the savvy private eye will have the experience to work within the potential clients’ budget. The best approach is to gain a basic understanding of how pricing is structured for private investigators. This can help you feel less intimidated about reaching out to an investigator and make the interview process much easier.
How do private investigators price their services?
There are three main ways private investigators can charge you: a flat-rate fee, a contingency fee and an hourly fee.
Flat-rate fee investigations
The first way is a flat-rate fee. You tell the investigator what you need done and they tell you a flat fee for the project. This is appealing to most people because of the simplicity. However, it doesn’t take in consideration how much time and resources the investigator has to put into the case. Because of this, flat-fee services are typically reserved for requests like criminal background checks, vehicle registration searches, social security number verifications and other one-time simple jobs that don’t require travel or ongoing communication. Again, while this may be the most appealing option for the consumer, it may not be the economically feasible for the private eye, especially when dealing with more complicated assignments.
The second way to pay a private investigator is through a contingency fee. You may have seen this type of payment structure in TV commercials for lawyers. They don’t get paid unless you get paid. In theory, this seems like the perfect arrangement, especially if your case involves money or valuables.
Not only is this method not recommended, in some states, including New York, it’s actually illegal. Contingency fees can begin to cloud a PI’s judgment and the methods they use to conduct their investigation, so it’s best not to approach an investigator with this type of payment agreement.
Most experienced, licensed private investigators will request to be paid on an hourly basis. The rates can vary by their level of expertise, the type of case and from state-to-state. You will also get a quote on the number of hours the PI thinks it will take to reach the desired conclusion.
For that reason, it’s important to “shop around” by interviewing several investigators and asking for their hourly rates, plus their estimate on the number of hours to complete the job. This will help give you a better understanding of what a reasonable and fair price is, given your particular needs.
Will I be charged anything else?
Depending on the type of project you are hiring an investigator for, there may be some incidental charges that go along with the hourly rate quoted by the private investigator.
One of the most common incidental fees is a fuel surcharge. A private investigator may charge you a fee such as $.60 per mile driven while investigating your case. Other fees can include making long-distance phone calls, obtaining documents, or a charge per photo or video provided to you.
Think of it like going on a business trip. While you’re on the business trip, you expect to be paid your regular salary or hourly rate. You also expect to be compensated for additional expenses you incur in order to conduct your business on the trip, such as renting a car or making copies of a presentation. The same goes for private investigators. A good private investigator will make sure to discuss the potential for additional charges based on the details of your case upfront.
When should we agree on payment terms?
Once you pick your private investigator and agree upon a rate, ask them to provide a contract before beginning any work. The contract should include their hourly rate as well as an estimate of the hours it will take to conduct the investigation. The investigator should also notify you if the case begins to take more time than necessary.
You should also ask your investigator to provide a guide of any incidental charges they may incur while working on your project and the rates for each one. This helps minimize anxiety on your part and make sure the investigator can fully focus their attention on the important work you’ve assigned him or her.
Don’t let cost intimidate you when it comes to working with a private investigator. With a little research and some honest conversations, you can become comfortable seeking out the services you need.
Working with a reputable and trusted company like Integrated Security Services helps you make sure that you are getting the best investigators and resources for your case at a fair price. And that is invaluable.