Using a Private Investigation Service
Topics on this page
- What can a private investigator do?
- Who hires a private investigator?
- How do I find a private investigator to hire?
- Investigate the investigator
A private investigator can help you find information and people. A private investigator can find documentation such as court records, government agencies' filings, vital statistics, property ownerships, vehicle and vessel records, photographs, witness statements, etc. The duties of private detectives and investigators depend on the client's needs. Legal investigators specialize in cases involving the courts and are normally employed by lawyers. They frequently assist in locating witnesses, serving legal documents, interviewing police and prospective witnesses, and gathering/reviewing evidence. Legal investigators may also collect information on the parties to the litigation, take photographs, testify in court, and assemble evidence and reports for trials. For more information, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Book provides a good overview of the profession.
Usually businesses and attorneys hire investigators. Publications used by private investigators mention the fact that some investigators are concerned about representing individuals in personal matters. They note, however, that most will not turn down a legitimate personal matter such as locating a runaway child or locating a defendant in a lawsuit. The requested service must not appear to violate a law or compromise the ethics of the investigator. You should be clear about the full circumstances of your request.
If you need help finding a private investigator, you may want to ask around for suggestions first. Most people find investigators through others who have used their services. Consult the trade organization for private investigation and security professionals. For example, the Maryland Investigators and Security Association lists (by county) contact information for its members.
You can also consult an attorney. Most successful private investigators whom are experienced in finding documents or missing persons work closely with attorneys in your area. An attorney may well be the best source for finding a private investigator.
Just like hiring any professional, learn something about the profession and be cautious.
License. Private investigators or private investigation agencies in Maryland must be licensed by the Maryland State Police. Private investigators or private investigation agencies are issued a Maryland Private Detective License. This license must be renewed periodically and displayed in a conspicuous place in the private investigator’s office. For more information on the licensing of private investigators in Maryland, call the Maryland State Police Licensing Division at 410-653-4500.
To obtain a license, a private investigator must meet minimum requirements, including certain investigation experiences.
Interview. Interview the investigator. Clearly communicate your expectations. There is so much information available and the needs of each client are so specific to each case, that a consultation can be very helpful. There are no standard operating procedures for an investigation
When you are interviewing a potential investigator, ask for the following information:
- A copy of their license or license number.
- Then, call the Maryland State Police Licensing Division at 410-653-4500 to see if they are licensed and if there have been any complaints filed against your potential investigator.
- Has the person had experience with your type of case?
- Has the person ever been sued over an investigation?
- How will they handle your investigation?
- Ask whether or not the private investigator is bonded. All Maryland private investigators must be bonded.
- Ask for references and call them.
- Ask if a deposit is required and what the fee structure will be.
Consider the education and experience needed for your task. Generally, there are no formal education requirements for most private detectives or investigators, although many private detectives have college degrees. Almost all private detectives and investigators have previous experience in other occupations. This is especially true in a state such as Maryland which requires significant experience (3-5 years in full time investigation work) to receive a license. Past experience includes work as a police officer or detective, fire investigator, retired military or government intelligence, or insurance investigator.
You will want to hire someone with experience in your type of case, but not someone who is overqualified or a specialist in another area. For example, you would not want to hire an investigator who specializes in highly experienced securities fraud to try to locate a missing spouse. Remember that the rate you pay will be partially determined by the experience and background of an investigator.
Trust your instincts. If the investigator doesn't seem "right," don't hire the person.
Fees in Maryland can range from $40.00-$75.00 per hour and sometimes more. Investigators often have a specialty and like most services, you will pay a higher fee for the work of people with more experience and training. Also many will require a retainer or deposit to be applied against fees for services rendered and expenses. You may pay from $1,000 to $5,000 depending on your case.
Make sure you receive a written contract that you understand. Set a cap on expenses and fees. Set “benchmarks” (previously agreed upon times during which you and the investigator evaluate what has been done and whether it is worth proceeding).
If you want to complain about the conduct of a private investigator or believe that an investigator is operating without a license, contact the Maryland State Police Licensing Division.