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Private Investigators: Are They Worth it?

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A well-trained and experienced private investigator (PI) possess a special skill set that makes them well worth the rates that they seek. Their experience also gives them the ability to know the necessary expenses to have a successful investigative assignment. These are among the main reasons why some are surprised when they get a quote from a PI. Make no mistake about it. Private investigation can get expensive, and a typical investigation can cost thousands of dollars.

So, why do private investigation services carry such a high price tag? To get a better understanding of why these services can get expensive, this discussion will look at the PI rates and operational expenses that a reasonable investigation usually requires.

Type of Private Investigation Services

Before you start thinking James Bond and trench coats, most private investigation services involve more routine and mundane cases. These include the following:

  • Background checks: Businesses and employers can protect themselves by hiring PI services to check the trustworthiness of their potential business partners or employees.
  • Locating biological parents: Some adults who grew up with adoptive parents may want to get in touch with their birth parents. Such investigative work can be time-consuming and labor-intensive.
  • Infidelity investigation: Spouses who suspect that their partners are having affairs are one of the more common clients of PIs.
  • Locating missing persons: Parents of children who run away are also among the leading clients of private investigation agencies. Others may also use the services of such PIs to locate long lost high school or small-town friends or sweethearts.
  • Child custody case: Along with divorce proceedings, PIs also do a bulk of their work in child custody cases. In some instances, PIs can also stand as a witness in a child custody case.

Private Investigation Rates and Other Expenses

Private investigation rates can be highly varied. For instance, basic research that does not require much legwork may cost you $500 more or less. Civil and criminal case investigative works may require a retainer fee of $1,000 to $3,000 for the duration of the case. Infidelity cases can be quite expensive with an average rate that is around $5,000. Those who are thinking of acquiring private investigation services should note that, considering the hours spent investigating, equipment, surveillance, travel and hotel costs and other expenses, the rates are reasonable. Below are the three basic ways PIs charge their clients:

  • Flat rate: There are a number of basic services that PI agencies offer. These include background checks, criminal record searches, vehicle registration searches and electronic bug sweeps. PIs usually charge a flat rate for these services.
  • Hourly rate: For surveillance services like infidelity cases or fraudulent insurance claims, PIs charge by the hour, which can be run from $50 to $200. The investigator may charge a lower price if the assignment may take longer hours to complete.
  • Retainer: Instead of an hourly rate, the PI may opt for a retainer. Lawyers often hire PIs in criminal and civil cases on a retainer basis.

Are PIs Worth the Expense?

You are considering hiring a PI for three very likely reasons: you don’t have the time to do it, don’t have the skills to do it or have tried but just can’t do it yourself. These three reasons should provide you with a good argument as to why they are worth their rates. Other advantages of hiring PIs include the following:

  • They know what the law says they can and cannot do, which is very useful if you are hiring their services for legal proceedings
  • They don’t have an emotional involvement in the case
  • They are licensed to do their job

With the information provided earlier, you can understand how PIs charge you for their services. Ultimately, only you can decide whether the cost of their services is worth the information and results that you expect.


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