When you’re asked to imagine a private investigator, what images come to mind? Chances are, it’s a man walking down a darkened, rain-glistening street, trenchcoat blowing in the wind, fedora pulled down over his eyes. He monologues to himself about the case at hand while soft jazz or suspenseful music plays in the background.
References to classic film noir aside, the PI is not just a fixture of fictional media, but a living, thriving profession in the modern era. But what can you hire them for, and how much does a private investigator cost? Here’s what you need to know.
Reasons for Hiring a Private Investigator
Despite the reputation assigned to PIs in film, they aren’t useful only to criminal investigations. Their most common jobs nowadays involve conducting thorough background checks on new hires, romantic partners, or business partners. They may also get hired in cases of suspected infidelity or fraud, as well as to track down a missing person.
One of the biggest benefits of hiring a private investigator is the ability to keep track of the case at hand without it getting bogged down in police department bureaucracy. They also offer more discretion than your standard police investigation and can be cheaper (and more accurate) than online background check services.
How Much Does a Private Investigator Cost?
Now that you understand why someone might hire a private eye, you may wonder, “How much does a private investigator cost?” There are many different factors that can affect your final investigation costs. These factors include, but are not limited to:
How They Charge for Their Services
When you hire a private investigator, you need to research their rates, as there are three different ways they can charge for their services. Some private eyes charge a retainer fee when the investigation begins. This acts as a deposit towards the initial investigation expenses. Most will have hourly fees for any case that requires surveillance or gathering evidence, which average at around $100/hr.
Lastly, certain investigators or firms offer flat rates for specific case types. These are often investigations the firm conducts on a regular basis, like background checks or retrieving documents.
Their Level of Expertise
As with any industry in which you hire someone yourself, you will get out what you put in. If you value having an experienced private eye on your case, you’d best be prepared to shell out $200/hr or more. This might seem like a staggering price tag, but if you’re dealing with a particularly complex case, you’ll need someone with law enforcement or intelligence experience on your side.
Is There Travel Involved?
Again, as with any personal hiring situation, travel compounds your expenses. If your investigation requires a lot of driving, expect to get charged for gas mileage. If state lines get crossed or the investigation necessitates train or plane travel, you’ll likely see charges for those tickets.
Did your investigator have to stay in a hotel in the process of the investigation? You’ll see fees for that as well.
How Complex is the Case?
This seems like common sense, but the more complex your case is, the more you’ll need to pay your private investigator. For example, tracking down one lost document or getting the contact information for a distant relative would be a relatively simple case. Something like gathering evidence for a court case or tracking down a missing person will cost you much more.
Each case will require different resources to solve. If yours only requires the use of electronic databases, then you’ll just need to worry about the initial fees and any search fees your investigator has to pay. However, if the case requires thorough surveillance, interviewing, and other investigative techniques, you’ll need to worry about hourly rates and other charges.
There are many expenses aside from travel that factor into private investigator prices. For example, if there is any equipment the investigator has to pick up to do their job, you could get charged for that. Another common expense is court fees for criminal investigations, as well as communications charges.
Hiring a Firm vs Hiring Solo
If you hire a solo private investigator, then you only have to worry about that one person’s rates. If you hire a firm, and your case proves particularly complex, then multiple personnel could get assigned to your file. This means that you’ll need to pay for having multiple investigators on the case.
Let’s not beat around the bush: private investigation is a risky business. While it’s not inherently dangerous, depending on the nature of the case, your PI could be exposed to serious risk. For example, if your missing person or the one you’re conducting a background check on was involved with a group of criminals, uncovering that connection could pose a serious threat to the investigator.
Expect your rates to reflect the expected level of risk for the investigation.
How You Can Save
It’s clear to see why paying for a private investigator is so expensive. However, there are ways that you can cut down on your costs without sacrificing quality. These methods include:
- Buying hours in bulk, rather than hour-by-hour
- Trusting your investigator’s instincts, not waylaying them with irrelevant leads
- Practicing full disclosure from the beginning to reduce unpleasant surprises
- Hire the right PI the first time, and don’t cheap out
If you follow these tips, you can save on your investigative costs in the long run.
Let’s Recap What We Know About Private Eyes
“How much does a private investigator cost?”, you may have wondered before today. It depends on what you hire them for, their experience level, the complexity of the case, and the resources needed for it. However, when all is said and done, it’s worth investing more in your investigation to get it done right the first time.
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