Top 5 Things You Need to Know Before Hiring a Private Investigator in Tampa

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Private Investigator TampaThanks to popular culture, the image of a private investigator that most of us have in our heads is some mixture of Magnum, P.I., Sherlock Holmes, Jessica Jones, and Sam Spade. All great characters, but not based completely in reality.

Of course, a real private investigator is less fantasy and more experience, skill, hard work, and dedication. Guess what, just because someone owns a trench coat (or a Hawaiian shirt and has a mustache) doesn’t mean they are an experienced private investigator.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of amateurs with a few long camera lenses, a tracking device or two, and the ability to lurk in the shadows that will try and convince you they are an expert in the field.

Whether you are a private citizen or an attorney, it is safe to assume that time is of the essence when you need to hire an investigator. But before you rush into choosing a PI, do a little investigating of your own.

Here are the top 5 things you need to know before hiring a private investigator in Tampa:

1 - Confirm that the private investigator AND the agency are licensed private investigators in the state of Florida.

Florida requires that all private investigators and private investigative agencies be licensed with the state. Do not waste valuable time and precious financial resources hiring an unlicensed investigator. Any evidence an unlicensed PI gathers will not be admissible in court, even if it is the smoking gun!

You wouldn’t hire an unlicensed doctor to perform your surgery, so take hiring a private investigator in Tampa just as seriously. A legitimate licensed investigator will not be offended if you ask for their credentials, and they should be able to provide them to you on the spot. They should also provide references if you ask.

If you want even more assurance, check with county or state governing agencies to see if any complaints have been filed against them. An investigator and agency with a clean record, speaks to their credibility and level of professionalism.

So exactly what type of license does a PI need? There are a few different types of licenses, but at a minimum, a private investigator is required to have a Class “C” License. It is also important that the investigator is licensed in the state where the work will be conducted because not all states have reciprocity agreements.

In the state of Florida, you can contact the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services if you have any questions about the validity of an investigator’s license.

Types of PI licenses:

  • “CC” - Private Investigator Intern
  • “C” - Private Investigator
  • “M” or “MA” - Manager of a Private Investigative Agency
  • “G” - Statewide Firearm License
  • “K” - Firearms Instructor
  • “A” - Private Investigative Agency (main office)
  • “AA” or “AB” - Private Investigative Agency Branch Office

In Florida, a minimum of 4160 hours of professional investigator experience is required to obtain a license. Which brings us to our next point: experience is priceless.

2 - Make sure you hire an experienced private investigator.

Make sure the private investigator in Tampa who will be handling your case has the experience and knowledge necessary to do the work. This is NOT a job for an intern. You want someone who has been in the business for a while and is well-versed in the local and state laws that apply to your case. And most importantly, you want an investigator who has enough experience in the field, that they have honed their craft.

While how many years they have been an investigator is important when we are talking about experience, you also need to understand the type of experience they have.

  • Do they have a background in law enforcement or experience handling your type of case?
  • What other skills do they have that apply to your case?
  • Will they be able to testify in court if called upon?
  • Have they testified before on similar cases?

Don’t just ask for the investigator’s background, but also the agency’s.

  • How long has the agency been open?
  • What types of cases do they typically handle?
  • Is the agency a single person operation, or a larger investigative firm with more resources at their disposal?

Most investigators have many years of experience in law enforcement that helped prepare them for being a PI. Some have a background in other fields that give them a special skill set for your case.

Certainly, an intern at an agency may turn out to be a superior private investigator, AFTER they have gone through the necessary legal steps to obtain a full license. But what you need right now, to handle your case successfully, is a seasoned investigator.

Does the PI have a legitimate business address and a private office? If all of your meetings with the PI are in parking lots or restaurants, this is not a good sign.

Check out their website (hint: they should have one). Does it seem legitimate and professional? If their website contains phrases like, “We will catch your cheating spouse!” or “We can dig up dirt on anyone!”, it should give you pause. While that may appeal to you if you are dealing with an emotional situation, the integrity and methods of the private investigator will be called into question in court, and this could jeopardize your case.

Are they willing to discuss fees with you upfront? The costs associated with hiring a PI can vary depending on what you need. A background investigation costs considerably less than assistance with a criminal investigation. Do your own research to get a general idea of the going rates - each agency and investigator will differ in price, but at least you will have a general idea going into the consultation.

3 - Make sure the investigator AND the agency are insured.

The work of a private investigator in Tampa varies from case to case and can land them in some complicated and dicey situations. It is important that an investigator has adequate insurance to cover all potential risks in their line of work.

Why is it important to you, the client, that the PI you hire is insured? If the investigator you hired causes damage to someone’s property during the course of the investigation or the target of the investigation sues for privacy invasion, and the PI doesn’t have insurance - guess who will be responsible? You will.

Having proper insurance coverage is just a part of doing business today. If the investigator you meet with doesn’t have insurance and can’t provide you with a valid PI license, then you better keep looking.

But what if the private investigator isn’t carrying a firearm, do they still need insurance? Yes, they do. This line of work comes with risks above and beyond a more typical nine to five job, whether you carry a gun or not. Insurance for private investigators is just as important as it is for a barber shop owner. Insurance protects the investigator, agency, and it protects you, the client.

Types of Insurance Coverage a Private Investigator Needs:

  • General Liability
  • Property Coverage
  • Auto Liability
  • Workers Compensation
  • Professional Liability
  • Invasion of Privacy Coverage

As with licensing, an investigator should not mind letting you know that they are fully insured so do not be afraid to ask.

4 - Does the investigator and/or agency belong to any professional trade organizations?

Another way to get a feel for how professional the agency and individual investigators are is whether or not they belong to professional organizations.

If an investigator and agency are members of groups like the Florida Association of Licensed Investigators (FALI) or the United States Association of Professional Investigators, this adds to their legitimacy, and it tells you that they value their place in the larger community of investigators.

As a member of a professional trade organization, investigators and agencies have numerous opportunities to stay on the cutting edge of industry trends and technology. Many organizations offer continuing education classes, seminars, and yearly conferences for their members. Ideally, training should never stop for a private investigator. Technology continues to advance and laws evolve and change so it is important for an investigator and agency to stay on top of these changes.

Investigator trade organizations are also a great resource if you need a referral for a PI in your area.

If you come across an unlicensed private investigator in Tampa during your research, make sure to report them. Fill out the form on the FALI website, and they will take it from there.

Typically, a private investigative agency will list the organizations and groups they belong to on their website, so this should be easy for you to verify.

5 - Listen to your gut.

When in doubt, just walk out.

Bottomline, even if an investigator ticks all the above boxes, and you still don’t feel comfortable with them, then move on. At the end of the day, you are the one footing the bill, so if you don’t feel right about this business relationship, you have every right to look elsewhere.

As a private investigator, all the education, training, and experience in the world can’t make up for an inability to listen to your gut instincts. As the client, we want you to listen to your gut also. And a good PI will want you to feel comfortable working with them.

Often times PI work is very personal and of a sensitive nature, and it is important that you can speak freely and trust the investigator you hire. If the voice in your head tells you that something isn’t right, it probably isn’t.

Do you feel like you are able to ask questions about how the investigation will be run? If you feel uncomfortable with the tactics they plan on using for your case, this might not be the right investigator for you.

Make sure to discuss the issue of confidentiality with the investigator at your first meeting. The ideal investigator will remain objective while being delicate with the sensitive information you are entrusting them with.

If their fees or promises sound too good to be true, they probably are. When you work with a unlicensed, illegitimate private investigator in Tampa you should not be surprised by hidden service fees or illegal methods of investigation.

At the end of the day, you need an investigator who takes pride in their work, has your best interests in mind, and will work diligently to reach a successful conclusion to your case.

The Grafton Group is a Tampa Florida-based, multi-disciplined, private investigation and litigation support firm. While some of us may have trench coats, most importantly, our founders are nationally recognized investigators who stand out from the crowd and often speak at state and national conferences for investigators and litigation support professionals.

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