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Posts Tagged ‘private investigations’

Private Investigator Rates in Colorado

Saturday, November 26th, 2016

Having worked full time as a Colorado private investigator for nearly 15 years, and for over 10 years as a business owner, I’ve been able to experience the ebbs and flows – the ups and downs of the profession. Over those 15 years, I’ve  had the opportunity to network with hundreds of practicing private investigators, both full-timers as well as part-timers, and I’ve also guided aspiring private investigators who were looking at gaining entry into the profession. Those hundreds of PI’s that I’ve met have come from many walks of life. Some had prior law enforcement or military experience. Others came into private investigations with criminal justice, investigative journalism, or even law degrees under their belts. Still others started out by taking an online private investigations course, or perhaps attended one in person. Others were introduced into private investigations having had no previous exposure to any type of investigations.

With such varying levels of experience, credentials, certifications, licenses, etc. how do private investigator business owners begin to set a fee structure when they start their own companies? This is a critical question that each new business owner should consider carefully at the time that the business is started. Most private investigators have an hourly rate with expenses charged separately, others might charge a flat fee hourly rate to include expenses incurred such as mileage and travel time, and still others charge a flat fee daily rate. Some private investigators even charge on a contingency or percentage basis. However, many states have restrictions or complete bans on this type of fee structure for private investigators. To complicate the matter even further, some investigators have a lower fee for cases worked as a contract investigator versus their regular fee for cases where they are the originating investigator.

Many new investigator businesses will simply attempt to research what the going rate is for the state or region of operation and then set their rates accordingly. However, consider this: over the years I have heard of Colorado private investigators charging rates as low as $40 per hour as the originating investigator, to rates as high as $300 per hour. Wow. $40-$300 per hour! That seems like quite a disparity to me. Think about it: all other expenses and factors being equal, the $40 per hour investigator has to work 7.5 hours just to match the 1 hour worked by the $300 per hour investigator! The obvious explanation to this is the $40 per hour investigator must be an inexperienced generalist while the $300 per hour investigator must be an experienced specialist with every credential imaginable.  However, there are other variables which could factor into those rates. The $40 per hour investigator could be a part time investigator, perhaps a retired individual who receives a pension or other forms of secondary income. Those individuals perhaps view private investigations as more of a hobby or pastime.  The $300 per hour investigator perhaps has a brick and mortar office in a prime location complete with a receptionist, office manager, administrative assistant, field employees, etc. The $300 per hour investigator could also be a smaller agency that contracts out work to $100 per hour investigators and as a result still generating a good profit while having subcontractors do the investigations.

I once experienced a scenario which I had not previously been aware of or even considered. I received a phone call from a large corporation which had recently started hiring in-house investigators. The potential client wanted to know what my company’s rates were for initiating surveillance on a subject in Glenwood Springs, CO. The caller explained to me that the surveillance would span from a specific pickup point until the subject returned to their residence, so in the potential client’s words, the surveillance would only be one day. I informed the caller of my hourly rates as well as mileage and travel rates, and explained that my office was located in Castle Rock, Colorado – approximately 3.5 hours away from Glenwood Springs. To help explain the minimum travel and mileage expenses, I informed the caller that the only investigator available to cover the surveillance case would have to be dispatched from Castle Rock. The potential client stated that their in-house investigator is paid a $125 per day flat rate. After a couple of seconds of silence on the phone line, I realized the potential client wanted me to make an attempt to match that rate. I politely explained to the caller that I could not lower my rates, and perhaps the corporation should continue using their in-house investigator. Her reply was something to the effect of, “But I don’t want to use my in-house investigator.” She went on to explain that they were not pleased with the quality of investigations they were getting from the in-house investigator. I spent another few minutes on the phone with the caller, but I quickly realized she had been accustomed into believing this flat fee rate was the average going rate for investigations.

I ended the phone call unclear if the in-house investigator was an employee or if the investigator was a vendor who did all their work for this corporation. Perhaps I could have clarified the caller’s definition of ‘in-house’ investigator, and then maybe I could have explained the various expenses, taxes, operating costs, insurance, etc. that I as a business owner must incur versus an employee investigator. Perhaps I could have explained how our company specializes in surveillance, that each surveillance investigator has years of experience, and how each investigator is individually licensed in Colorado. However, in my mind I was convinced we would not come to an agreement on a rate.

So once again, what should an investigator charge? Based on all the variables, this is a difficult question to answer. Instead, I ask private investigators to take a look at other businesses and professions. For example, attorneys, like private investigators, range in size as small as sole proprietors to as large as national or even international corporations with employees numbering in the hundreds or even thousands. Some attorneys have a home office, while some have dedicated office buildings. Practically all have some form of website or other forms of internet presence. Many have memberships in professional organizations and associations.

Private investigators, like attorneys, might have to purchase similar attire as attorneys for marketing, face-to-face client relations, and testifying / providing attorney support at hearings and trials. Unlike attorneys, private investigators aren’t required to have a 4 year or higher college degree, and in many states aren’t required to pass an exam or even be licensed. So perhaps the average rate for private investigators shouldn’t be the same as the average rate for attorneys in a given state or region.

To the private investigators at the low end of the spectrum, such as in the $40 per hour range, taking a look at other businesses and their hourly charges may prove to be an indicator of how the investigator is perceived to clients as well as colleagues, inadvertently or otherwise. Plumbers who are licensed charge $45 – $150/hr. Car mechanics charge $80 – $100/hr. Are licensed and professional minded private investigators not, at the bear minimum, as valuable in terms of the services provided as car mechanics or plumbers? Those are the questions that each investigator business owner must answer when establishing their rates.

The Highly Specialized Career of Professional Investigations

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

Professional private investigations is a career that many people have a great deal of fascination about. Television and media have often depicted the private investigator as an individual who is a do-it-all, a James Bond type of figure willing to tackle and somehow successfully accomplish any type of mission, assignment, or adversity presented to the character.

In reality, professional investigators give a great deal of thought to what cases they are willing to accept. Effective and responsible investigators know that if a case is outside their area of expertise, there is a greater probability that the results of the case will not be optimal. If you are looking for an attorney to resolve a child custody matter, would you hire the attorney that specializes in bankruptcy law, immigration law, or criminal law? You will likely prefer to hire the attorney who specializes in family law, and maybe even more precisely, child custody matters.

Professional private investigators like, attorneys, have specialties of their own. When potential clients are considering whether to hire a private investigator, I will often advise them against hiring the do-it-all private investigator. The old saying, ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ certainly applies to investigations. A person who is considering hiring a private investigator should first identify what needs to be resolved or what information is being sought. The potential client can then begin looking for an investigator who specializes in obtaining the desired information or resolving the person’s matter. When contacting the investigator or investigative agency, do not hesitate to ask if they specialize in a certain area. Also, do not hesitate to ask how much experience they have in a certain area.

Advanced Professional Investigations is occasionally asked about companies that offer and provide professional services unrelated to investigations, and simultaneously have an in-house investigator or an investigations division. While it may seem tempting to go with the ‘one stop shop’ provider, the client should give consideration to a couple of important factors. First, is there a potential for the in-house investigator to have a bias, or could there be a perceived bias if the investigative findings are presented in a legal setting? Second, if investigation is one of many other professional services offered by a company, how much dedication/focus is the company giving to the investigations division of the company?

Advanced Professional Investigations, LLC is proud to be a fully independent, dedicated professional private investigations agency. What does this mean to our clients? API is able to maintain a direct, customer-focused line of communication with our clients. API obtains its information and documentation in a non-biased manner. API’s results always withstand the scrutiny of any perceived bias in a legal setting. Because API is dedicated to professional investigations, API’s investigators frequently attend conferences, courses, and training to keep on the forefront of investigations. API maintains the latest video recording equipment, with features that are designed specifically for professional investigators, not the general public. API was founded on, and continues to be focused on providing the highest quality results to our clients.

Do you have an investigative case request and you’re not sure who to turn to? Give API a call. Rest assured that if the case request is outside of our areas of specialty, we will let you know and will go the extra step of finding an investigator with the specialty you need.

Do It Yourself Investigations

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

The latest “fiscal cliff” highlighted just how tight today’s economy really is.  It’s no surprise that people are trying to cut back spending where they can, to include ‘do it yourself’ private investigations.

Here’s why that can end up costing you money, instead of cutting expenses:

1)  Professional private investigators know when to begin a corporate or private investigation.  By the time DIYers think about investigating, it’s almost too late.  If a private investigation is begun at the time the case is opened, there is a vast amount of information that can be gathered.  A DIYer may tip off the subject of the investigation without meaning to, and data under that subject’s control may disappear from view with a changing of privacy settings.  Conversely, if a DIYer begins their private investigation before filing a case, they may learn the hard way about harassment and stalking laws. This is especially true in the realm of surveillance investigations; once the subject of the surveillance is aware they are being watched, it is extremely difficult to obtain helpful data.

2)  Professional private investigators have access to information that the DIYers don’t.  Using the precept of “work smarter, not harder,” skilled private investigators can often pull up basic information on their databases that would take the normal “Googler” an entire day to locate.

3)  Professional private investigators know their way around an investigation.  Although TV and Movie dramas involving crimes, private detectives and intrigue are extremely popular, they don’t explain the steps or the process involved in a private investigation. It would be very easy to miss something in a DIY investigation, or damage your case without realizing it.

4)  Professional private investigators have effective documentation and well written reports at hand.  Why is this important?  If you’re in court and are asked to provide proof of your investigation, are you prepared to provide a professional report?  Will your documentation stand up in court and be entered into evidence?  Professional private investigators routinely provide evidence in a courtroom setting, and are experienced at working together with attorneys.

5)  Professional private investigators know the laws.  Trespassing, invasion of privacy, harassment, stalking…all of these laws are routinely overlooked by people that try to conduct their own private investigation to save money.  Instead, the infractions often cost them their case…and more.  Convictions are rising for people abusing GPS tracking devices; privacy laws regarding emails and social media posts are being scrutinized.  Professional private investigators know it is in their clients’ best interest to remain abreast of current laws, and to insure their work will stand up in court.

6)  Professional private investigators are licensed and carry insurance.  Insurance for private investigations?  Absolutely! 

Although engaging the services of a professional private investigator may seem like a luxury in the beginning, it will save you in time, money and worry.

Integrity in Private Investigations

Monday, July 9th, 2012

In private investigations, integrity is commonly referenced. Practically all investigators espouse and profess to have “it”. It’s a part of many business slogans, models and mission statements. The word is often used, but less frequently practiced. Why is that? Colonel Slade, a character in the movie Scent of a Woman, stated it best: “because it’s just too d*mn hard”.

You either have it, or you don’t. Claiming to have it has seemingly become a business necessity, particularly in investigations. So what is “it”, and what makes “it” so difficult for some to practice? Most importantly, how does investigator integrity affect legal case work? There are many definitions, but essentially integrity requires one to act according to a moral code, a code which extends well beyond the practice of investigations to life itself. It encompasses values like honesty and ethics; and if you have “it” you don’t compromise. Therein lies the difficulty. If you don’t compromise, and adhere to a higher standard, sacrifice is required. The absolute truth can be painful, difficult, brutal and it is human nature to avoid. Integrity occasionally requires one to venture down that road, to open oneself up to criticism. To act with integrity is ultimately not a business decision, but rather a conscious one.

An investigator becomes the eyes and ears of the client. Results presented with integrity involve the facts, and only the facts of the case presented equally. The “good” are not overly highlighted, and the “bad” are not sugar-coated or omitted all together. You need the facts, clear and unbiased to make proper decisions on a case. Do you have absolute faith in your private investigator? Does he/she consistently accept responsibility for his/her actions?

An impressive resume, a slick presentation, a convincing sales pitch: none of it matters without integrity. To truly find a private investigator with integrity, look past this overused word. Instead, look your investigator in the eye and see the person. How do they conduct themselves in this world? That’s what really matters.

– Richard Q.

GPS Tracking and the Recent Supreme Court Ruling

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

On January 23, 2012, the US Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case of the United States vs. Jones which will likely set the precedence for future legislation of the use of GPS tracking devices. The ruling reversed a prior conviction against Respondent Antoine Jones. In the ruling, the Supreme Court noted the admission of evidence obtained by government agents was obtained without a valid warrant, and thus violated the Fourth Amendment.

This recent ruling raises the question of, “What does this mean for the private sector?” Private investigators, process servers, and private individuals for that matter are unlike law enforcement and government agents that have the ability to obtain warrants, so this ruling doesn’t impact the private sector, right? Actually, this recent ruling begins to lay the foundation for how the use of GPS tracking devices will be allowed for both government and private sectors. The term ‘Big Brother’ from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is a synonym typically used for the abuse of government power, and particularly when describing the government’s use of surveillance. It is the responsibility of professional investigators to not allow this term to become associated and perpetuated by the media to the use of surveillance in the private sector.

Let’s take a look at a worst case scenario, yet a very typical phone call that a private investigator receives from a private party. If you are an investigator who offers domestic, infidelity, or child custody investigations you have no doubt received this type of call. The potential client, in this case a male, requests to have a GPS tracking device placed on his girlfriend’s vehicle, perhaps because of the suspicion of infidelity. At this point, there should already be red flags, or at the very minimum, questions that should concern you and compel you to find out more. The experienced investigator will likely see the potential pitfalls on the backside of this case. However, at this point I will limit the topic of this article to focus primarily on the use of GPS tracking devices. So the inexperienced investigator accepts the case and proceeds.

The inexperienced investigator subsequently finds out the client’s girlfriend does not reside with the client. She actually resides in a house with a driveway, and she happens to park her vehicle outside in the driveway. The instructions from the client are to keep this assignment completely covert, as he is attempting to determine if his infidelity suspicions on the part of his girlfriend can be confirmed. Also, the client has only authorized a few hours of investigative time, and at this time the client only wishes to document the comings and goings of his girlfriend from the convenience of his home computer. The client has, however, dangled the carrot by indicating there is the potential to authorize surveillance depending on what the GPS tracking documentation reveals.

The inexperienced investigator, eager to please his/her client, proceeds to devise a plan of action. The investigator will wait until late at night and place the GPS tracking device on the underside of the vehicle of the client’s “girlfriend”. (Notice I have now placed the word girlfriend in quotations as the investigator is under the assumption that his client is telling the truth). The investigator successfully places the device on the vehicle by crawling under the vehicle at night without being seen. The investigator has now left himself / herself susceptible to being charged with trespassing as well as tampering. However, at this point in time, the investigator doesn’t have the slightest idea of the consequences that are to come.

The investigator, excited to have completed the assignment within the hours of authority, notifies the client. The client then proceeds to document the whereabouts of the vehicle that the GPS tracking device has been attached to. The client immediately notices the vehicle is spending time at a particular location, in this case a private residence where a male who the client is familiar with is known to reside. The client goes on to make accusations and threats against his “girlfriend” and goes as far as to tell her that he knows where she is going because he had Mr./Ms. Inexperienced Investigator place a GPS tracking device on her vehicle.

The “girlfriend”, extremely emotional and distraught, goes on to file charges against the investigator’s client. The investigator is also ordered to appear in court and is slapped with trespassing, tampering, and harassment/stalking charges. In court proceedings the inexperienced investigator finds out that his/her client and the “girlfriend”, who at this point will be referred to as the subject, are no longer involved in a relationship. The subject only briefly dated the client, never lived together, and in fact broke the relationship off due to control issues the client exhibited. The client went on to continue harassing the subject, compelling her to file a restraining order against him, all prior to the investigator being hired to place the tracking device on the subject’s vehicle.

Regardless of the outcome of the charges brought against the investigator, the PI knows that he/she undoubtedly faces an immediate future of several thousands of dollars in legal fees, not to mention time off work to attend to court matters.

To make matters worse, the client finds out that the GPS tracking device only tracks what it’s been placed on, in this case a car registered to the subject. During court proceedings, the client finds out the subject’s sister had recently moved in with the subject and was borrowing the subject’s vehicle and driving it to the residence of the male the client is familiar with. The client, in his haste and anger, realized he had prematurely jumped to conclusions and assumed the subject was at the male’s residence simply because the vehicle was there.

So can a private investigator, process server, or any private individual use GPS tracking devices for any type of case? There are many uses for GPS tracking devices, and without going into the endless numbers of scenarios for their use, I’ve broken them down into 3 categories, with increasing risk of legal implications. Remember, these categories will describe the uses of GPS tracking devices for the private sector, where there are no warrants issued by a judge.

In the first category of use, all parties, to include the individual(s) whom the vehicle is registered to and driver(s) of the vehicle are aware of and consenting to the use of the GPS tracking device. In essence, it’s a completely overt use of the tracking technology. The most typical examples of this would be in the case of an employer tracking the use of company vehicles used by employees, or a concerned parent tracking a vehicle being used by their teen son/daughter. These drivers would be likely to consent to the use of a GPS tracking device because they are borrowing and operating the vehicle of the owner. Since all parties are aware and consenting of the use of the GPS tracking technology, the chances of any negative legal action taken against the client or the investigator are minimal. However, keep in mind a GPS tracker cannot be continued or discontinued on-demand the way physical surveillance can. A GPS tracking device cannot determine if the individual is proceeding from public property onto private property. Also keep in mind the registrant(s) or driver(s) of the vehicle can potentially retract their consent during the time the GPS tracker is being used.

In the second category of use, all of the registrant(s) are consenting. However one or more drivers of the vehicle are non-consenting to the use of the GPS device. In this category, there is an element of covert tracking. The typical example of this scenario is in the case of a married couple, where one person owns the vehicle and suspects the other of infidelity. The owner of the vehicle might confidently believe they have every right to know the whereabouts of their property without the driver’s consent. However, the driver(s) of the vehicle could potentially claim their privacy was invaded. The investigator must be aware of messy pending divorce situations where one party has moved out of the client’s residence, or where there is a history of domestic violence, restraining orders, harassment/stalking charges, etc. Since the use of the technology is covert, it can also bring into question whether the driver is being tracked on private property, and thus having his/her expectation of privacy violated. For the investigator as well as for the private party, the legal liability for placing and/or using the GPS tracker under this type of category begins to increase.

In the third category of use, and the one with the most pitfalls for any private party involved with the placement of the GPS tracking device, one or more of the registrant(s) is non-consenting to the use of the device. Again, this falls under covert use of the technology. The worst case scenario used earlier in this article is an example of this type of use. It typically involves the boyfriend/girlfriend scenario, but can sometimes involve married parties, where the client’s (or user of the GPS tracker if done without hiring a PI) name is either not on the vehicle registration, or is only one of the names on the registration. Note that in this scenario, I didn’t mention the consent/non-consent of the driver as it becomes irrelevant. The driving, and thus critical factor for this category isn’t the non-consent of the driver(s), it’s the non-consent of the registrant(s). In the rare case that the client/user of the technology IS the driver, there are more effective ways to utilize GPS tracking, such as with a cell phone or other device that can be worn/carried on that person. Also note this category can include the scenario where all of the registrant(s) are non-consenting. A common request that fits this scenario is when an employee wants to have a GPS device placed on the vehicle of a co-worker, or an employer who wants to have the device placed on the personal vehicle of the employee. The use of GPS tracking devices in the tracking of claimants in worker’s compensation cases typically fits in this category. I highly recommend that any investigator who values their license and career not use GPS trackers that fall in this category.

I will likely hear of scenarios that will challenge whether there should be more than three categories, and I certainly welcome them. For example, some investigators have probably already thought, “What about the client who hires the PI to place a GPS tracking device and conduct surveillance on a spouse who rents a car at an airport?” If the investigator did not obtain the consent of the car rental company, this scenario would fall under the last and riskiest category of use. If the investigator was charming enough to convince the rental car company of consent, the use would fall under the second category of use. Taxis, leased vehicles, etc. all fit in one of the 3 categories listed above.

In conclusion, it is the responsibility of the user of the GPS tracking technology, whether a private investigator, process server, or the private party, to know and understand the risks associated with the different uses of GPS trackers. Particularly in states such as Colorado where there are no current state laws regarding the use of this technology, the waters are still murky. The recent Supreme Court ruling clearly indicates government and law enforcement agents can’t carelessly use this technology for any or no reason at all. With GPS tracking use, the old saying, “Err on the side of caution” certainly holds true.

This article was originally written for inclusion in the Professional Private Investigators Association of Colorado’s PPIAC Quarterly Newsletter. For more information, please click on the following link: http://ppiac.org/newsletter

Death of the Private Investigator

Monday, October 31st, 2011

For several months now, I’ve seen growing concerns from investigators across the United States regarding the direction of private investigations. These concerns have been raised perhaps as a result of the economy, privacy laws, and even national investigative agencies.

Let’s assume for a moment that those concerns are valid and the scope of the investigations work as we know it will soon be gone and will never be the same. Assume that the private investigator will even cease to exist, as many concerns have been expressed. Does that mean that society simply has no use for the services that investigators provide? Let’s examine the role of the private investigator.

At its core, the private investigator is an information locator and gatherer. The right type of information can be very valuable and powerful to the client. Information therefore is the key to the value a private investigator has to his/her client. However, most clients are becoming more demanding with the information they want. No longer is it enough to provide a client with information simply to satisfy the client’s curiosity. Most clients of the private investigator are looking for a PI because they need information for a current legal action, a pending legal action, or to minimize the possibility of a future legal action. Private investigators must make sure that the information they provide to their clients can withstand legal scrutiny if need be. The investigator who can obtain valuable legally and ethically obtained information will continue to be in demand regardless of outside factors driving the profession. We are, after all, in the information age.

So what should the private investigator do to not only survive, but perhaps thrive in the coming years and even decades? A good start is for us to change our mindset of who we all are. Rather than private investigators, we should look at ourselves as professional investigators, or professional private investigators. The private investigations field will continue to bring never-ending changes. Some changes will be better than others. Some changes should and will be challenged.  Today’s investigator must be willing to embrace the challenges of the changing scope of investigations. For the changes that are inevitable, the successful investigator must be willing to embrace or at the minimum adjust expeditiously to those as well.

Today’s successful investigator must be not only an investigative professional, but a business professional. Being well-versed in business and marketing practices is critical. Many clients, including the private clientele involved in domestic matters, are seeking out investigative firms with a more professional, corporate look and feel. Every facet of the investigator is scrutinized by the client, from the website to the equipment to the knowledge of laws. Even the style of dress is scrutinized. Clients are moving away from choosing investigators with websites containing scandalous, salacious photos of couples “caught in the act” or websites filled with assertions that the investigator is willing to “dig for dirt.” Investigators who maintain a professional demeanor will have a competitive advantage in today’s world.

So are we all witnessing the death of the private investigator? That is unlikely. Rather, I believe that private investigations will continue to evolve and is constantly progressing more and more towards a professional field. For those who already view and hold themselves as professionals, the evolution should be manageable and even welcoming.

Investigations Rules

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

Unwritten Rules of Private Investigations

What do professional private investigators think about?  Here is a checklist for scrutinizing the investigative process:

The Private Investigator is an Extension of the Client.  Advanced Professional Investigations represents you, the client.  Whether it’s in the courtroom or in the field, we always remain aware of the fact that we are your representatives.  We dress professionally, behave accordingly, and never forget that our credibility stems from the way we present ourselves as your representatives in the aspect of investigations, from the beginning of the case to the end.

The Private Investigator must withstand legal scrutiny.  Legal scrutiny may come from at least three different areas:  the investigator themselves, the investigation process, and the evidence produced.

Investigator:  How well do you know your private investigator?  How well do you know their background?  Do they have anything in their past that may come up on the stand?  Restraining orders, stalking and harassment charges and convictions are just a start of what you should know about your investigator’s past history. Do they have a professional demeanor?  Believability and credibility in the eyes of the judge and jury are dramatically affected by the impression that an investigator creates on the stand.  Could your investigator pass this scrutiny?

Investigations:  The methods of investigating a case may come under intense scrutiny when brought to court.  Legal ramifications must always be at the forefront of a private investigator’s thought processes.  Does your investigator know the differences between surveillance and stalking?  Do they know Colorado’s statute regarding harassment?  Do they understand what ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ entails with regard to a surveillance or other private investigation?  Do they understand the pitfalls of GPS tracking devices and certain types of searches in social media? 

Evidence: In this case, evidence describes any documentation produced for a court case. Examples might be a word document, pdf, video or electronic communication.  Will the evidence stand up in court?  For instance, is there a date and time stamp on the video or photo?  Has any documentation been altered or edited?  Was the evidence obtained in a legal manner?

There are many other considerations that we as professional private investigators must take into account. Where does your investigator fit into the process?