Hiring a Missing Persons Investigator

Private investigator taking picture
Looking for a lost loved one is hard enough. Confusion. Emotions. Logistics. Try to go it alone OR hire a professional missing persons investigator instead.

Private investigation is not magic. And choosing the right missing persons investigator is a science. Making a good choice could make the difference between finding a missing person and not.

A good missing persons private investigator should have the right mixture of smarts, experience, training, and grit. Having access to the right tools is also crucial. 

A Word of Caution About Missing Persons Investigation

Private investigator taking picture

I’ve seen just how easy it is to mess up a missing persons investigation. On one case, a certain PI was meant to speak to a lead that I had tracked down. This lead, in Mexico, potentially had information that could have resulted in finding abducted children. With great expense, the private investigator (PI) was sent to Mexico to speak with the lead. Yet, when they met, the PI became a little overeager, which made the lead nervous. The lead decided not to help with the investigation any more. Years later, the children still have not been found. 

Full disclosure, I am not a PI. PIs should be certified, and are required to be, in most states. PIs should know how to do field work, doing stakeouts and such. And PIs should have formal training and special detective tools. I have none of the above. I just investigate open source intelligence from my computer. In other words I find information that is publicly available that most people miss. 

What This Article is For

Missing persons detective snapping a picture

I’ve seen people make mistakes hiring missing persons detectives and PIs, and that is why I wrote this article. People often make the mistake of looking for a PI in the likes of 007 and/or Arnold Schwarzenegger. Doing so always turns out to be a mistake. I’ve seen people hire private detective agencies just because of an advertisement they saw. Also, an unfortunate mistake.       

The good news is that you are reading this article, which means you’re already way ahead of the game. I won’t tell you who to hire, but I will give you tips on how to make a wise decision.

Choosing Between Hiring a Missing Persons Detective vs an Agency

You’ve probably heard the expression “jack of all trades, master of none.” It’s true. Being a true expert in anything requires years of experience in one specialized area. So someone who is good at finding information in databases is not necessarily going to be great at doing stakeouts, etc.  

However, there are individual missing persons private investigators who do great work. They usually have the humility to hire other experts to do the things that they aren’t great at. 

Therefore, if you are considering hiring an individual PI, ask them to tell you how they operate. If they have a network of experts that they work with, that’s a good sign. However, if they brag about how great they are at everything and that they do it all themselves, be careful.  

Hiring a detective agency can be a good option. However, the quality of service you receive will depend a lot on the people assigned to your case. But if you hire an agency with a great reputation, you will probably/hopefully get great service. We’ll discuss below how to accurately gauge the reputation of a detective agency. 

How to Accurately Gauge the Reputation of a Missing Persons Investigator

Missing person private investigator looking through camera

Online Reviews

Internet reviews are a helpful way of gauging the reputation of a PI, but they are not the best way. Internet reviews can be manipulated by missing persons investigator themselves, to a certain extent, to make themselves appear better than they are. And, on the other hand, reviews can also be unfairly colored by people who didn’t get the results they wanted. Sometimes that happens even for good PIs.   

Therefore, when checking out online reviews of a missing persons investigator, a few bum reviews can still be okay. But you should pay attention to what is being said in the reviews. Do they look like they are authentic? Are the people complaining that the PI didn’t do anything (bad sign) or are even the negative statements pretty understandable? 

Word of Mouth

A better way to gauge the reputation of a PI is to ask people in the know.

1) Ask People Who Have Been In Your Situation Before

One of the best ways to find a great PI is to ask people who have hired a PI before. If you can track down people who have been in your situation before, they are ideal. They can tell you about their experience and what, hopefully, helped them find their loved one. 

2) Ask a Police Detective

If you have a police detective assigned to your case, and you see that they are doing a professional job and you trust them, you can ask if they recommend hiring a PI, too. If they say yes, ask who they would recommend. Hiring someone that your assigned police investigator likes could be a very good move, being as they will probably work well together. But, do this only if you trust the police detective on your case, because, if you don’t, you probably won’t end up being happy with the PI they recommend.  

3) Ask a Social Worker

Social workers are often involved with missing person cases. So it can be worth it to ask social workers. They might know from experience of private detectives who have been successful in the past.

Vetting Recommendations

Remember, when you get a recommendation from anybody, make sure to ask detailed questions. Ask them how the know the detective. Ask what types of cases the detective was involved in solving? What did the detective do to solve cases? Listening to their answers will give you an idea whether they know what they are talking about, or not. 

Financial Concerns When Hiring a Missing Persons Private Investigator

man holding money who is concerned about finances when hiring a private investigator

1) Free Ways to Search for a Missing Person

There are a number of free things you can do to find a missing person. However, PIs have experience and a number of other pluses on their side. So if you can afford to hire one, do. If you’re not sure whether you can afford one, I understand your dilemma completely. On one hand, you don’t have the money for an expensive PI. And there is no guarantee that they will succeed. On the other hand, if you don’t hire a PI, you’ll always wonder whether you should have. 

Which brings us to the next suggestion…

2) Prayer

I strongly believe that prayer is an appropriate thing to do at any time, crisis or no. Ask for guidance and help. And don’t forget to say thank you for everything. It sounds counter-intuitive, but having gratitude in times of distress can have highly positive effects. 

3) Ask a Well-To-Do Loved One for Help

If you have a rich uncle, this would be the right time to ask them for help. 

4) Crowdfund the Money

Another great way to put together a lot of money fast is through crowdfunding. Crowdfunding allows you to raise money from a lot of people at once. And crowdfunding carries the added benefit that it creates a buzz. As people donate money and ask others to help, too, they also end up sharing the story with their contacts – which in-and-of-itself can help solve the case. It’s ideal to quickly get a missing person poster ready to post on the crowdfunding page. But don’t let it delay your launching the crowdfunding campaign – you can always add the poster at a later time.   

Questions to Ask the PI

When talking to a PI, make sure you come with a clear agenda and a list of questions. If they show you some of their impressive equipment or undercover clothes, don’t let yourself get swept off your feet. Spy swag isn’t what’s going to get your loved one home. 

Make sure to ask the detective about the following:

How many years of experience do you have in this field?

There should be someone leading the case who have more than a few years of experience. If you can someone background check them to make sure they are telling the truth, that would be extra good.

What is your licence number?

PIs are required to be licenced in most states. Once they tell you their number, you can go check it out at your local municipality. Even if you decide not to go to the municipality, you might want to make sure their PI licence number is in the contract you end up signing with them.

What do you do to go about solving cases?

If they are able to give specific answers, that is a good sign. They shouldn’t give you vague answers, and if you don’t understand what they say, that could just be because they’re trying to cover up their low-level services with fancy jargon.

Do you work with other people or do you do everything yourself?

Above, there is an entire section discussing this.

How many cases have you managed that were similar to this one? How many of those did you solve?

If you get the feeling they are trying to be elusive when they answer this one, that could be a red flag. 

What things have you done in the past that have helped solve cases? Can you tell about a similar case that you solved and what helped you to solve it?

The missing persons private investigator’s answers should be down to Earth. If they sound like they are telling you the screenplay of a new movie, that’s a bad sign unless you can verify that they are highly professional in what they do.

How do you charge?

It will probably be according to the job or according to an hourly rate. There might be a charge for different stages of the investigation, so if they find your loved one right away, you may only have to pay for stage one of the investigation. Make sure this is clear to you before you hire them. Also, if they are working at an hourly rate make sure they clear with you the estimated number of hours they plan to work at each phase – otherwise you could end up being charged a lot more than you were expecting to pay. 

Final Words About Hiring a PI Who Gets Results 

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