How to Choose a Private Investigator

The following article discusses how to choose a private investigator in Colorado, but the tips apply to choosing a PI in other states as well. You want to choose someone who will handle your case professionally and be able to present evidence that will stand up in court if it comes down to it. You can always ask your attorney if he or she has any recommendations. But not all attorneys will know a qualified PI to refer you to. Because qualifications and experience can vary so widely in this field, use the following suggestions to guide you in your search.

Choosing a Private Investigator in Colorado

API is often asked about how to choose a private investigator in Colorado. Finding an investigator in this state can be a tricky process and one which can be quite expensive if the right decision is not made before the investigation is initiated. Many people choose an investigator based on a flashy website or the per-hour charge of the investigation. While a flashy or fancy website may give an indication as to the money that the investigator/agency spent on that website, it does not always give an indication as to the experience or competence of that investigator. The fees and charges of the investigator will be discussed later. Advanced Private Investigations has compiled a list of points to consider when looking for an investigator.


Did you know there are no licensing requirements for private investigators in the state of Colorado? As silly as it seems, Colorado has licensing requirements for barbers, hairstylists, and plumbers, but not for private investigators. In fact, Colorado is one of the few states that have no licensing available for private investigators. This means that any felon, including a murderer or rapist, can be a private investigator in this state. Of course these are extreme examples, but API has heard of and exposed investigators with criminal records, domestic violence records, drug convictions, theft convictions, sex offenses, stalking charges, restraining orders, etc. operating in this state.

Background / Qualifications

The first thing to look for in a private investigator and/or investigative agency is their background. Of course if the average person could conduct a thorough background, there would be no need for hiring private investigators to conduct background checks. A character investigation on the investigator as well as verification of the investigator's qualifications and experience should also be considered.

There is only one known investigative organization in Colorado which conducts background checks/character investigations on its members: the Professional Private Investigators Association of Colorado or PPIAC for short. This organization also verifies the hours of experience of its members and appoints membership levels based on the hours of experience.

Businesses that advertise as being a member of Tom Martino's exclusive referral list at have also gone through a background check before placement is allowed on its list. As with other professions, the Better Business Bureau should also be checked to determine if there are any consumer complaints filed against an investigative agency.

Make sure to ask the investigator how many years of experience he or she has, particularly in the specific type of case that he or she will be working. A good question to ask is how many cases in a specific field that investigator has worked in the past year. Another question to ask is if there will be any other investigators other than the one being interviewed that will be working on the case. A surveillance investigator will probably not be the best bet in conducting a computer forensics investigation, and vice versa. College education, though not necessary, can give an indication as to the investigator's research and report writing abilities and overall intelligence.

Professional Organizations

Private investigators who are passionate about their industry are more than likely going to be involved in associations/organizations and the PI community in general. This is often a way to "weed out" the fly-by-night companies from the respectable and qualified companies who will utilize competent investigators. In Colorado, once again PPIAC is an organization in which investigators network with each other and is also constantly monitoring legislative bills which could potentially affect the way private investigators can operate in this state. In fact, PPIAC has lobbied to bring investigator licensing to Colorado.

Other professional and national organizations to look for depending on their areas of specialization include: the National Association of Legal Investigators (NALI), the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), the National Association of Investigative Specialists (NAIS), and the National Council of Investigation and Security Services (NCISS). Memberships in these organizations as well as others will give an indication of a company's standing in the investigative community.

Fly-by-night and shady investigators likely won't care to be involved with organizations or other investigative agencies for fear of exposure. The shady types also won't care about most legislative efforts which pertain to the investigative community as they often use unscrupulous methods to conduct their investigations anyway.

Insurance Coverage

Another consideration to be made that often reveals the full-time agencies from the part-timers (and most likely less experienced) is by looking at the insurance that the investigator/agency carries. Most insurance companies, law firms, and corporate clients require a $1,000,000 per occurrence liability insurance to be in place prior to using the investigator's/agency's services. 

A certificate of insurance should be requested to verify the policy information. The insurance protects the investigator/agency as well as well as the client. If the investigator/agency objects to showing proof of insurance, they probably don't carry it. Ask if the investigator/agency has ever had to make a claim on their insurance, and if so, get the details.

Reputation and References

In the investigative world, we often point out to clients and other investigators that our reputation is everything. An investigator with a damaged reputation will be most likely not get very many cases. The same way the investigator will likely conduct a "mini-background" on the client prior to taking on a case, so should the client gather information on the investigator.

It is amazing the information that can be obtained by simply using Google or a similar search engine to look up an investigator. Online public records and newspaper postings can reveal consumer complaints, DUI's, bankruptcies, domestic violence, sex offenses, tax evasion and other criminal records which have made their way onto the internet. It is important to run a query on the investigator AND the agency. Be sure to consider slight variations in the spelling of the investigator or agency's name. The search engine results can also give you an indication if the memberships that the investigator claims on their website are current and valid.

For private party cases that may involve an attorney, a good start is to get a recommendation for an investigator from the attorney especially since the investigator may be working alongside the attorney throughout the duration of the case. Certainly a recommendation for an investigator who has worked the same specific type of case, whether it's from a friend or a family member should be taken into consideration.

Asking the investigator/agency to provide references is also a wise idea. Several of the references should come from colleagues and/or attorneys and not just private parties. A good investigator is usually well known and respected throughout the investigative and legal community. Also, several of the references should come from clients who have had similar cases to the one that the investigator will be hired for.

Some investigators will advertise and post their cases as having made the television news or talk shows. Keep in mind, however, that not all investigators work high-profile cases. Homicide and missing-person investigators will likely make the news more often than background check or asset check investigators or investigators that handle a large volume of process services. Also keep in mind if you want your case to remain confidential after it is completed. Clients who are involved in marital infidelity may not want their case discussed on Oprah.


This is often an overlooked quality in an investigator/agency but one which can greatly impact a case. In meeting with an investigator, he or she should be appropriately dressed. Remember, this is a profession and an investigator should act and dress in a professional manner. If the investigator is not well-groomed and appropriately dressed in meeting with you, it is likely he or she will not look appropriate if he or she has to testify in court on your case. 

The same way an investigator pays attention to small details in their investigations, the attention to detail should carry over to his or her appearance. An exception to this rule is a surveillance investigator who is on site. 10 hour surveillance in the summer is usually going to call for shorts and a tank top or similar clothing to maintain comfort.

Websites and online postings, brochures, business cards, and other writings should be looked at to determine an investigator or agency's writing ability. Spelling and grammar should be noted. Poor spelling and grammar will translate into a poor report. API's philosophy is that the report makes at least half of the entire investigation. 

If an investigation which contains video and still pictures does not have a well written, accurate, and concise report to go along with it, the evidence will not be able to be well presented in court. Most reports should contain only facts and not the investigator's opinion, otherwise opposing council can and will pick apart that investigator in a court hearing.

Interviewing the Client

You will most likely feel like you are being interviewed or screened by the investigator/agency prior to taking on a case. Ethical and smart investigators will make sure that the case request is genuine and there will be no legal repercussions for doing the investigation. Investigators must safeguard against the results being misused. The investigator will likely use a contract which will detail the type of case that is being requested, the uses for the investigation results, and a release of liability holding the investigator/agency harmless if the results are misused.

National vs. Local Agencies

Although national investigative agencies may seem better suited to handle a case, this is rarely true. For a Colorado case, there is no better investigator than a Colorado based investigator who is familiar with where the courts are, the towns, the streets, shortcuts to get from point A to point B, etc. A surveillance investigator who is flown in from Boston to Denver to conduct surveillance is instantly at a disadvantage to an investigator from Denver who has been conducting surveillance in Denver for years and knows the neighborhoods and demographics of the area.

Also, the local agency will most likely turn over the completed case and billing to the client quicker than a national agency based out of state. The client has a better opportunity of meeting with the investigator face-to-face with a local agency rather than one based out of state.

A fact that is not well known outside the investigative community is that national companies usually use local investigators as sub-contractors to do cases. If the client hired the sub-contractor investigator directly, the same product could be received in a shorter time and likely for less money as there is no middle man. There are many national companies that advertise as having local offices in Colorado. However, most of these companies just have a post office or mail drop as an address to give the illusion of having a Colorado office.


An important consideration in hiring an investigator is to ask what equipment the investigator has pertaining to the specific type of case being requested. Investigators who specialize in wire-tapping should have equipment on hand to discover wire taps. Investigators who specialize in surveillance should have video cameras, still shot cameras, and covert/body worn cameras on hand to conduct surveillance.

Fees / Charges

API has left this subject till the end and there is a reason for this. Many clients will get tunnel vision when it comes to the hourly fee of the investigator and they use this factor as the only one in picking an investigator. This, of course can be a major mistake. You are not shopping for a shirt; you are shopping for a PROFESSIONAL service; one which requires skill, experience, and knowledge. A client should always look at the case as if it will go to court, even if it never does. It is very difficult to compare 'apples to apples' in picking an investigator. More appropriate questions that clients concerned with the cost can ask are: Can the client set a cap on the fees and expenses of the case? Can the investigator/agency give an estimate of the cost of completing the case?

Investigators have different fees depending on the case. The fees can include travel time, vehicle rental, mileage, toll charges, hotel/meal reimbursements, report fees, court copy/document retrieval fees, court appearance fees, video/audio copy fees, telephone calls, etc. The investigator should also give updates or progress reports. Keep in mind, however, that with all other charges being equal, if a $70/hour surveillance investigator can give the same results in 5 hours versus a $50/hour investigator can give in 10 hours, which is the better deal?

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Article by ADVANCED PRIVATE INVESTIGATIONS in Colorado, a female owned investigations company that specializes in surveillance catering to domestic and custody needs, as well as dating background checks, criminal records checks, process serving, asset searches and employment verification for child support. For more information call (720) 933-9301 or visit the website at

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