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How to Hire an Investigator

(The following is not intended to constitute legal or professional advice. It is solely the personal opinion of the author.)

 A good Investigator - by definition, one who is honest, capable and acts professionally - could be one of the most important and valuable business relationships that you ever establish.

Conversely, retaining an Investigator who is not capable of skillfully and honestly conducting the investigation for which he has been retained could cost a client money, reputation, or worse.

Following is an overview of how to quickly and efficiently "investigate the Investigator" prior to making any hiring decision. 

Verifying License Status

The first and most important step in retaining an Investigator is verifying that he or she is legally permitted to provide investigative services.

In nearly every U.S. State and Canadian province, a person intending to act as a "Private Detective" or "Private Investigator" must (usually) pass a background and character investigation, must complete a test or review of their qualifications and experience, must carry a bond which is held by the licensing agency, and must obtain a special license.

In Minnesota , New York , Texas and California , for example, in order to receive an "Investigative Agency" license, an individual must have a clean criminal record, must be able to prove at least three (3) years of prior significant law enforcement or investigative experience, and must be able to furnish multiple character references. He (or she) must also furnish proof of bonding and/or liability insurance coverage prior to a license being issued. (See: "Bonding and Insurance Coverage", below.)

In most jurisdictions, a person furnishing investigative services without a license is committing a criminal act (in Minnesota a gross misdemeanor) - and so it is a fairly safe bet that if you hire an unlicensed "investigator", you have retained a person who, probably, due to a lack of experience or a criminal record, could not qualify for the appropriate licenses. By hiring such a person, you may be putting yourself, or your client, at legal and financial risk.

Most states have written into their law books very specific and detailed definitions of what sort of activity constitutes "private investigation". In Minnesota State , for example an investigator is defined as “persons who for a fee, reward, or other consideration, or obtain information for others are considered to be engaged in the business of a private detective”.  A private detective is a person offering to report on the "background, character, identity, conduct, reputation, whereabouts......etc. of an individual or an organization must obtain a Minnesota State license to conduct investigations”. A person offering to “locate or recover lost or stolen property,” must also be licensed. A person reporting on the “conduct, honesty, efficiency, loyalty, or activities of employees, persons seeking employment, agents,” must be licensed. A person reporting on the “identity or apprehension of persons suspected of crimes or misdemeanors,” must be licensed.

Each state varies in rules and statutes.

Verifying the legal status of an "Investigator" is as simple as asking the Private Investigator for his/her license number, and then calling the appropriate state's licensing authority to confirm that the Investigator is in fact licensed. Private Investigator licenses are "public record", and you should be able, at the very least, to verify that an Investigator is licensed, the date that the license expires, and the name(s) on the license. Many state's licensing authorities will also inform you of any complaints filed against the Investigator - if you ask.

(A list of state licensing authorities is provided at the end of this page.)

Remember: if you hire an unlicensed "Investigator" in a State or Province that requires a license, you may be hiring someone who is legally considered a criminal. 

Bonding and Insurance Coverage

Most licensing jurisdictions now require that an Investigative Agency maintain a bond, or liability insurance coverage, or both. Texas , for example, requires that every Investigator be covered by a minimum of $300,000 in liability insurance coverage.  In New York and Minnesota the licensing board requires that every Investigative Agency obtain $10,000 in bonding coverage, and proof of financial responsibiity.

Often a "quick and dirty" way of separating the true investigative professionals from the "part-timers" is by the amount of insurance coverage that their agency carries. The majority of full-time agencies now consider one million dollars ($1,000,000) of insurance coverage to be the minimum acceptable amount of coverage - an opinion with which the author of this FAQ strongly agrees. You may find sole proprietorship investigators carrying an insurance policy on themselves, and any sub contractors carrying separate policies.

Most corporate clients, insurance company S.I.U.s (Special Investigative Units) and law firms now require that an Investigator provide them with proof of one million dollars in coverage prior to being retained.

In the (very) few remaining jurisdictions which do not license Investigators, insurance coverage - or the lack thereof - is often one of the best ways to separate the "good guys" from the ones who possibly should not be hired.

In most states, the Certificate of Insurance (or Bonding) is considered to be part of the "public record" portion of the license holder's file, and so the potential client can easily determine the details of the Investigator's coverage at the same time that the Investigator's license status is verified.

The Investigator's bond or insurance is there for your protection, so verify that it exists. No legitimate investigative professional will object.

Background, Reputation and Experience

Despite public perception, and contrary to what is reported by television "news" programs, which often seem more interested in entertaining than informing, most Investigators are true professionals.

A large number of Investigators enter the private sector as retired lawmen, after 25 - 30+ years of prior law enforcement experience, and many Investigative Agencies have hundreds of years of combined investigative experience in-house.

Still, it is important to make certain that the personal skills of the Investigator you retain will match your investigative requirements.

When contacting an Investigator, ask him/her about his experience in conducting the specific type of investigation for which you intend to retain his services. Although he/she may be, in general, and an excellent Investigator, he/she may not have the particular expertise needed for your case. An expert in the field of surveillance might only perform a mediocre background investigation, and a top homicide investigator might not be your best choice for locating a runaway teenager.

Many Investigators who specialize in certain types of investigations have qualified for, and received, unique certification and recognition in their areas of specialization - i.e. the "CLI" ("Certified Legal Investigator") designation granted by the National Association of Legal Investigators (NALI), or the "CFE" designation granted to a "Certified Fraud Examiner" by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE).

Before retaining the Investigator, ask him to briefly describe how he intends to handle your case. If he begins by hinting at "sources" and "friends in the police" - what the director of a national investigative association calls "gray-area whispering" - then this author recommends that you run, not walk, to a different Investigator. While an Investigative Agency license may be an indicator of legal status, it is by no means a guarantee of character or competence.

Finally, an important bottom line: if you are unable to reach an acceptable "comfort level" with an Investigator, trust your instincts, and don't hire him.

Interviews Go Both Ways

A few years ago an Arizona-based Investigator was hired for what he thought was a routine license plate trace. Unfortunately, the client turned out to be a mentally-unbalanced fan of television star Rebecca Schaffer, who used the address obtained for him by the Investigator to locate Ms. Schaffer, and kill her.

You should not be offended or concerned if the Investigator you are interviewing seems to also be interviewing you. To paraphrase an old saying, "with special ability comes special responsibility", and any ethical Investigator will want to make certain that your stated reasons for wanting to hire him are genuine, and that the results of his investigation will not be misused. Such scruples should not be viewed as a potential inconvenience, but rather as an indication that you are retaining an ethical Investigator.

State Licensing Authorities

  (Note: contact information for any state agency is of course subject to change. If any of the following information is found to be outdated, current information can be obtained by calling Directory Assistance for the appropriate state licensing board.)


Security Guard Licensing Department, Alaska State Police

5700 E. Tudor Rd , Anchorage , AK 99507

(907) 269-5594


Department of Public Safety, Licensing Division

P.O. Box 6328 , Phoenix , AZ 85005

(602) 223-2361



Arkansas Board of Private Investigators & Private Security Agencies

#1 State Police Plaza Drive, Little Rock , AR 72209

(501) 648 8600



Bureau of Collection & Investigative Services

400 R Street, Sacramento , CA 95814

(800) 952 5210



Department of Public Safety, Special Services Unit, Division of State Police

1111 Country Club Rd , Meriden , CT 06450-2098

P.O. Box 2794 , Middletown , CT 06457

(860) 685 8190



Detective Licensing, Delaware State Police

P.O. Box 430 , Dover , DE 19903

(302) 739-5991


District of Columbia

Security Officers Management Branch, Metro Police

Security Unit 2000, 14th St. NW , Washington , DC 20009

(202) 671 0500, Fax (202) 673-7418



Department of State, Division of Licensing

325 John Knox Rd. Suite 5103 Building 4, Tallahassee , FL 32399

(850) 245 5691



State Board of Private Detectives

237 Coliseum Drive. Macon, Georgia 31217-3858

(478) 207 2440



Board of Private Detectives & Guards, Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs

PO Box 3469, Honolulu , HI 96801

(808) 586-3000, 586-2705



Department of Professional Regulation

100 W Randolph, Chicago , IL 60601

Complaints: (312) 814-6910



Professional Licensing Board

402 W Washington St , Indianapolis , IN 46204

(317) 232-2980



Administrative Services Division, Iowa Department of Public Safety

Wallace State Office Building , Des Moines , IA 50319

(515) 281-3211, (515) 281-6937



Justice Cabinet, Division of Grants Management

417 High St. 3rd Floor, Frankfurt , KY 40601

(502) 564-3251



Louisiana Board of Private Investigators

2051 Silverside Dr #190 , Baton Rouge , LA 70808

(504) 763-3556



State Police Licensing Division

State House #164, Augusta , ME 04333

(207) 624-8775



Licensing Division, Maryland State Police

Jessup, MD.

(410) 779 0191 Ext. 331



Dept. of State Police, Special Licensing Unit

485 Maple Street, Danvers, MA 01923

(978) 538-6128



Michigan Department of Consumer & Industry Services

Lansing , MI

(517) 241-5645



Dept. of Public Safety, Board Of Private Detective & Protective Agent Services

1430 Maryland Ave. , St. Paul , MN 55106

(651) 793-2666



Board of Private Security Patrolmen & Investigators

301 South Park, Rm 420, Helena , MT 59620

(406) 841 2387



Attorney General's Office, Consumer Affairs Division

State Capitol, #2300, Lincoln , NE 68509

(402) 471-2554



Private Investigator Licensing Board, Office of the Attorney General

100 N Carson St. , Carson City , NV 89701

(775) 687-3223


New Hampshire

State Police, Division of Licenses and Permits

Hazen Drive , Concord , NH 03305

(603) 271-3575


New Jersey

State Police, Department of Law & Public Safety, Private Detective Unit

P.O. Box 7068 , West Trenton , NJ 08688-0068

(609) 633 9352


New Mexico

Regulations & Licensing Dept.

P.O. Box 25101, Santa Fe , NM 87504

(505) 476 7080


New York

Department of State, Division of Licensing Services, Investigative Unit

84 Holland Avenue , Albany , NY 12208

(518) 474-4664


North Carolina

Private Protective Services Board

P.O. Box 29500 , Raleigh , NC 27626

(919) 875 3611


North Dakota

Private Investigative Security Board (PISB)

P.O. Box 7026 , Bismarck , ND 58507

(701) 222-3063



Ohio Department of Commerce, Division of Licensing

77 High Street, Columbus , OH 43266-0546

(614) 466 4130



Council on Law Enforcement Education & Training, Private Security Division

P.O. Box 11476 Cimarron Station, Oklahoma City , OK 73136

(405) 425 2775



No statewide licensing authority - licensing authority in each county.


Puerto Rico

State Police

GPO Box 70166 , San Juan , PR 00936

(787) 793-1234


Rhode Island

Attorney General's Office, Department of Licenses

345 Harris Ave., Providence , RI 29221

(401) 277-2000


South Carolina

State Law Enforcement Division, Regulatory Services

P.O. Box 21398 , Columbia , SC 29221-1398

(803) 737-9000


South Dakota

No license currently required.

Buisness licenses and weapons permits are required.

Contact State Dept. of Revenue for details - 1-800 829 9188



Private Protective Services Division, Department of Commerce & Insurance

500 James Robertson Parkway , Nashville , TN 37243-1158

(615) 741-6382



Board of Private Investigators & Private Security Agencies

P.O. Box 13509 Capitol Station, Austin , TX 78711

(512) 463-5545



Department of Public Safety & Law Enforcement Services, Bureau of

Regulatory Licensing

4501 S 2700 West, Salt Lake City , UT 84119

(801) 965-4461



Office of Secretary of State, Board of Private Detectives

109 State St. , Montpellier , VT 05609-1101

(802) 828-2837



Enforcement Section, Private Security Board

PO Box 10110 , Richmond , VA 23240

(804) 786-4700



State of Washington , State Office Building , License and Certification for

Private Detectives Section, PO Box 9649, Olympia , WA 98507-9649

(206) 664-9070


West Virginia

State Department

State Capitol, Charleston , WV 25301



Department of Regulation & Licensing

1400 E. Washington Ave , Madison , WI 53708

(608) 266-0829


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