Hiring a private investigator or professional background check company can be a difficult process, especially for international cases. It can be hard enough to find a reputable PI in your own city or state, let alone a different country where they speak a different language. Often, cultural and language barriers can present major challenges for those seeking a private investigator in Japan, China, Russia, Brazil, and so on. If those challenges can be overcome, how can you be sure the investigator or company is reliable? Do they have the proper training and resources? There are many cases where clients seek investigation services or consultation from a so-called “professional” or “private investigator”, only to be scammed by the investigator. It is not uncommon for the local or amateur investigator to take the client’s money, and in return provide unacceptable service, or even no service at all. Others attempt to do the investigative work, but simply are not qualified or properly trained to conduct the case. This advisory will help those who are seeking out a qualified professional.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW:
1. Never use a “company” with no business address or phone number.
Perhaps the easiest way to distinguish the real investigation company from the local individual or shady operation is to check their contact us page. A real company has a secure contact us page on their website, with a business address and phone. In addition, a legitimate investigator will be happy to provide clients with a telephone number where he or she can be reached. If any investigator or asset search company refuses to provide this information, look elsewhere. Due to the high risk for fraud and incompetence, be skeptical of unknown firms.
2. If it’s too cheap, it’s probably too good to be true.
If an investigator claims to offer a remarkable service, at a very low price, it’s safe to assume you will get what you pay for. Real, professional investigation and verification services can be expensive. In developing countries, there are many amateurs and few professionals.
3. A database or public records search is NOT an investigation.
There are many websites claiming to offer “background checks” for very low prices. Be advised that these websites do not employ any actual investigators and they do not conduct actual investigations. You get what you pay for. Such database searches are of limited value and are only a small part of an actual background check investigation conducted by trained investigators. Using such services in the U.S. is of very little value, and outside of the U.S., such services have zero value.
4. Beware of investigators that only accept Western Union or PayPal.
A reputable company or private investigator should have a website where the investigator accepts various forms of payment, including a secure site where you can pay by credit card, and bank transfer. A real business requires a real business bank account.
5. Choose an investigator who is available to discuss your case over the phone.
It can be hard to tell who you’re dealing with over the internet, so check to see if your investigator is available over the phone. Often a brief phone conversation will allow you to ask important questions and determine if the investigator is right for you. It also shows you what kind of service to expect, since client service means being available for a phone call.
6. Avoid websites that look unprofessional.
If the investigation company’s website looks unprofessional, chances are, the services are also unprofessional. Insufficient budgets and training for development of the business, which can be seen when viewing the website, will likely be reflected in other areas as well, such as reports, equipment, vehicles, etc. Expect to pay more for a quality international investigator.
7. Ask if surveillance photos have time-date stamps.
Surveillance photographs during any professional investigation should have time-date stamps on them. This is industry standard and this type of photographic evidence should be included in daily reports to clients. If for any reason the investigator does not offer this service, you know this is not a professional, but rather a local lacking the proper training and equipment.
8. Look for privacy seals and secure websites.
Since private investigation can involve sensitive information and details of a very private nature, look for an international background check company with a website that displays privacy seals. In additon, to be sure your information is safeguarded with adequate technology, check for additional trust seals such as McAfee and Better Business Bureau.
9. Buyer beware of any investigators who only accept PayPal.
While PayPal is a legitimate and secure payment option, a red flag should be raised if this is the only way to pay your investigator via a credit card. A professional investigation firm should offer various forms of payment options, from wire transfer, PayPal, to submitting your credit or debit card data directly via their secure website. Any real company also offers bank transfer, invoices and receipts, etc. A website that only offers PayPal for payments is almost always an indication that you’re dealing with an individual and not a real company.
10. Expect to pay a fair price.
Professional private investigation can be expensive. Rather than trying to save a few dollars by choosing an unknown or unqualified firm, try to work with a reputable company about the best option for you, and if an investigation will likely provide you with the evidence you need. A real dating background check investigation to avoid dating scams, for example, costs money. Hiring someone with no training to conduct surveillance can lead to disaster. Choosing a cheap investigator can mean money down the drain, or worse, so choose carefully.
11. Be weary of investigators who don’t speak English.
English is commonly spoken by the educated population in many developing countries. It is also necessary to conduct a proper investigation for English speaking clients, as case data and evidence will be in English. An investigator who doesn’t speak English fluently is unqualified to conduct international investigations, as it can impede communication and evidence.
12. Choose a U.S., Canada or U.K. managed company.
Due to the high level of fraud and corruption throughout many developing countries, try to find an investigation company that is managed or owned by a U.S., British or Canadian company. This will ensure the company is managed according to stricter standards and laws, and is held accountable for safer business practices, client service and ethics.
13. Stear clear of investigators with no references.
Prior to paying for an investigator, search the internet for references of the investigator or company. Chances are you can learn what others are saying about the company. If you can’t find enough information on the internet, you should ask the company for a reference.
14. Choose a company with solid reviews and track record.
Great companies have great reviews. Check TrustPilot and the Better Business Review for reviews before proceeding.
15. Consult the Better Business Bureau website for ratings.
The U.S. Better Business Bureau rates companies based on their track record, filings, reviews and customer complaint history. Reviews on the BBB website are verified by the BBB before publishing, and the BBB Ranking is a great indicator of whether or not the company is reputable.