• HoustonPi Private Investigator / Detective FAQ Answers

    THESE ARE SOME OF THE MORE COMMON QUESTIONS WE GET ASKED ON A DAILY BASIS:

    FAQ is Frequently Asked Questions. 
    Here are some of the most common answers to those questions.

    Is it INVESTIGATOR or DETECTIVE?
    Take your pick.  It's all the same.  Some call themselves DETECTIVES, some say INVESTIGATORS.

    How do I know if I'm hiring a good PI?
    If you want to contact a PI or searcher, feel free to ask their qualifications. They should be licensed in the state in which they do business and carry liability insurance. Call the Better Business Bureau to see if they have any complaints lodged against them. Call the PI and ask the number to their Licensing Board. Call the Board and make sure the PI has a valid license and has no complaints lodged against him or his company. There are just as many unscrupulous PI's as there are in other professions. Protect yourself and your cash.

    Why do you require a retainer?
    Don't be surprised if the PI asks for a retainer. 99% of them will. We have learned that many times people "forget" to pay once they have their info. We have to protect our cash as well. There aren't too many places left in the world where you can get the merchandise and tell them to "bill you". Our information is just that, our merchandise.

    Why do you charge that amount?
    What we charge depends on many factors. Location, experience, difficulty of the investigation, number of investigators assigned, etc.. Often times all we have to sell is our knowledge and our time. Think for a moment about what some other service industries charge. Plumbers, mechanics, doctors, TV repair guys. Now think of this... our work product may very well solve your case, keep you out of jail, find your key witness, catch your spouse cheating, or even save your life. Do you really want to go bargain shopping for that type of service? Some PI firms invest thousands of dollars each year on equipment, training, and databases so that they can offer you the best service possible. Always feel free to call around and get price quotes from other agencies. Just make sure they are offering a comparable service. Make sure that they aren't just going to contract it out to another firm, and mark it up. Check for a PI license, and don't be afraid to ask who will actually be doing the investigation. Just because you meet with the owner, who has decades of experience, that doesn't necessarily mean that he will be doing the surveillance, etc.. Make sure that the person actually doing it, has more than just a few weeks of training.

    Can you get non-published phone numbers and addresses?
    Yes. PIs use databases and other sources to find these. Usually they will not just sell it to you if you ask. Many times exs and psycho stalkers want to find a person's unlisted address to do harm. There has been at least one high profile murder (of a T.V. star) that occurred because a PI gave out an unlisted address to a psychopath stalker. Because of this, more and more laws are passed which restrict the flow of data to our profession. That means we have to charge you more for some services. Also, since we are giving out information that can be considered "private", we will most likely (and should) want to know why you are seeking this information. If you are not comfortable in telling us WHY you want the information you want, we will probably not be comfortable GIVING you the information you want.

    Can you get toll calls and long distance records?
    UPDATE: NEW LAWS THAT HAVE PASSED MAKE THIS SEARCH ILLEGAL. AISS NO LONGER PROVIDES THIS SERVICE AND DOES NOT RECOMMEND PURCHASING THIS SERVICE FROM ANY OTHER VENDOR.

    Can I get N.C.I.C. info?
    This database is for law enforcement only and you can be charged criminally for giving, receiving, or selling this to other parties.  Every year a Police officer gets charged with illegally accessing N.C.I.C. and selling the information.  We even had one of the Harris County Constables, (THE Constable, not a deputy), get charged with that not too long ago.

    Where can I find this information for free?
    Often our knowledge is our product.  It takes years to be an expert in something.  Just because we can do it for free or quickly, doesn't diminish the value of the product.  Typically when you find something for free on the Internet, it's worth exactly what you paid for it... zero.   Normally, anything found on the internet is outdated (as far as free databases), and should always be verified through other sources.

    What about the website that says it can locate someone or get a nationwide background check for $49.99?
    All I can say is BUYER BEWARE. I can't tell you how many clients come to me after wasting money on one of these searches. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Usually the results to these type online searches are either wildly out of date, or contain so many similar name hits that they are basically useless. The best databases are for licensed end users only, (like Private Investigators).  If you are looking for someone who hasn't changed their name or hasn't moved in 10 years, then it might be worth it. For that matter, you could probably find those people by calling directory assistance. If however, you need a true locate or up to date background check, I suggest you save your money and go to a licensed professional first. That way, you know you are getting the information on the correct individual, and the most up to date information possible.

    Where can I find books on being a PI?
    Go to your local library or try AMAZON.COM or PIMALL.com.  Also be sure to check our PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR TRAINING section. We are currently working on a few Investigative manuals for those just starting out.

    Can you locate this person for me?
    Yes, but we will usually contact that person first and make sure it is OK to give out their location. Why do we do this? Liability, plain and simple. We have identified and verified child pornographers, credit card thieves, stalkers, disgruntled workers, and violent exes who have asked for help in the past. There are some circumstances where the person is not contacted first, but those are determined on a case by case basis. With the passing of new privacy laws, it is no longer considered a "Permissible Purpose" to access many of our databases for locating "Lost Loves", "College Buddies", "Old Friends", Etc..

    I'm starting a new company, do I even need a PI license?
    Check with this site before offering any regulated services or services that you "think" you don't need to be licensed for. This includes, Mystery Shopper, Unclaimed Property Locator, Genealogical Researcher, Background Checker, Infidelity Decoy, Employment Screener (offering anything other than public records), Bounty Hunter, Armed Escort/Driver, or whatever clever name you decide to use to get out of being licensed. Failure to comply can result in stiff fines and even jail time. I guarantee that if a local PI finds out you are offering any regulated services without a license, you will probably find yourself the unwitting participant in a sting operation. In Texas this is done by the Department of Public Safety. Always ask the PI you are considering hiring if they are licensed. If they are not, chances are they have no insurance, their work product cannot be used in court, and may have been obtained illegally. If they are going to use employees, make sure you ask them if their "employees" are real "EMPLOYEES" per IRS standards, with taxes taken out. If they are using "Sub-Contractors", make sure the subcontractor has their own company license and insurance, or you will find out that their work is NOT covered by insurance and their report can and will be thrown out in court, (because they have hired an unlicensed investigator).

    How can I tell if a PI is licensed?
    Ask him/her for the COMPANY LICENSE NUMBER and then call the state board and ask them to verify if that company/person is licensed. You can also search here: Verify a Texas PI License

    This is a good idea whenever you are thinking about hiring a PI. Check to see if they are licensed and if so, are there any complaints lodged against them. You can also call your local Better Business Bureau. Keep in mind that some states do not require licensing and there are many, many good investigators in those states. Don't be afraid to ask how long they have been in business, what their qualifications are, and even for references. They should be more than happy to supply you with this information.

    Can you tap my phone? Can you sell me a "bug"?
    Depends on the state you are in and the circumstances surrounding. Most likely no. Some states will let you tape calls if one person in the conversation knows about the recording. This is referred to as a "one party state". Better to check with your attorney and be sure to get his advice in writing. Under most circumstances selling a "bugging device" is illegal.  Texas is a ONE PARTY state.  At least ONE voice on the recording has to know it's being recorded.  DO NOT place any spyware on a person's cell phone to illegally monitor calls, texts, GPS location, activate the microphone, etc..  HIGHLY ILLEGAL.  Yes, you purchased the software online, but most likely that company is located off shore and not bound by U.S. law.  It's illegal to even posses most of that software in the United States.

    Where can I buy debugging devices, I think my phone may be tapped?
    Most of what you will find being sold on the internet is considered junk by the people who really know this area. A true "debugging device" can cost upwards of $10,000. Just owning a device does not guarantee that the person is qualified to operate it correctly. There are schools that teach nothing but the operation of certain pieces of equipment. A large percentage of companies who offer Debugging will perform a "Dog and Pony Show" for you when they arrive, while using a $50 piece of equipment they bought from an internet spy shop. Buyer Beware.

    I've tried to do the investigation myself. Can you help me now?
    Keep in mind that if you try to do the investigation yourself, you stand a very good chance of botching it. Once the SUBJECT knows he/she is under investigation, you can usually give it up. It is usually better to invest the money with a reputable PI and have it done right the first time. Besides, a judge will be more likely to believe the evidence produced by a disinterested 3rd party, than someone directly related to the subject of the investigation.

    Can I get a copy of someone's credit report?
    Only under "Permissible Purposes", as defined by the Federal Trade Commission is this allowed. That means a signed release from the Subject or under a few other circumstances.

    Can you find anyone, anywhere, anytime?
    No. No one can. Be realistic. Some PIs are very good, but no one can find anyone, anywhere, anytime. This is just a marketing scheme. If they are making that promise, get it in writing that if they don't find them, you don't pay (No Find, No Fee). Which brings me to my next topic...

    I want to hire an investigator, but I don't want to pay unless successful. Is that OK?
    Usually no. Most of us work on retainers. That means you pay up front for any services. We do this just like attorneys. Too many times we have done the work only to have the client cancel just before the finished report is submitted, or simply decide that they don't want to pay after they receive the finished product. Most of the searches we perform cost us money, (and not to mention our time). How many places can you order something and just say, "Send me the bill later." Not too many I'd guess.

    Can you use the nanny cams and hidden video?
    Some of us have that capability. Ask. Some sell the equipment, and some rent it. If you set something like that up in your home, consult with an attorney. If you forget and leave the microphone on (recording sound), that may be a felony in many states.

    Can a PI do things the ordinary citizen can't?
    That will depend on the State in which you are licensed. Normally a PI is just an ordinary citizen who has been licensed to conduct Investigations and charge a fee for that service. Usually we can access databases that the general public can't.

    Can you guarantee results?
    We cannot guarantee results. We can only guarantee that the necessary information, documentation, etc. will be searched for diligently, legally, expediently, and as economically as possible. There are certain circumstances where we can guarantee a certain result, but the fee will generally be much higher. Call for details.

    Will you lose the Subject on surveillance?
    If surveillance is necessary we feel obligated to inform you of the "real life caveats." Surveillance, especially moving surveillance, is a hit and miss science. We can perform these observations under agreed upon time and location parameters but cannot promise activity on behalf of the subject. Similarly, moving surveillance carries with it inherent obstacles such as the unpredictable nature of traffic. There is no guarantee that contact with the subject can be maintained as we cannot predict traffic flow, traffic conditions, weather, or other unforeseen problems. We are bound to follow all laws, including traffic laws. Similarly, privacy and private property laws will dictate the conduct of some surveillance cases.