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#1
Old 03-09-2014, 01:14 PM
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How much does it cost to hire a private investigator?

Last month I was looking through yearbook photos, and came across a former friend who I hadn't thought about in nearly 20 years.

Since we shared a certain history together, I tried to look him up on the Internet -- but I've reached a dead end, since he has an extremely common name, and all of my current friends from back then are no longer in touch with him either. So pretty much, in theory, the only remaining option that I can think of would be to hire a P.I. to track him down, just to discover whatever ultimately happened to him.

How would I go about hiring one, and how much would the whole thing cost?

Keep in mind, this is merely a pipe dream, since it's not that important and I'm laughably broke nowadays -- just curious what general ballpark figures would be, and how the process would work.
#2
Old 03-09-2014, 01:27 PM
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How do you think a private investigator would find him? They don't do magic, instead they are going to search databases and ask people. Why can't you do this?
1. Do you know the name of any of his relatives? Do an internet search for them. Use an internet phone book and call them.
2. Do you know what schools he attended (both K-12 and college)? They have alumni organizations as well as there being sites like classmates.com
#3
Old 03-09-2014, 02:14 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PastTense View Post
How do you think a private investigator would find him? They don't do magic, instead they are going to search databases and ask people. Why can't you do this?
1. Do you know the name of any of his relatives? Do an internet search for them. Use an internet phone book and call them.
2. Do you know what schools he attended (both K-12 and college)? They have alumni organizations as well as there being sites like classmates.com
At this point I'd rather pay some professional to do the footwork, and like I said earlier, it's not even that important. I'm merely wondering how much it would cost, if I ever change my mind.
#4
Old 03-09-2014, 02:40 PM
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One agency I use charges $225 - $300 for a skip-trace, depending on how quickly you need it. It has been over 10 years since I worked in the business myself, but I think at the time, my boss would have charged $150 - $200 for something so simple, depending on whether or not he'd worked with you previously. Costs obviously go up if it requires doing surveillance, interviews or anything more advanced than a database search to find your target.

I realize that you are just asking hypothetically, but just in case anyone else is contemplating such a thing, PastTense is correct that you'd save money and time by doing it yourself over the internet.
#5
Old 03-09-2014, 02:57 PM
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Originally Posted by Asimovian View Post
I realize that you are just asking hypothetically, but just in case anyone else is contemplating such a thing, PastTense is correct that you'd save money and time by doing it yourself over the internet.
But couldn't the P.I. access databases that aren't easily available? Things like hospital admissions, prison records, etc. I've perused some websites like veromi.net but without a precise D.O.B., and a name that's probably the most common in the Spanish-speaking world, it's like looking for a needle in a haystack.

And yeah, $300 is way too rich for my blood...at least, until I win the lottery one day.
#6
Old 03-09-2014, 03:25 PM
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Originally Posted by buddha_david View Post
But couldn't the P.I. access databases that aren't easily available? Things like hospital admissions, prison records, etc. I've perused some websites like veromi.net but without a precise D.O.B., and a name that's probably the most common in the Spanish-speaking world, it's like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Speaking very generally, there are some types of databases (such as DMV records and voter records) that can't be used for just any purpose, and anyone utilizing such databases is legally required to state a general purpose for doing so (such as complying with a court order, or for law enforcement purposes). An individual off the street wanting to track down an old friend is not going to be considered a qualified purpose to use the types of databases that have non-publically-available information in them. So, legally, a PI would be limited in that regard working on your behalf.

In your specific case, though, even though your friend has a common name, it wouldn't necessarily be hard to find him, particularly if you had an address for him during a period in his life when he was an adult. Our addresses tend to get associated with our social security numbers through things like credit reports, so even though YOU don't have his SSN, a database would be able to track that the John Smith who lived at 123 Maple Street in Anytown, USA is the same John Smith who now lives at 321 Oak Avenue in Anytown.
#7
Old 03-09-2014, 04:39 PM
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What type of databases do PIs have access to?
Do they have their own databases that mine public ones for changes?
#8
Old 03-09-2014, 05:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Questioning more View Post
What type of databases do PIs have access to?

Do they have their own databases that mine public ones for changes?
For the most part, public records databases. But they are subscribed to services (such as Westlaw, among many, many others) that collect and compile data from all over the country and world. So, nowadays, I think a PI only needs one or two sources to get all the information they need. When I was doing that type of work, we had to track down the data sources from individual states and counties, such as real estate records, marriage/divorce records or voter records. We'd subscribe with the individual counties or states, and they'd send us CDs once a month/quarter/year with updates, and if we were trying to locate someone, we'd have to search through every CD that might be relevant. And if a given location didn't keep electronic records, we'd have to go down to the county courthouse or recorder's office or what-not to search through their paper records. Skip-tracing work is a lot easier now than it was 10-15 years ago. And even then, it was far easier than before there were any electronic records (or so I was often told my the older investigators).

I have only worked for a small PI firm, and have generally only worked with the like. I honestly don't know if the major firms are doing their own data mining, or if it would even be worthwhile when there are so many specialty firms out there that do the same thing.
#9
Old 03-09-2014, 09:08 PM
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Cost me an initial base rate of $500 to have someone followed. it was a few hours work.
#10
Old 03-10-2014, 12:34 AM
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I was able to find an old long-lost acquaintance (who I really thought was probably dead) not long ago. He has a totally unusual name, and does computer work, BUT -- for all I could find, his on-line presence disappeared about 20 years ago. Back then, he had published a few research articles, along with some co-authors.

I was able to track down some of those co-authors, and one of them put me in touch.

As for P.I.'s: Is it true, or just a Hollywood meme, that serious professionals in the business make it their business to develop a network of insider contacts at police departments, prisons, hospitals, government records offices, etc.?
#11
Old 03-10-2014, 07:18 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Senegoid View Post
As for P.I.'s: Is it true, or just a Hollywood meme, that serious professionals in the business make it their business to develop a network of insider contacts at police departments, prisons, hospitals, government records offices, etc.?
I'm also curious about this, although logically, the answer is probably yes.

Another question for the PI's in this thread (which I can't help but ask): How often have you been working late at night, when in walks a mysterious, sexy woman who you knew right away was trouble?
#12
Old 03-10-2014, 07:33 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by buddha_david View Post
Another question for the PI's in this thread (which I can't help but ask): How often have you been working late at night, when in walks a mysterious, sexy woman who you knew right away was trouble?
Dames, I tell ya. Can't get her scent off my mind.
#13
Old 03-10-2014, 08:05 AM
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In one of the later episodes of True Detective Martin mentions some databases he can use to track down people but also says that he no longer subscribes to others.
#14
Old 03-10-2014, 08:32 AM
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I once had the opportunity to talk with a retired PI, and he told me a couple of interesting things:

1) Real PIs never carry a gun.

2) Any PI who declined divorce work (not uncommon in TV shows) would starve to death. The typical PI does 80-90% divorce work, and 10-20% tracking down bad checks. (Paying with check has become so uncommon in the 25 years since; perhaps the remaining time is done skiptracing through the Internet.)

3) Getting photos of a cheating spouse in flagrente is (a) illegal, and (b) unnecessary. What is necessary is to document that Party A met Party B at so-and-so motel, went to a room together, and stayed there for x hours.
#15
Old 03-11-2014, 02:39 AM
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PIs do use sites not known/used/easily accessed by regular people

Like Lexis/Nexis, et al. Private Investigating for Dummies is actually helpful, lists many of the tips and tricks used by PIs. Can't help you on prices, though.
#16
Old 03-11-2014, 03:43 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BrotherCadfael View Post
3) Getting photos of a cheating spouse in flagrente is (a) illegal, and (b) unnecessary. What is necessary is to document that Party A met Party B at so-and-so motel, went to a room together, and stayed there for x hours.
Why is this necessary in the modern world?
Back in the 1950's-60's, the legalities of divorce required one side to formally accuse the other in court. There was an old meme of moving to Nevada for a month or two, to establish residency, and then using the Nevada court system, because it was easier than the courts in most other states. But I'm pretty sure that nobody does this anymore.

But today, isn't the legal system based on no-fault divorce, or "irreconcilable differences"?
If a wife screams at her husband in the kitchen that she knows he's screwing somebody else, does she actually have to prove it in court with a private investigator?

Last edited by chappachula; 03-11-2014 at 03:47 AM.
#17
Old 03-11-2014, 07:36 AM
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^Determining who gets the kids, amount/length of any spousal support?
#18
Old 03-11-2014, 09:46 AM
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Originally Posted by James Rockford
$200 a day, plus expenses.
And those were 1974 dollars!
#19
Old 03-11-2014, 11:50 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by buddha_david View Post
Another question for the PI's in this thread (which I can't help but ask): How often have you been working late at night, when in walks a mysterious, sexy woman who you knew right away was trouble?
Back in the 1970s, I was the area manager for a large security company; left them to go to the sheriff's office. Part of my job was also investigations.

And there was this one time when a woman walked into my office. She was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.

Oh, wait....
#20
Old 03-11-2014, 12:08 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BrotherCadfael View Post
...

3) Getting photos of a cheating spouse in flagrente is (a) illegal, and (b) unnecessary. What is necessary is to document that Party A met Party B at so-and-so motel, went to a room together, and stayed there for x hours.
How is this proof of anything? Say Parties A and B claim that they wanted to get away from their noisy kids for a night and play Xbox, and they had lots of frequent-flyer miles that were about to expire so why not spend them on a hotel to at least get something out of them? How can you prove that they weren't just playing games? Sure, it's suspicious, but last time I checked suspicious behavior!=proof of wrongdoing.

Boom headshot!
#21
Old 03-12-2014, 05:51 PM
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Originally Posted by analogqueen View Post
Like Lexis/Nexis, et al. Private Investigating for Dummies is actually helpful, lists many of the tips and tricks used by PIs. Can't help you on prices, though.
Is there a link for those sites?
#22
Old 03-12-2014, 06:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Asimovian View Post
PastTense is correct that you'd save money and time by doing it yourself over the internet.
It seems to me that the "time" portion of your claim here is, by definition, incorrect. Unless the PI is especially slow.

Doing it yourself will definitely save you money, but if you hire someone like a PI, then one of the things that your money is paying for is time. Yes, in many cases you're also paying for special skills or expertise, but time is a key reason that people pay for services.

If i thought it would take me three hours of internet searching to find a person, and i knew that a PI would also take about three hours, i might still be willing to pay if that time was worth more to me than the cost. I use the same principle when i pay to get my car washed. I'm a perfectly competent car washer, but i'm willing to exchange money for time and convenience, so i hand over some cash for someone else to do it.
#23
Old 03-12-2014, 09:36 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mhendo View Post
It seems to me that the "time" portion of your claim here is, by definition, incorrect. Unless the PI is especially slow.

Doing it yourself will definitely save you money, but if you hire someone like a PI, then one of the things that your money is paying for is time. Yes, in many cases you're also paying for special skills or expertise, but time is a key reason that people pay for services.

If i thought it would take me three hours of internet searching to find a person, and i knew that a PI would also take about three hours, i might still be willing to pay if that time was worth more to me than the cost. I use the same principle when i pay to get my car washed. I'm a perfectly competent car washer, but i'm willing to exchange money for time and convenience, so i hand over some cash for someone else to do it.
I agree with you. What I meant in referring to saving time was, you're likely to get the results more quickly on your own. In your hypothetical scenario, the time it would take you to think of someone you wanted to track down, sign up for Intelius or its ilk, and then run a relevant report would probably be less than an hour (this assumes your target is relatively easy to find, of course).

Unless the PI you hire is bored or has some other reason to prioritize your request (see previous references to mysterious, leggy blondes), you're probably going to wait a day or two to get results.
#24
Old 10-22-2014, 03:37 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BrotherCadfael View Post
I once had the opportunity to talk with a retired PI, and he told me a couple of interesting things:

1) Real PIs never carry a gun.

2) Any PI who declined divorce work (not uncommon in TV shows) would starve to death. The typical PI does 80-90% divorce work, and 10-20% tracking down bad checks. (Paying with check has become so uncommon in the 25 years since; perhaps the remaining time is done skiptracing through the Internet.)

3) Getting photos of a cheating spouse in flagrente is (a) illegal, and (b) unnecessary. What is necessary is to document that Party A met Party B at so-and-so motel, went to a room together, and stayed there for x hours.
Wrong!

1. Some Real PI's carry guns......

2. I rarely do infidelity cases

3. Taking photos of subjects in public is legal. You have no expectation of privacy while in public view.
#25
Old 10-22-2014, 03:42 AM
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Originally Posted by Questioning more View Post
What type of databases do PIs have access to?
Do they have their own databases that mine public ones for changes?
IRB Search, TLO, Skip Smasher, Tracers, etc. They are not accessed by the public.
#26
Old 10-22-2014, 03:46 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by buddha_david View Post
Last month I was looking through yearbook photos, and came across a former friend who I hadn't thought about in nearly 20 years.

Since we shared a certain history together, I tried to look him up on the Internet -- but I've reached a dead end, since he has an extremely common name, and all of my current friends from back then are no longer in touch with him either. So pretty much, in theory, the only remaining option that I can think of would be to hire a P.I. to track him down, just to discover whatever ultimately happened to him.

How would I go about hiring one, and how much would the whole thing cost?

Keep in mind, this is merely a pipe dream, since it's not that important and I'm laughably broke nowadays -- just curious what general ballpark figures would be, and how the process would work.
$75 to $100 an hour
#27
Old 10-22-2014, 04:47 AM
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Originally Posted by robert_columbia View Post
How is this proof of anything? Say Parties A and B claim that they wanted to get away from their noisy kids for a night and play Xbox, and they had lots of frequent-flyer miles that were about to expire so why not spend them on a hotel to at least get something out of them? How can you prove that they weren't just playing games? Sure, it's suspicious, but last time I checked suspicious behavior!=proof of wrongdoing.

Boom headshot!
Depend on the purpose for which you wish to establish adultery.

But you're not trying to convict them of a crime. You don't need proof beyond reasonable doubt. If you live in a jurisdiction in which civil matters between separated spouses (like the allocation of property, or an award of maintenance) is going to be affected by the conduct of the parties during the marriage and it's relevant to show that your spouse was the cheater and you were the saintly victim, you only need to show that on the balance of probabilities - i.e. more probably than not, your spouse was screwing around. And the Xbos-session-on-frequent-flyer-miles story may strike the judge as, on balance, less plausible than the they-were-shagging story.
#28
Old 10-22-2014, 11:57 AM
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Originally Posted by python View Post
Wrong!

1. Some Real PI's carry guns......

2. I rarely do infidelity cases

3. Taking photos of subjects in public is legal. You have no expectation of privacy while in public view.
When Brother Cadfael said "in flagrente," he meant "in flagrante delicto." In modern-day English, this is a metaphor that means "during sex." As most people do not have sex in public, it is generally illegal to take pictures that would constitute actual proof of infidelity.
#29
Old 10-22-2014, 01:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chappachula View Post
Why is this necessary in the modern world?
Back in the 1950's-60's, the legalities of divorce required one side to formally accuse the other in court. There was an old meme of moving to Nevada for a month or two, to establish residency, and then using the Nevada court system, because it was easier than the courts in most other states. But I'm pretty sure that nobody does this anymore.

But today, isn't the legal system based on no-fault divorce, or "irreconcilable differences"?
If a wife screams at her husband in the kitchen that she knows he's screwing somebody else, does she actually have to prove it in court with a private investigator?
This is true in most US states. But not all. e.g. NY state still has fairly primitive laws http://divorcesource.com/ds/newy...laws-706.shtml

As I read it they require proving "cruel and inhuman treatment" or adultery. Even if the two people both don't want to be married to each other, that's not grounds for a divorce. There is a long drawn out process of legally-sanctioned separation that can lead to divorce.

But adultery is the slam-dunk, no further questions your honor, divorce granted, ticket to freedom. So evidence of adultery is valuable stuff, at least in NY.

As to why NY state law remains so troglodytic I have no clue. Likewise how many other states may be stuck in the 1920s.

Last edited by LSLGuy; 10-22-2014 at 01:46 PM.
#30
Old 10-22-2014, 09:56 PM
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Originally Posted by LSLGuy View Post
This is true in most US states. But not all. e.g. NY state still has fairly primitive laws http://divorcesource.com/ds/newy...laws-706.shtml

As I read it they require proving "cruel and inhuman treatment" or adultery. Even if the two people both don't want to be married to each other, that's not grounds for a divorce. There is a long drawn out process of legally-sanctioned separation that can lead to divorce.

But adultery is the slam-dunk, no further questions your honor, divorce granted, ticket to freedom. So evidence of adultery is valuable stuff, at least in NY.

As to why NY state law remains so troglodytic I have no clue. Likewise how many other states may be stuck in the 1920s.
As I read it, clause for filing 7 is an all-purpose out.
Quote:
(7) Irretrievable breakdown in relationship for a [sic] least six months.
Yes, NYS used to require proof of adultery but those days have passed. My understanding, as a lifelong New Yorker, is that divorce is essentially automatic after six months but cause for filing 1 allows it to be faster for spouses in danger. IANAL and special circumstances may intrude, but divorce is no longer the issue it used to be.
#31
Old 10-23-2014, 12:38 PM
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New York adopted a no-fault divorce law in 2010 (though along the lines of what EM said, courts generally only required an assertion of wrongful conduct to grant a divorce anyway.)
#32
Old 10-23-2014, 01:13 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by robert_columbia View Post
How is this proof of anything? Say Parties A and B claim that they wanted to get away from their noisy kids for a night and play Xbox, and they had lots of frequent-flyer miles that were about to expire so why not spend them on a hotel to at least get something out of them? How can you prove that they weren't just playing games? Sure, it's suspicious, but last time I checked suspicious behavior!=proof of wrongdoing.

Boom headshot!
When called to testify in a divorce proceeding they will ask them separately about what they were doing in the hotel and they will most likely screw up their prepared lie. It's lonely up there on the stand in front of a judge with someones asking you pointed questions. Especially when they have photos and information from the hotel register. You paid in frequent flier miles? Then you must have a record of it. Was the Xbox already in the room? We don't see you taking any luggage into the hotel on the video taken by the PI.

Last edited by Si Amigo; 10-23-2014 at 01:17 PM.
#33
Old 10-23-2014, 01:36 PM
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I assume "divorce" is broader than just actual divorce.

IOW someone suspects their spouse of cheating but doesn't want to raise the issue directly, or raised the issue and was strongly denied, and now they want to know for sure. They may or may not get divorced depending on the answer to the question, but that's not something the PI would be informed about anyway.

IOW "80%-90% divorce" really just means "80%-90% infidelity".
#34
Old 10-23-2014, 03:05 PM
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The topic has drifted from OP's question, which was never answered. I've never hired a detective, but will take a stab. My source is The Late Show with Lily Tomlin, a 1977 film I enjoyed very much.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ira Wells, played by Art Carney
I get twenty-five dollars a day, plus expenses....

Listen, sweetheart, you're talking to Ira Wells, not some low-rent gumshoe. I'm the best and I get paid like the best.
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