More and more of late the field of professional investigation is being plagued by ‘national’ agencies who disingenuously pretend they have “regional reach” into – in our case – places like Newcastle, Tyne and Wear, Northumberland and the rest of the North East.
Routinely they are London based or thereabouts. There is no one main investigative head office or HQ and no hierarchy of investigators. It is simply a website that splinters off to suggest it is local to you dependent on where you’re searching for. The people behind this ‘agency’ might be based in Essex or wherever, but it’s imperative to them that you believe they are based in your city where ever you are.
Generally their website will lead to a telephone number or email address that simply puts you in touch with a contact centre team. The contact centre team will then look to who they have registered for service in your area and assign them the job. Your quote for work will be inflated to cover the costs of the agency being the intermediary; the ‘investigator’ you’re assigned will see sometimes as little as 25% of that for actually doing the work.
A recent investigation we carried out against agencies such as these led us to discover that there is no actual ‘criteria’ required for someone wishing to register with them in a major city in order to do the work. The ‘investigator’ is not required to be professionally qualified in the field of investigation or to even qualified to the minimum standard expected of regulatory bodies like The ABI. Nor are they required to have insurance in place or DBS checks completed. There is no expectation that they should have a background or a certain level of expertise in the field of investigation, either from policing or claims management etc.
Broken down, that means the ‘investigator’ you’re getting at a highly inflated cost is someone who could have quite easily woken up one day from twenty plus years stacking shelves in a supermarket, decided they want to be a PI and registered with an ‘agency’ such as this to become one without pause. You’re getting someone who could have a plethora of criminal convictions, not know what they’re doing is legal or illegal in carrying out an investigation in your name and who could disappear without recourse if things get messy or complicated.
We raise this as a concern because of a client we recently took on who was looking to trace her sister. She come to us recommended by one of our esteemed solicitor clients after being fleeced for just shy of £1,500 by one such ‘agency’ and their staff.
Our client had got in touch with them because they were “the number one link on Google for investigators in [her] area without realising that they’d paid to be put there”. A contact centre worker took her details and someone rang back an hour later to take “an initial deposit of £500 over the phone”. An investigator was assigned and came to her house to meet with her. He said he should have results for her within 2 to 4 weeks but came back 3 weeks later as he needed more money, apparently because he “was going to have to head up to Scotland as that was where all leads were pointing the sister as being”.
The assigned investigator was never seen again after that day. The agency she used tried to wash their hands of being associated with him, claiming they “just make introductions to investigators in the required area and the people they use aren’t actually employees”. Whilst our client’s solicitors got to work on tackling this morally-bankrupt agency, we got to work on locating the sister.
Which we did. In less than eight days. For a fee that was CONSIDERABLY less than the amount she’d been taken for at that point.
So here’s some points to look to tick off if you’re thinking of engaging a private investigator for service for whatever reason and you want to make sure you’re getting a local, reputed and regulated investigator:
- Never do EVERYTHING over the phone. Book a face-to-face consultation.
- Ask the investigator about their background, their experience in this field and what their knowledge of the people and area is.
- Don’t be afraid to ask to see copies of their professional qualifications and insurance certificates.
- Discuss rates and timeframes thoroughly. You’re entitled to know what the fees will be, what your money is going on and what the expectations are around deposits and invoices.
- Ask to see a Terms of Business document and make sure you sign an investigatory proposal / contract of service, and that both of these are carrying the company name of the company you’re meeting with and NOT the name of a secondary company they represent.
If you’d like further advice and guidance around how to avoid pitfalls relating to national agencies claiming to be locally based to you, give one of our specialists a call today for FREE no obligation support on 07711 863 944.