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What Exactly IS a Private Investigator?

Updated: Jun 8

Private Investigators (PIs) are hired professionals specializing in research, surveillance and other methods of investigation. Many PIs have a criminal justice background and the state of Iowa requires a private investigator to be licensed. PIs typically work for private companies, families and individuals, attorneys and insurance companies.


Because Private Investigators have different experience and skills, it’s important to find a PI that is a good fit for the investigation that you require. Private Investigators come from an array of backgrounds. Some PIs specialize in computer or phone forensics, polygraph examinations, accounting or bug sweeping. A PI should be honest with the client about their training and skills. It is not uncommon for a PI to refer a client to another PI that is more adept at meeting the client’s needs.


Occasionally, PIs investigate crimes or supplement a police investigation. Law enforcement may not be able to provide the necessary follow up or meet the expectations of a victim’s family.


A PI may be hired to find a missing person or aid a family/client in reopening a cold case.

Investigating an individual for a crime or misconduct also falls under the scope of a Private Investigator. Insurance companies may hire a PI to investigate potential fraud. Spouses concerned about infidelity hire Private Investigators to help them find answers. Private attorneys collaborate with PIs to supplement their investigative efforts and help to provide a vigorous defense for an accused client.


Background checks for potential new employees and tenants can be conducted by a PI. Family members hire PIs to check on a loved one’s new relationship they may have concerns about. Researching someone’s social media activity has become a very common investigative practice.


Private Investigators accomplish much of their work through the use of similar techniques and resources that law enforcement utilizes. PIs in Iowa have the ability to access some of the same data bases such as the IDOT for motor vehicle registration and driver’s license information. PIs conduct surveillance and interviews to gather information. Many times, a PI may have better results because they are not restricted by some laws that police must abide by and the public may trust them more.


Costs for a PI can vary depending on the scope of the assignment and the PIs location. Most PIs charge by the hour, but additional expenses such as airline tickets, hotel, mileage and meal allowances may be incurred for your case. It may be necessary for the Investigator to follow the subject into a concert, fitness facility or event in order to get the evidence needed. Those additional costs will be at the expense of the client. Most PIs will require a deposit or retainer from the client upfront. The PI should provide some kind of written agreement for the client to review prior to commencing the assignment.


For minor services such as a background check or identifying a cell phone number, Private Investigators may just charge a flat fee.


The written contract or agreement should outline all potential costs. The Investigator should inform you if something changes that would require an increase in the fees. Ask for an itemized list of expenses and hours worked at the conclusion of the case.


If you suspect a PI in Iowa is being unethical, please report them to the Iowa Department of Public Safety at (515)725-6230 or to the Iowa Association of Private Investigators at 833-462-4243.


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