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What questions should you ask a New Jersey Private Investigator before you retain that investigator

Bob Cowan - Owner of Cowan Investigations, a New Jersey Private Investigator

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What questions should you ask a New Jersey Private Investigator before you retain that investigator

Ninety-five percent of all people will never need the services of a New Jersey Private Investigator, however, once you do, it is often confusing on what steps you should take in order to retain the right private investigator to work your case. One of the first suggestions I would make is to find out as much as you can about New Jersey Private investigations in general, as well as the specific investigator you might be interested in hiring.  To obtain a general understanding of the rules and regulations as well as the qualifications New Jersey Private Investigators operate under, a great go to resource is the New Jersey State Police Private Detective Unit Website, this unit licenses and regulates all private investigators in the State of New Jersey.

It is important I discuss certain information you should obtain from the private investigator you are interested in retaining.

  1. At the beginning of your discussion with the investigator, there are a few things you should learn about the private investigator, such as: New Jersey State Private Investigators License number, the investigators experience as a private investigator as well as in the particular type of case you want the investigator to handle. In addition, determine what type of experience the private investigator has had prior to becoming a licensed investigator. It will also be important to determine if the private investigator is licensed.  In New Jersey, many private investigators belong to the New Jersey Licensed Private Investigators Association which could prove a valuable asset in determining if that organization has received any negative feedback on certain private investigators.
  2. It is very important to determine who will handle your case; if the private investigator intends to sub-contract your case out to other investigators it is important that you run, don’t walk from this investigator. All you get with a subcontract is a middleman who skims money off the top without doing any of the field work. Directly below I have linked a two-part article which I had written on an undercover investigation I conducted on the “dirty little secret” of subcontracting Private Investigation work.

  1. Equally important as above is whether or not a private investigator is properly insured. While all New Jersey Private Investigators are required by the New Jersey State Police Licensing Unit to carry a Five Thousand Dollar Bond, a competent and “serious investigator” will have insurance well beyond that simple bond. When interviewing a private investigator for a cohabitation investigator, ask the investigator to provide evidence that the investigator possesses “Errors and Omissions Insurance”.
  2. It is extremely important to find out if the private investigator you might retain for a cohabitation investigation is available to work beyond a 9 to 5 schedule, you would be shocked at the number of investigators who want to maintain a 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday schedule.
  3. Ask your private investigator if they can provide references, not just testimonials they place on their own website which of course could be fraudulent, ask for contact information to speak with former clients who will vouch for their work and honesty. Another form of review which is hard to fraudulently post (although not impossible) are google reviews. In order to determine if the private investigator you are interested in has google reviews, either positive or negative, google the company name, i.e. Cowan Investigations….0…1.1.64.psy-ab..1.27.2814…38.0.uJV_EQ3usLE

By entering the name of the private investigation firm, you should be directed to the page of google reviews (if any) of the company you are interested in hiring.

Even google reviews can be falsified, I will relate a funny story regarding this.  Since I constantly update and improve my website I often see other private investigator websites to see what my competitors are doing. Back in 2016, I noticed a local firm which had one really, really nasty review, my perception of the review was it was from an angry person, but in the scheme of things I would not have given it much weight if I had been searching for an investigator. That one review referencing the particular investigator remained on google all by itself up until the late summer or early fall of 2017. Almost a year later the owner of the company responded to the negative review with a rambling four paragraph response defending himself/herself, I mean the response was way over the top.  Within the next six weeks the investigators website received about seven or eight five-star reviews; reading the reviews it was quite obvious the investigator posted praises for his/her services on google.  The point I am making is read these reviews with a healthy amount of skepticism.

  1. During your discussion with the private investigator you are interviewing, ask if your confidentiality can be assured One-Hundred Per Cent. If the investigator assures One-Hundred Percent confidentiality in all cases, that might be something that you like to hear, but it is just not true.  There are several ways your case can be disclosed, the most common would be during the discovery process in litigation by either of the parties, in addition, a court can also order disclosure.  To provide the highest level of confidentiality it would be advisable to have the private investigator work directly for your attorney.  However, under most circumstances where the fruits of an investigation will not be litigated such as the case in most cheating partner (infidelity) cases the subject of the investigation will only find out what you tell the investigations target.
  2. Although we touched on this before, be certain your case is not going to be subcontracted out, find out the availability and types of investigators the private investigator is able to put out into the field in a specific case. For instance, I often have my wife assist me in cases especially when circumstances provide a better cover for us when we operate as a couple, I never charge an additional fee when she works with me, unless she is deployed in a separate vehicle and acting as a second solo investigator; we have multiple cases where we even deployed our dog into the field with us in order to improve our cover. In addition, I have several former colleagues retired from the Jersey City Police Department I work with as well as a female investigator who owns and works her own private investigation firm.
  3. Determine whether or not the private investigator you interview thinks outside the box, such as providing ideas to legally obtain evidence through undercover work. During my time in the private investigation business I have found it advantageous to conduct investigations under the ruse of “viewing homes for sale”, gaining access to large properties in “rural areas” under the guise of purchasing vehicles for sale, as well as collecting garbage left at curbside and examining the refuse for evidence (usually done during Cohabitation or Child Custody Investigations).
  4. Prior to retaining a private investigator, it is extremely important to determine how and how often you will be able to communicate with the private investigator with respect to both the status of your case and/or if you need to provide more information in order to assist in the investigation. As I discussed before, more investigators then you would think, actually engage in that “dirty little secret” of the industry in where they “subcontract their investigations” out to anyone who will do the work for them. For this reason alone, a lot of private investigators you speak with will be evasive when you ask about their accessibility to speak in regard to updates on your case after you have hired them.  The reason is, the investigator doesn’t actually know what is going on in your case because he/she is not actually working the job only taking your money as the “middleman”. I can only speak for myself in this regard, I am personally involved in all my cases, if not directly working at the street level very close to it and there is a good reason I’m not on the street.  For instance, in a case calling for an undercover viewing of a home for sale I normally do not get involved instead having other investigators go inside, I am normally managing the operation from nearby.  The reason I will not involve myself in most undercover work is due to the fact that I primarily conduct all the street work in my investigations, so for me to go into a home where I possibly personally interact with the subject of the investigation would surely blow my cover for the entirety of the investigation. With all of that said, when I have a client, I am available on my cell phone at all times (within certain parameters and subject to time constraints of ongoing investigations) to speak with a client; if I am not available my office will let you know when I will be able to talk
  5. Whenever a potential client contacts me in order to interview me in regard to a divorce related issue such as Cohabitation, Alimony Elimination or Reduction as well as Child Custody related issues the first question I ask the client is whether or not he/she has an attorney. Most often the client will tell me he/she has been told by an attorney to bring evidence to them and they will file a motion in court for the particular case.  The downside with this is the fact that if a private investigator works directly for the lawyer all communications that occur between the attorney and the investigator are privileged, a client does not enjoy the same level of confidentiality with the private investigator.
  6. During your interview it is vitally important to inquire of the private investigator how they keep their clients updated. It is critically important for your case that your private investigator keeps you informed by providing written reports on their activities and findings. In addition, along with these reports the private investigator should also provide the client with date and time stamped photographs as well as date and time stamped video that should have also been acquired during an investigation. For instance, all my written reports are done on my company letterhead have evidential photographs integrated into the report, this manner of preparing a report gives it a very professional look as well as making it less arduous for a judge to review when it is part of an evidential exhibit in a court motion.  In order to keep my potential clients more informed when making a decision whether or not retain me, I am currently in the process of preparing a prototype report which will be part of any financial proposal I submit with respect to an investigation.
  7. When interviewing a potential New Jersey Private Investigator you are considering retaining, it is absolutely essential the investigator knows the applicable laws of evidence and how to stay on the right side of the fence when in the process of securing evidence needed to prove your case. Additionally, it is not only critically important your investigator knows how to legally secure admissible evidence, it is also it is also important the investigator is also ethical. Your private investigator should not only know how to collect evidence in a legally permissible manner, the investigator should have an understanding of the law relating to the matter being investigator; stated another way if the private investigator is working a Cohabitation/Alimony case or a Child Custody the investigator should have a very good understanding of the law relating to these types of litigation.  I have written two articles on this very subject which might be helpful regarding what skill sets private investigators should possess.

  1. It is important prior to your retaining a private investigator if the investigator has any experience on testifying in court or giving evidence at depositions. The best bet in finding an investigator who has experience in providing courtroom or deposition testimony (Cohabitation/Child Custody Cases) is to limit your choices to private investigators with a law enforcement background. However, in cases that will not result in testimony such as infidelity investigations, I would not recommend only limiting my choices to investigators with law enforcement experience, there are many good investigators to handle those cases.
  2. Prior to retaining a New Jersey Private Investigator, it is essential you understand the financial costs of the investigations, it is absolutely necessary you obtain a breakdown in all costs associated with the investigation. With that being said, it is impossible to predict the direction an investigation one hundred percent of the time so although an investigator might be able to accurately estimate the costs of an entire investigation, it is just an estimate.  When I am in the intake process of being interviewed by a potential client, I always verbally discuss my rates, but more importantly I provide the client with a written proposal with a breakdown of all associated costs.  With this written proposal the client is able to sit and review the financial implications without the pressure of a private investigator putting a high-pressure sales pitch on the potential client.  If the client decides to retain me I then provide a written retainer agreement which is opened to be discussed if the client is uncomfortable with any of the provisions in the contract.

Most importantly, stay away from those New Jersey Private Investigators who claim unrealistic results, remember, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”!!!


About the author:  Bob Cowan is the owner of Cowan Investigations a full-service New Jersey Private Investigations Firm, Bob is the former Chief of the Jersey City Police Department and has 35 years of experience as a police officer in New Jersey’s second-largest municipality.

Read Bob Cowan’s Bio Here

If you wish to speak with me regarding this article, or if you need a consultation regarding it’s contents please do not hesitate to call me at 732-837-8444, seven days a week 8:00am to 8:00pm.  

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