Hire a Private Investigator – Choose wisely
There was a good article on how to hire a private Investigator written March 2014 by Jonathan Rayner for the ‘The Law Society Gazette’ explaining what a law firm can do to distinguish between good and bad private investigators.
Hiring a private investigator was once, to coin a phrase, elementary. You would take a cab to 221B, Baker Street.
There would be no uncouth discussion of fees or, heaven forbid, professional indemnity insurance. Sherlock Holmes would simply stalk off in a fug of pipe smoke and nab the cad.
Those were the innocent days before phone taps and computer hacking. One relied on doltish, but decent and honest, policemen and on cockney petty thieves who called you ‘Guv’. It was useful to be handy with a sword stick or revolver. Fisticuffs could also come in useful to help a chap out of a tight corner. One remained resolutely amateur, albeit an amateur with fantastic powers of deduction.
Even today, and quite surprisingly, ‘amateur’ remains the hallmark of the private investigations industry. (Roll on licensing) There are an estimated 10,000 private investigators working in the UK offering services as varied as serving documents, investigating insurance fraud, tracing missing persons, countering intellectual property theft, computer forensics and gathering proof of adultery. Not one of these 10,000 investigators is regulated by the government. Perhaps 20% (or 2,000) have voluntarily submitted to regulation by a peer-reviewed body, but the rest have not bothered or needed to.
There is nothing to stop the remaining 8,000 people from screwing a brass plate to the wall or, more probably, creating a website to tell the world that they are private investigators. They can charge what they like while getting access to your confidential information. They could rob you and there is no industry body to which you could complain or which would impose sanctions on offenders.
We are members of The Association of British Investigators
It would be unfair – and wrong – to assume that these investigators are crooked. Many practice to an ethical code and provide excellent value for money. But given that some aspects of this work can operate at the edge of legality, how are solicitors or private clients to distinguish between the good and the bad guys?
Jo Pizzala, a partner at national firm Plexus Law, has been instructing private investigators on behalf of insurance company clients for more than 20 years. She makes the point that defrauding insurance companies is ‘not a victimless crime’. We all pay the price for fraud through increased premiums, she points out.
Pizzala has seen huge changes in the industry over the last two decades, with surveillance techniques becoming more sophisticated as products developed by the military have filtered through to civilian use. ‘The growth of social media has also made a big difference,’ she says. ‘It enables investigators to build a picture of younger people in particular.
If your thinking you want to hire a private investigator do you research, call a few not just the one at the top of the search engines as they may not always be the one for you. After all just because their web site is ranked very well does not mean that they a suitable for your needs or type of enquiry. We specialise in surveillance. If you need surveillance, hire a private investigator who specialises in ‘Surveillance’. If you need a Process serve carried out, then again hire a private investigator who specialises in Process Serving. the same applies to trace Enquiries and so on. Phone a few and choose wisely.
We have been in the business 32 years
People will often say one thing in a witness statement and then say something completely different online. They might claim to be broke and unable to pay their ex-wife, for instance, and then boast online about their new car or a recent holiday in the Caribbean.’
Pizzala generally commissions investigations into personal injury claimants who are claiming hundreds of thousands of pounds from an insurance company because they claim to have suffered life-altering injuries. The investigator’s role is to gather evidence to determine whether the claim is fraudulent or legitimate.
She tells the Gazette: ‘The bigger insurance companies have their own panels of approved investigators and so selecting one is easy. But if I was starting from scratch, I would look for a firm of investigators offering a range of services, not just manned surveillance, but also mining data and tracing missing persons.
‘I would ask if they were ISO-registered, had Edexcel accreditation, had undertaken Skills for Security training and had passed their Criminal Records Bureau checks.
- We are Registered with the ‘ICO’
- Hold Professional Indemnity Insurance
- Members of the ABI
- Have been CRB checked
- Sat before our peers and been interviewed and competency tested
- We are solvent
- Only use experienced Operatives with years of experience
I would want confirmation that they were solvent and their staff were experienced at giving evidence in court. Do they have fraud capabilities and undertake corporate investigations? Do members of staff have on going training in the latest technologies and techniques? For that matter, does the firm regularly update its equipment?’
The private investigation sector has learned to be wary of collecting ‘the best evidence in the world’, only to see it challenged in court and disallowed. ‘Twenty years ago, an investigator would knock on the door of a claimant and tell him he had won a TV set,’ Pizzala recalls.
‘But would the claimant please get it from the boot of the car. If he could carry a heavy TV set, then what price his claim that he had suffered a crippling back injury? Job done; except these days the investigator would be accused of getting the evidence through entrapment and it would be ruled inadmissible. All that time and money wasted.’
Investigators must also be up to speed with the Human Rights Act and the Data Protection Act, because breaching either could similarly result in evidence being disallowed.
We next hears from the Private investigators themselves. More…
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