Using a Private Investigation Service

What Can a Private Investigator Do?

A private investigator can help you find information and people. S/he can find documentation such as court records, government agencies' filings, vital statistics, property ownerships, vehicle and vessel records, photographs, witness statements, etc.. The duties of private detectives and investigators depend on the needs of the client. Legal investigators specialize in cases involving the courts and are normally employed by law firms or lawyers. They frequently assist in preparing criminal defenses, locating witnesses, serving legal documents, interviewing police and prospective witnesses, and gathering/reviewing evidence. Legal investigators may also collect information on the parties to the litigation, take photographs, testify in court, and assemble evidence and reports for trials. This general overview was taken for the Department of Labor’s collection of job descriptions. If you are interested, also see the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Book for a good overview of the profession.

Do individuals hire investigators?

Usually businesses and attorneys hire investigators. Publications used by private investigators mention the fact that some investigators are concerned about representing individuals in personal matters. They note that most will not turn down a legitimate personal matter such as locating a runaway child or locating a defendant in a law suit - if the requested service does not appear to violate a law or compromise the ethics of the investigator. For example, investigators may worry about issues such as being hired by a stalker to help find and watch a potential victim. You should be clear about the full circumstances of your request.

How Do I Locate a Private Investigator?

If you need help finding a private investigator, you may want to ask around for suggestions first.  Most people find investigators through others who have used their services. Consult the trade organization for private investigation and security professionals in Maryland, Professional Investigators Alliance of Maryland, which lists (by county) contact information for its members. 

Consult an attorney - Most successful private investigators interested in the type of work individuals are most likely to want (finding missing persons or looking for documents) work closely with attorneys in your area. An attorney may well be the best source for finding a private investigator.

How Do I Choose an Investigator?

Just like hiring any professional, you should learn something about the profession and be cautious.

Investigate the investigator.

First, you should make sure that the person or firm is licensed in Maryland. Private investigators or private investigation agencies in Maryland must be licensed by the Maryland State Police. Private investigators or private investigation agencies are issued a Maryland Private Detective License, which must be renewed annually and must be displayed in a conspicuous place. For more information on the licensing of private investigators in Maryland, call the Maryland State Police in Pikesville, MD at 410-653-4500.

Interested in the law that covers the qualifications and licensing of private investigators in Maryland?
You can find it at Title 13 of the Maryland Business Occupations and Professions statute. This state law regulates private investigators in the entire state of Maryland. There is no local city or county ordinance regulating private investigators.

Consider the education and experience needed for your task. Remember that the rate you pay will be partially determined by the experience and background of an investigator. You will want to hire someone with experience in your type of case but not someone who is overqualified or with a specialist in another area.  For example you would not want a highly experienced securities fraud specialty to try to locate a missing spouse. Generally here are no formal education requirements for most private detective and investigator jobs, although many private detectives have college degrees. Almost all private detectives and investigators have previous experience in other occupations. This is especially true in a state such as Maryland that requires significant experience (3-5 years in full time investigation work) to receive a license. Frequently past experience includes work as a police officer or detective, fire investigator, retired military or government intelligence or insurance investigator.

Interview the investigator. Be very clear and tell him/her exactly what you expect. There is so much information available and the needs of each client are so specific to each case, that a consultation can be very helpful. There are no standard operating procedures for an investigation.

Ask for the following:

  • A copy of his/her license or license number.
  • Call the Maryland State Police at 410-653-4500 to see if there have been any complaints filed against your potential investigator.
  • Has the person had experience with your type of case?
  • Has the person ever been sued over an investigation?
  • How will they handle your investigation?
  • Ask whether or not s/he is bonded.   In Maryland all private investigators are required to be bonded.
  • Ask for references and call them. Ask if a deposit is required and what the fee structure will be.

Read the Law: MD Code Bus. Occ. & Prof. § 13-604

Make sure you have a written contract that you understand. Set a cap on expenses and fees. Set “benchmarks” (previously agreed upon times during which you and the investigator evaluate what has been done and whether it is worth proceeding).

Trust your instincts. If the investigator doesn't seem 'right', don't hire the person.

How Much Will a Private Investigator Charge?

Fees in Maryland range from $40.00-$75.00 per hour and sometimes more. Investigators often have a specialty and like most services, you will pay a higher fee for the work of people with more experience and training. Also many will require a retainer or deposit to be applied against fees for services rendered and expenses. You may pay from $1,000 to $5,000 depending on what you need.

How Do I Complain about a Problem with an Investigator?

If you want to complain about the conduct of a private investigator or believe that an investigator is operating without a license, contact the Maryland State Police.

Is this legal advice?

This site offers legal information, not legal advice.  We make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information and to clearly explain your options.  However we do not provide legal advice - the application of the law to your individual circumstances. For legal advice, you should consult an attorney.  The Maryland State Law Library, a court-related agency of the Maryland Judiciary, sponsors this site.  In the absence of file-specific attribution or copyright, the Maryland State Law Library may hold the copyright to parts of this website. You are free to copy the information for your own use or for other non-commercial purposes with the following language “Source: Maryland's People’s Law Library – www.peoples-law.org. © Maryland State Law Library, 2014.”