Success Rates, Batting Averages and Boots On the Ground

I have drafted several copies for my blog over the last year on the subject of private investigators and some of the utter drivel (mumbo jumbo) they spew to woo clients over. But I've never published them.

Today is the day I post this article.

Big Claims

There was a company I once respected, not because I knew anything personally about the directors, nor because of having used their services — I liked them because of how they presented themselves and the lore that was written around their work was interesting, to say the least.

Out of interest, I read everything I could about this multi-national intelligence firm. And the more I read, the more I researched, the more I saw that in many ways, they were deceitful.

I read how they got their first project, they bragged how they deceived their first client into believing they were something they were not at that time. I've also discovered where they have used contacts in news publishing to write creative stories of intrigue, disguised in James Bond'esque style adventure.

I then started researching their office locations in all these countries...all but one were serviced offices (the kind you rent by the hour). Nothing wrong with a serviced office, but it was all in how they presented it.

I then found one typo after another for this "multi-national" firm and I presented the typos to them (some serious spelling errors).

They fixed them and thanked me.

Glass High Rises

Private investigators often present their companies in giant high rises with illustrious glass offices and impressive waiting rooms.

The truth is, most private investigators have modest offices, be it rented or from their homes. Some investigators will meet their clients in their personal residences, while others will meet them at a coffee shop or perhaps they have an office in a law firm or they rent a small personal office space.

Of course there are agencies that have multiple employees and have real offices, but the ones I take particular issue with are the ones who pretend to look like they do but they really don't. Why fake it?

To the consumer who is looking for a local private investigator, bigger is not better.

Small, boutique style private investigation firms can often offer you the best service and more personal attention. They are not background check mills pumping out endless reports. Don't be afraid to hire they PI who works from home or has a small office in a boring building. You know what they say about food from taco trucks and ugly little Italian restaurants.

97% Success Rate

Right, so this one will get some PI's blood boiling, but when a PI shares success rates, I'd look the other way.

Here's why:

Percentages and stats are best left for baseball and stock brokers. Unless an investigator is talking about locates (looking for a current address on someone) it becomes really difficult to measure a success rate.

What is success? Is it when you have been hired to place a subject under surveillance and they have not cheated on their partner, or they have cheated and they were documented doing so? Is it when an address has been located for a person or is it when it is the correct address that you can actually use to further your purpose for looking for it in the first place. Is it finding that they own their property instead of renting it when conducting an asset search or is it when you don't find any assets?

Success Rates are most often arbitrary numbers that sound good.

Give me any adults name and identifiers in America and I am sure we can find an address for them. Is that success? Perhaps, but only if the process server serves them at that very location, otherwise it isn't.

Show me enough hours of placing a subject under surveillance where they don't violate doctors orders on an insurance claim, I'll call that success, or is it only success when they are shown to have made fraudulent claims?

If I find nothing negative in a background investigation that has an effect on the role the person will be taking on in their new job, is that success? Or, do I need to find the dirty secrets that you may think they have before you call it a successful investigation?

You see, success rates are just piffel. You can't really be serious when you just arbitrarily say you have a 75% or a 95% success rate. If a private investigator uses these numbers, ask them to clarify. Otherwise it's pure BS.

There is a difference in fantasy baseball and the leagues. Which one do you want to participate in?

Walter Mitty

You can read more about Walter Mitty here, but suffice it to say, he is an amusing character living in an imaginative world.

Again, think fantasy baseball. There may be some real elements, but it is not the real game.

This very reason is why you should stay away from the private investigators who can do everything. Chances are, they can't, unless they are one of the giant firms like Pinkerton, Kroll, Gavin de Becker, etc. Some firms can offer a lot of services, but usually not your local friendly neighborhood private eye.

I remember a project I worked on some years ago that outed what appeared to be a worldwide security contractor. This guy was so full of himself and believed his own bunk so much so that he traveled with "bodyguards" and a personal assistant. He had proper security contractors around the world believing he could provide them work and built up a gigantic web presence that seemed very believable.

You have to carefully select a private investigator who does not over sell and under deliver. Most of the Bay Area private eyes here in Northern California run modest operations and don't over portray themselves, but be leery of the ones creep in from Los Angeles and Sacramento. There are a few who I believe completely and utterly mislead the consumer into believing that they are something they are not.

Experts & Specialists

A set of words that intrigue me is the over use of "expert" and "specialist".

Expertise is highly subjective. For many in the investigation field, it is an impressive sounding adjective that strongly suggests that the client will receive the very best service with this particular investigator. Credentials are important, but experience is what decides whether the PI is best suited for the case.

Specialists are very similar to experts. Specialists focus on an area and are very proficient in that skill set. But, can one really "specialize" in 10-20 areas of investigation? Not likely.

Look for an investigator who doesn't play James Bond. Get real as to what you need and see if they over sell their skill set.

Badges, Eagles and Government Looking Seals

I find it laughable how so many private investigators portray themselves. Whether they use badges in their logos (badges are against the law for California private investigators); plaster horribly placed (and looking) eagles all over their websites in an attempt to showcase how American they are (apparently); and use seals that look authoritative and have a very law enforcement look to them.

All of these, as well as the cheesy cliche pictures you see on everyone's website are downright embarrassing to the industry.

None of these should persuade you to use that particular investigator. Misleading or sloppy presentation should prompt you to keep looking.

Our authority is very limited as private investigators. And, although the bald eagle is very American, can't you find a nicer way to display it?

If you are reading this, I am not saying that my website is anything special, but at least it's clean and can be easily navigated. Presentation is everything and if you want work that stands respected, you have to respect yourself first.

Parting Words

I want to say that I will share more on the topic of professionalism in my effort to help consumers understand the red flags when choosing a private investigator.

I believe a bit of honesty can help clean up the industry from the Walter Mittys and misleading presentations of our industry.

There are plenty of great San Francisco Bay Area private detectives. I am one of them. If I can help you, I will. If I can't, I will help you find someone who can.

At your service,