Private Investigators: Everything You Need To Know

What is a PI, and how much does a PI cost?

Have you ever had a hunch that something wasn’t quite right? A niggling suspicion that you just
can’t prove? The best way to discover the truth is to hire a Private Investigator. These undercover
investigators are highly skilled at finding information, tracing missing persons and collecting
evidence of crimes. We share everything you need to know about Private Investigators, to
help you find the truth.

What services do Private Investigators provide?


A man taking a photograph with a long-lens Canon camera

Surveillance is when a Private Investigator follows a subject to find out where they go and what
they are doing.
Surveillance can include following a subject in a car or on foot. Usually, surveillance is used to
investigate an activity that is (or may be) happening now and will include taking photos and
When a client suspects wrongdoing, they can hire a Private Investigator to follow the subject.
Common surveillance investigations are:

  •  Infidelity – a client suspects their partner or spouse might be cheating or having an affair
  •  Corporate investigations – a company suspects an employee of stealing or other illegal
  •  Illegal behaviour – a subject is suspected of illegal activity such as selling drugs

Skip Tracing

Skip Tracing is when a Private Investigator attempts to track down a missing person.
The subject might have disappeared of their own free will, or they might be escaping domestic
violence or other threats. PIs also investigate disappearances and crimes such as possible
kidnapping or murder.

  • Private Investigators use skip tracing or location sourcing to investigate:
  • Missing persons – search for a subject who has gone missing unexpectedly
  • Debt collection – unpaid business or personal debts, or unpaid child support
  • Skip bail – find people who have disappeared while on bail for a court appearance
  • Wills and Estates – find family members who are the beneficiaries of deceased estates

Factual Investigation

Factual Investigation describes cases where a PI investigates an event, circumstance, offence or
the suspected crime that has already happened.
Private Investigators help Police or lawyers with current investigations. They’ll gather evidence
about the suspected offence to help the client and legal team build a strong case. PIs also revisit
unsolved cold cases to see if any critical evidence was missed at the time, in the hope the case
can be solved.

  • Factual investigation methods can be used for:
  • Interviewing witnesses – collect written or recorded statements about what happened
  • Workplace harassment or bullying – investigate claims and collect evidence from the
    alleged victim/complainant, the accused party and witnesses
  •  Insurance fraud – a company needs to confirm that insurance claims are legitimate;
    especially injury claims and life insurance claims
  •  Accident reconstruction – to confirm that the witnesses’ statements about an accident are
    correct and match the physical or scientific evidence

A woman with brown hair tilting a Canon DSLR camera vertically to take a picture of a red and orange blurred background

What is the cost of hiring a Private Investigator?

Hiring a Private Investigator can cost as little as a few hundred dollars for a simple project that
can be resolved quickly. The costs can add up to many thousands for long-term projects, the use
of multiple agents, large corporate investigations, interviewing many witnesses, complicated
collection of evidence and detailed reporting.
Most Private Investigators charge an hourly rate with a minimum 4-hour deployment.
In a surveillance job, the PI might follow a subject to find out where they go in the evening. The PI
needs to be in place well before the subject leaves, follow as far as they go, and wait to see how
long they stay.
Travel costs and incidental costs may apply.
Expect a charge for travel time to and from the starting point, plus a mileage or per kilometre
charge for following the subject.
If the subject enters a building with an admission fee, such as a concert venue, or if the Private
Investigator has to pay for parking, or the purchase of a meal in a restaurant to obtain evidence,
those costs will be on-charged to the client. The client might even have to pay a parking fine if the
PI had to leave their car over time to maintain surveillance of the subject, and this should be
discussed prior to them accepting your job.
Before you engage a Private Investigator, ask for an estimate of the costs. Experienced PIs
will be able to give you a guide to help you make your decision. Then, as the project evolves,
they’ll keep you up to date with any changes in costs if they need to dig deeper into the case.
A surveillance camera attached to the brick wall of a building.

Things to consider before engaging a Private Investigator

Is the Private Investigator licensed?

Private Investigators must have completed an approved course from a registered training
organisation and hold a current Victorian Private Security licence as an investigator to work in
All Private Security Licences will show the category of work allowed to be carried out, just like a
driver’s licence.
Check the licence of the individual PI or agency to ensure they are licenced to investigate in
Victoria, or your state. Victoria has strict licensing laws for Private Investigators, which means that
PIs from other states might not have the legal right to offer their investigative services in Victoria
under the Private Security Act 2004. Click here to check company names and PI licences for
Most importantly, any evidence that an unlicensed Private Investigator collects might not
be admissible in court. To make sure that the PI’s work is admissible, check their licence
carefully before you engage.

Evidence Handling Process

Private Investigators must handle evidence correctly for the evidence to be admissible in court.
Proper evidence handling can make or break a case. Imagine if the most compelling evidence
goes missing, or evidence quality is compromised due to improper storage or having gaps in the
continuity of their evidence.

What PIs can and can’t do

A Private Investigator can’t put a GPS tracking device on a subject’s car. That action violates
the person’s privacy. A PI can follow a subject in their own car and watch where they go in public
places. However, once the subject enters private property, the PI has to either be invited in or wait
until the subject leaves the premises to resume the follow.
Private investigators can’t tap phones or place listening devices in buildings. But an agent
may make recordings of conversations in public places that are loud enough to be overheard by
anyone else, so there is not an expectation of privacy. Agents can also take video or photos in
public places.
PIs are bound to hand over any evidence of a crime to Police, but a PI is not required to reveal
that fact to their client. A PI should be impartial and keep an open mind during the investigation
and not have a vested interest in the outcomes, as this could cloud their judgement.

Protecting a subject’s privacy

In order to protect a subject’s privacy, a PI might not be able to share information with you,
even though you are the client.
Some people simply don’t want to be found; they’ve skipped town or gone missing on purpose,
and we have to respect their right to privacy. Depending on the situation, we might be able to give
them your contact details to get in touch if they choose to.

Who is the right Investigator for the job?

While PIs are stealthy and excellent at going unnoticed, we’re not invisible. Sometimes the first PI
you contact might not be the right one for the job.
The right PI is someone who can blend in. So if the subject is a young lady, then a grey-haired
male PI might not be able to provide surveillance without being noticed. In this case, a young
female PI may be a better match for the job because she can go unnoticed wherever the
subject goes.
It’s hard to remain unnoticed when we’re following the same subject for weeks. That’s why you
might need many PIs working the same job. With a team of PIs on rotation, we can maintain
surveillance and secrecy, and not expose the fact that the subject is under surveillance.

Want to know more about hiring a Private Investigator?

Contact an Australian Private Investigator today we’ll be happy to answer any questions you have about how a PI can help you or refer the best available Investigator, feel free to get in touch.

5 thoughts on “Private Investigators: Everything You Need To Know”

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