Frequently Asked Questions

A Few Things First…

Most television viewers have watched hours and hours of Criminal Minds, CSI and NCIS. There are many crime novel and detective novel readers also. They may have preconceived ideas about how private investigators operate, what they can do and how quickly everything happens. Most of what you have seen and read is pure fantasy.

The categories on our Frequently Asked Questions tab are here to help educate you, the consumer, about private investigators. You can read about the reality of what you can expect. You can learn about what we can and cannot do.

This applies to all private investigators. We post this for your information.

Private Investigator FAQ

First, we must give credit where credit is due. The following used to be posted on the Arizona Department of Public Safety’s Licensing website. AALPI is posting this so that prospective clients know what they can expect from our profession.

Things You Should Know Before Hiring A Private Investigator

Most people considering hiring a private investigator (PI) have never done so or may be making decisions while highly emotional. Regardless, consumers should give such a decision careful thought and thoroughly consider the circumstances before hiring an investigator. Prior to contacting a PI, the consumer should specifically identify what it is they want to know, what their expectations are and how much money they can afford to spend. Additionally, consumers may want to first check on the PI (or agency) using a consumer assistance group (such as the Better Business Bureau), researching reports on the internet, or examining other sources of business information. Please note: A company is not necessarily “bad” because it has complaints registered with such sources – sometimes the complaints are not justified. A consumer may also want to check with the AZ DPS Licensing Unit to determine if the PI (or agency) is properly licensed. In Arizona, any advertisement for a PI agency (or PI) must also contain their license number.

Once a PI is selected, talk to the investigator (or their representative) and discuss the case with them, to include what you want to know, what your expectations are and how much you can afford (total). The PI should readily provide options and inform you if your goals and finances are realistic for the case. If the PI cannot provide this information, you may want to look elsewhere. Once you are in agreement with a PI, a written contract may be drawn up that specifically states what will be done, deadlines, fees, frequency of reports, estimated costs, etc, so that no significant issues are left unknown. While a written contract is not required by law, the lack of such an instrument can prove detrimental for both the PI and the client if problems later arise. Once the PI has completed the agreed upon work, the client is required to pay the PI (or as otherwise agreed upon) before the PI is required to provide a case report to the client. The case report may be written or verbal.

Violation of any statute related to PI’s or PI agencies is a class 1 misdemeanor (ARS 32-2458).

The following are common issues between PI’s and their clients and are provided for the benefit of both parties. This DOES NOT constitute legal advice nor does it interpret law or administrative rules:

1.  While most private investigators are competent and manage their affairs in a professional manner, the Licensing Unit has received a number of complaints related to misunderstandings about services provided and fees. Many times, consumers believe that their retainer will cover ALL of the costs for their case. This simply may not be true. Consumers must be aware that a retainer is normally required before a PI will do any work on your case and that payment of a retainer in no way means there will not be further billing for services (unless it is specified in a contract). Initial billing is normally deducted from the retainer and once that runs out, the client is normally notified. Anyone seeking the services of a PI should consider obtaining a written contract that details what the consumer wants, what the fees will be, time limits and what the PI can actually perform. No questions should go unanswered. If you are comfortable with the PI, verbal contracts are permitted and common, however, you may have difficulties if problems later occur and there is no written agreement.

2.  Oftentimes, PI’s will bill consumers for phone calls, making copies, office consultations and in particular, “stand-by” time. Stand-by time usually occurs when you are directing a PI to wait on your behalf for an event to occur, such as the subject of an investigation to go somewhere. A PI at their office or home on “stand-by” may legally bill you for this time – make sure you and the PI understand what is expected.

3.  Generally, every person performing PI services in Arizona must be licensed by the AZ DPS Licensing Unit, although there are a few exceptions. PI’s are provided an ID card that shows who they are and when their license expires – ask to see their PI ID card and record the license number and expiration date. Additionally, PI agencies are provided a wall license that must be clearly displayed at their place of business – ask to see that as well. Report anyone claiming to be a PI who cannot (or will not) produce such licenses or ID to the AZ DPS Licensing Unit at (602) 223-2361.

4.  The State of Arizona requires no prior experience for a person to become a PI and only three years of investigative experience to establish a PI agency. As stated previously, many PI’s are competent professionals, however, some are simply inexperienced or unqualified to perform certain services such as lie detection, electronic debugging, surveillance, and other highly technical and sophisticated specialties. You should speak candidly with the PI (or agency representative) who will be performing such services and establish what the PI’s qualifications and experience are. Normally, persons trained in such specialties can provide specific knowledge or evidence from schools, seminars, prior law enforcement and/or military experience that will demonstrate what their qualifications and experience are. Bottom line – if you are not comfortable with the qualifications of the PI, find someone else.

5.  PI’s must provide their clients with a case report (written or verbal) at the completion of services, once final payment has been made (or other option has been agreed upon in a contract). In some cases, you and the PI may have agreed that your case will be performed in sections and that each section will require payment at its completion, then the client will receive a report. Other agreements may be established as well. Regardless, know exactly what the terms are before you sign a contract or enter into a verbal agreement. The final report should normally provide a detailed picture of what was done, when it was done, how much time was expended on your case, the results of the investigation and the cost of each component of the investigation, such as: Time expended on surveillance, phone calls, stand-by time, film processing, extra investigators, special equipment, etc. If agreed upon by the client and the PI, a basic verbal report is also appropriate.

6.  Persons hiring a PI must be aware that cases will not always turn out the way they expect or hope. Surveillance work, inheritance research, debugging and divorce asset searches are all classic examples of potentially expensive PI work that may prove fruitless for the client, however, PI’s may still legally bill you for their time and efforts and you are obligated to pay them. Inability to obtain desirable or favorable results for a client does not legally justify disciplining a PI. For example, the Licensing Unit cannot discipline a PI for his/her inability to locate the person he/she was hired to find.

7.  A PI or PI agency may not perform nor advertise executive protection or body guard work unless they are also licensed as a security guard and/or security guard agency (except under very limited circumstances). Additionally, they may not carry concealed weapons unless they have a valid concealed weapon permit.

8.  If you are hiring a PI to perform work for you and there is a deadline for that work to be completed, ensure that the date is written into a contract!

9.  A client may ask for evidence of work performed by a PI. This evidence could include photographs or videotape of a certain location or event, an audio recording, copies of documents, receipts, etc, to name a few. For example, a client may want to know if a certain car is parked at a hotel in a city 100 miles away. The PI travels to the hotel, locates the car and photographs or videotapes the car (while parked at the hotel) – this would constitute evidence that the PI performed the work. As another example, a client may want a PI to watch a house to determine if any cars pull into the driveway and then videotape the car and occupants. But what happens if the PI is watching the house and no cars arrive so the PI doesn’t record any video? There is nothing wrong with this if the client is comfortable with it, however, many PI’s will use a video or digital camera to record short (5-20 second) time and date stamped videos (or photos) of the location and offer them to the client as evidence they performed the work. Consumers should be wary of PI’s that refuse to show evidence of work performed or at least explain what they have done. Bottom line: Get this requirement in writing if it is important to you.

10. The Licensing Unit has received a number of complaints from consumers who hired someone that claimed to be “working under the license of a PI” and had no license. It is illegal for a person to work as a PI or to claim they are working under a PI’s license unless that person has a valid PI license. Ask to see their license and record the number and expiration date.

11. Generally, it is illegal under federal law (the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act) for a person (or PI) to obtain account information from financial institutions (such as banks) unless the account owner gives their consent. Oftentimes, the person (or PI) performs an illegal act called “pretexting”, by fraudulently obtaining personal information (or is provided such information) from (or on) the subject of the investigation and pretending to be the account holder. This tactic is also used for identity theft. From the FTC website: For example, a pretexter may call, claim he’s from a survey firm, and ask you a few questions. When the pretexter has the information he wants, he uses it to call your financial institution. He pretends to be you or someone with authorized access to your account. He might claim that he’s forgotten his checkbook and needs information about his account. In this way, the pretexter may be able to obtain personal information about you such as your SSN, bank and credit card account numbers, information in your credit report, and the existence and size of your savings and investment portfolios. Use of this tactic is common in divorce cases and law suits.

Keep in mind that some information about you may be a matter of public record, such as whether you own a home, pay your real estate taxes, or have ever filed for bankruptcy. It is not pretexting for another person to collect this kind of information.

12. Generally, it is illegal under federal law (the Telephone Records and Privacy Protection Act of 2006) for a person (or PI) to obtain personal phone records from a telephone company or internet phone provider service (VOIP) without the consent of the account holder. The means of obtaining such information are similar to those used in obtaining account information from financial institutions. From The Library of Congress: Telephone Records and Privacy Protection Act of 2006 – Amends the federal criminal code to prohibit the obtaining, in interstate or foreign commerce, of confidential phone records information from a telecommunications carrier or IP-enabled voice service provider (covered entity) by: (1) making false or fraudulent statements to an employee of a covered entity or to a customer of a covered entity; (2) providing false or fraudulent documents to a covered entity; or (3) accessing customer accounts of a covered entity through the Internet or by fraudulent computer-related activities without prior authorization. Imposes a fine and/or imprisonment of up to 10 years.

13. Generally, it is illegal under federal law (the Fair Credit Reporting Act) for a person (or PI) to obtain credit reports without the consent of the credit holder or some other legitimate purpose. As previously stated, the means of obtaining such information oftentimes are similar to those used in obtaining account information from financial institutions (“pretexting”). From the FTC website: § 619. Obtaining information under false pretenses [15 U.S.C. § 1681q] Any person who knowingly and willfully obtains information on a consumer from a consumer reporting agency under false pretenses shall be fined under title 18, United States Code, imprisoned for not more than 2 years, or both.

If you have a complaint against an agency we regulate, you should first try to resolve it directly by contacting a supervisor of the agency. If for some reason you are unable to resolve the problem, you may wish to contact senior management or the agencies consumer affairs representative for further assistance. Dealing directly with the agency is usually the fastest, simplest and most effective approach. Most agencies value their customers and will usually be responsive to their concerns. If you are unable to resolve your complaint directly with the PI agency, you may file a complaint with the Licensing Bureau, which is responsible for ensuring that the agencies we regulate comply with applicable state laws.

If our investigation of your complaint finds a violation of law or rule, we will inform you of the violation and the corrective action to be taken. However, we do not have authority to resolve contractual disputes or undocumented factual disputes between a customer and an agency. We also do not have the authority to resolve disagreements pertaining to the agencies policies and procedures that are a matter of management discretion and not addressed by the specific laws we enforce. In such cases, if the agency does not make a voluntary adjustment, we will usually advise you to consider obtaining legal counsel regarding your rights to resolve the situation. While the Licensing Bureau endeavors to intercede on behalf of complainants, the transactions at issue are not always within our authority as regulators. This Department’s regulatory authority is limited to the laws passed in the legislature that relate to security guards and private investigators.

AZ DPS Licensing Unit
PO Box 6328 MD 1160
Phoenix, AZ 85005
Phone: (602) 223-2361

A frequently asked question on the Internet is “What does a private investigator do?” People typically envision a stereotypical fedora and trench coat-wearing, wisecracking, cigar-chomping “old school” street detective. In reality, though, a private investigator is typically hired to obtain specific fact-based information to help them make more informed decisions.

As an aid to help our clients better understand the nature of the Private Detective industry, the processes by which we work, and the regulations by which we are governed, we have prepared this information sheet so you may have more realistic expectations regarding the work Executive Services Agency, PLLC will conduct on your behalf.

But what does a private investigator really do?

1) Find Facts:  Making decisions based on certain rumors, misconceptions, preconceived notions or a “gut feeling” can be extremely risky. Private investigators can provide in-depth, fact-based information from an array of various resources and certain skill sets that are not always available in the public record. In addition, experienced investigators have unique analytical thinking that is needed in problem-solving situations.

2) Identify Risks:  Whether you are in business negotiations, contemplating an investment vehicle or hiring an employee, each situation has its own set of risks, both in capital and reputation. Investigators are both trained and experienced in identifying either red flags or damaging issues that may be useful to know before relationships are established.

3) Provide Peace of Mind:  A suspicion of a subject’s prior issues can cause anyone to lose sleep.  In this situation, an investigator can provide the necessary information beyond the handshakes and resumes. An investigator can corroborate certain facts or details that could not have been verified elsewhere. The objective of any investigation is to provide the facts (good or bad).  The most rewarding cases are the ones where we are able to verify the subject’s information and can give our clients back the peace of mind they were seeking.

4) See the Big Picture: Some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world today have credited their successes to following their passions and instincts. However, having someone in your corner to provide you specific information in order to hedge your own abilities is reassuring. An investigator can view the situation objectively and provide an alternative viewpoint to the matter at hand.

The Nature of Investigations

1) Authority:  We have no more authority than does a private citizen.  We are not police officers.  The training, testing, background checks, and certification process we go through in order to obtain our licenses is meant to set us apart as individuals who are committed to unbiased professionalism.  As such, we are bound to rigid codes of conduct dictated by the State of Arizona.

2) Not Attorneys:  Though we are very knowledgeable of the laws governing our actions, any advice should not be considered as legal advice. Any advice we give concerning the direction or outcome of your case is merely a suggestion that should be approved by any legal representative you may have.

3) Not Magicians:  We are not magicians.  Ours is an industry revolving around detail gathered through available information, the understanding of this detail, and the working knowledge of how to follow the trails we uncover.  This detailed information is generated through diligence and knowing where to look.  Just as librarians are not geniuses, they simply are trained on where and how to find information.

4) No Guarantees:  Sometimes the information generated is contrary to what the client hopes to find.  We cannot guarantee results.  We can only guarantee that the necessary information, documentation, etc. will be searched for diligently, legally, expediently, and as economically as possible.

5) Surveillance:  If surveillance is necessary we feel obligated to inform you of the “real life caveats.”  Surveillance, especially moving surveillance, is a hit and miss science.  We can perform these observations under agreed upon time and location parameters but cannot promise activity on behalf of the subject.  Similarly, moving surveillance carries with it inherent obstacles such as the unpredictable nature of traffic.  There is no guarantee that contact with the subject can be maintained as we cannot predict traffic flow, traffic conditions, weather, or other unforeseen problems.  As in number one above, we have no more authority than an ordinary citizen.  This includes traffic laws.  Similarly, privacy and private property laws will dictate the conduct of some surveillances.

Executive Services Agency, PLLC can, however, make a promise that many of the other agencies can’t.  That is, we will do everything in our power to reach the goal of obtaining the information you need in a timely and economical fashion and conduct ourselves in a professional and discreet manner while representing you in your case.

A Restraining Order is Just a Piece of Paper
John Keegan, Judge,
Lake Pleasant, Arizona, Justice Court
Peoria Republic, 20 April 2007

On April 2, 2007, Rebecca Griego was shot to death in the Seattle Area by a man who had been stalking and harassing her for several months.  She had a restraining order against him.  Unfortunately, that was not enough.

In Arizona, there are several types of restraining orders.  Most common are orders of protection and injunctions against harassment.  There is a special kind of injunction for job site problems.  If you feel threatened or harassed, it is important to know what these orders do and what they do not do to protect your safety.

Any judge in Arizona can issue a restraining order.  This includes justices of the peace, city magistrates, and Superior Court Judges.  In extreme case, an emergency order of protection can be issued, generally by having a police officer contact a judge after court hours or on weekends.

An order of protection is designed to prevent domestic violence and is generally issued when both parties are members of the same family or household, including former roommates.

It does not affect matters of child custody or property settlements.

In some cases, it can restrict contact with children or grant exclusive use of a home to one party for the duration of the order.  In the case of potential violence involving a weapon, the order may require the defendant to surrender all firearms.

An injunction against harassment is designed to stop harassing, annoying or alarming actions.  Often these are against neighbors, strangers, former dating partners or anyone else who does not fit into the category of family or household members.  These injunctions are more limited in scope, but can order that the defendant not make contact in person, in writing, telephonically or electronically.

On occasion, in order to stop bullying at school, I have restricted a defendant from attending school where the victim was enrolled.

There is no charge to request a restraining order, which is good for one year except for an emergency order which is only good until the next business day when a regular order can be heard.  The defendant – the person against whom the order is issued – does not have to be present.
To give the defendant due process, he or she may request a hearing at any time and it will be granted within 10 days, sooner if use of a home has been restricted.  The person requesting the order should make every effort to attend the hearing.  Without his or her testimony, it is likely the order will be lifted for lack of substantiation.

It is important to keep in mind what a restraining order is not.  It is an order of the court, violation of which can result in a charge of interfering with judicial process, which is similar to contempt of court.  It is not physical protection.  It is a piece of paper, and paper alone cannot stop abuse.  The victim must be vigilant about his or her own safety.

Unfortunately for Rebecca Griego, she took the recommended step of getting a restraining order but that was not sufficient.

Any victim of threats or harassment should use all legal means at their disposal to protect their safety.  The court system is ready to issue the appropriate orders, but that alone is not sufficient.

Restraining orders are tools, not protection

Former Phoenix Police Sgt. Paul Penzone dispelled the rumor that restraining orders scare everyone away. Restraining orders can help when danger is imminent, but only if law enforcement can get there in time. By no means do orders of protection provide you a level of safety. They do provide you with a level of security.

Penzone said  “You can’t treat that as though this will keep you safe,” he said. “It is truly your own instincts and abilities that will keep you safe from a threat of violence.”

People who have a restraining order in place can call police when they feel something bad is about to happen, but Penzone said police don’t have a large window to help.”They’ll only give you about a 15-minute window,” he said, adding that they often get called away to other crimes. Should the police leave and the dangerous person makes a move, Penzone said things can go bad quickly.

“The person who is intent on carrying out violence has all of the edges, all of the advantages, so it’s really more about survival than avoidance,” he said.

Penzone said females are often the victim. “Domestic violence will always be a plague on women primarily,” he said.And Penzone has seen his fair share of cases of women being attacked as soon as the order of protection expires. “There are a lot of cases that show that as soon as they expire, the women in those cases are extremely vulnerable in that short-term time frame.”

© Executive Services Agency, PLLC | AZ DPS License #1724482