Utilizing a professional private investigator to conduct a background check can cost you anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on several important factors, most notably the depth of information that you are seeking to obtain.
As with any service, the more involved the project (in terms of both time and expenses), the more it is going to cost and typically, neither the cheapest nor the most expensive option is always the best choice.
To assist you in understanding the cost of a professional background check, we have listed some important questions to consider before engaging a private investigator to conduct your next background check.
1) How prominent is the subject of the investigation?
Conducting a comprehensive background check on Warren Buffett, a pharmacist in San Diego, is much different from profiling Warren H. Buffet, the Oracle of Omaha and founder of Berkshire Hathaway. The larger the footprint, the more public the person has been, the more information a professional investigator must identify, locate and present to the client.
2) How much is YOUR potential loss?
Any potential investment carries with it a certain level of risk or loss. While the potential “loss” associated with hiring a nanny who has a criminal record or is a registered sex offender cannot easily be quantified, most people would not consider spending thousands of dollars conducting a background check on their potential child care provider. But there are also some who are hesitant to spend a few thousand dollars for a thorough review of a subject’s background before making a $5 million investment with a relatively unknown hedge fund operation. The key is to balance your potential risk.
3) What is the objective of the assignment?
Are you trying to find out if an individual can satisfy a $1,500 judgment against him, or is there something in a person’s past that could potentially discredit an expert witness? Logically speaking, it does not make financial sense to spend thousands of dollars to collect $1,500, but if you are seeking any piece of information to discredit someone, you may have to dig deep. Needless to say, the deeper you may want to go, the more expensive the search can get.
4) How common is the subject’s name?
Conducting background checks on someone with the name “John Smith” and someone named “Farique Noonsaby ” are two very different propositions. While most criminal records in the U.S. provide some sort of identification number (e.g., Social Security number, date of birth, etc.) to match identifying information to the right subject, the majority of other records available do not. A comprehensive background check may require an in-depth review and analysis of every lawsuit identified, derogatory news article or social media posting about “John Smith,” which will be both time-consuming and more expensive in terms of out-of-pocket disbursements for the investigator.
5) What is your potential risk or exposure?
A CFO who has access to millions of dollars and an administrative assistant who is answering the phones have two totally different “exposure” profiles. The same thing goes for any investment opportunity; investing with a person or company with loose regulations and oversight (e.g., hedge funds, unregistered investment advisors, etc.) is much different from investing in a publicly traded company – although Enron, WorldCom and Tyco may have taught us otherwise. In the litigation arena, a comprehensive background check on a key witness in a high-stakes legal proceeding may be the only opportunity you will have to sway the case for your client.
Ultimately, what a background check should provide is peace of mind or a deeper understanding of someone so that you can confidently make an informed decision, something that an online background check, a low-cost background check or a private investigator who lacks experience conducting a background check cannot provide.