How much does a private investigator cost?

For surveillance-based investigations (cheating spouses, child custody, etc) in the state of Florida the going rate is around $75 an hour for one investigator. Depending on the agency, there may be additional charges for mileage, travel, expenses, and administrative time.

At TMS, we charge a flat-rate of $75 hour with a 4-hour minimum requirement, with mileage (under 100 miles), travel, and report included. So you can expect to budget for a minimum of $300 to start any surveillance-based investigation, and $75 for each additional hour.


How can I verify a private investigator is licensed?

TMS Investigations agency license verification

The State of Florida is extremely good for searching public records. It only takes a few minutes to look up a private investigative agency’s license and business info. You first want to verify their agency license is on the website (for example TMS Investigations LLC is A1000075, and is posted at the bottom of every page of our website). You can verify a license number here: by either searching by agency name or license number and then be sure to check to see it says “License Issued”. This is also a great way to determine if the agency is local, far away, or out of state, by looking at the mailing address.

TMS Investigations business filing

Next you can check out their business information here: this is a good place to see how long they have been in business and if they are in good standing. Make sure to look for status ACTIVE. You can also match their principal address to their advertising address, so you can determine if they are in fact a local company if that is important to you. Florida PI Agency licenses are renewed every 3 years, so generally, in my opinion, you want to look for one who has been licensed and in business for 6 or more years, as it indicates they are usually in good standing and have had enough time pass that no major issues have required them to lose their license or go out of business, and they have successfully renewed their license at least once. It's not essential to finding a good PI, but does provide some peace of mind should your case go to court down the road, it gives you a good indication that the agency will still be around and in business when it comes time to testify on behalf of your case.


Do I have to pay for the entire investigation up front?

It varies among agencies. Some will offer an estimated cost for the entire investigation, usually using a daily rate, and require the entire payment up front. But you can almost always expect to pay at least some retainer up front before the investigation starts.

At TMS, we offer a simple pay-as-you-go option, broken down into simple 4 to 8 hour blocks that can easily be paid either through our website or an email invoice. This option seems to work best for most clients in local infidelity cases, where many of these cases, planned right, can often be resolved in the first day.



What if I have a limited budget?

Discounts aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be. There’s always a PI out there willing to take your money! But the truth is good investigators get results much faster, which will almost always save you more money in the long run. If we can solve a case within a day or two, I think that saves my client’s money, much more so than someone who has a lower hourly rate but lets the case drag on for weeks before getting the results.



What should I look for when hiring a private investigator?

The landscape can be tricky, and full of deceptive marketing, for that reason, word-of-mouth referrals are probably best. If you know someone who has used a private investigator and had a positive experience, you should try to use that person. If you know an attorney who uses investigators, you can ask them as well.

Don’t know anyone, or don’t want to raise suspicion asking around? To the internet! When looking online for a private investigator in state of Florida, here are some things to look for:

Properly Licensed: In Florida private investigation agencies are required to display their license number on all marketing materials, our license number is A 1000075, and they all follow that format. So if you don’t see the license number on their website, move on immediately. To see how to verify it, see above section on the topic.

Buy Local: I can write an entire essay on the benefits of hiring someone local, but I’ll limit it here to a few key points. Generally speaking, the best results come from local investigators who reside and operate in the area of the investigation. They know the area best. They have knowledge of restaurants, bars, hotels, as well as the traffic (exits, lights, changes in construction, parallel roads…the nuances of following someone are endless). And lastly, if they’re close by, you can actually meet with them. To learn how to verify this, search here.

Marketing Claims: Unlike attorneys, private investigators can pretty much say anything they want in their marketing. My colleagues and I joke about this trend all the time “Hey, did you know that so-and-so is a SUPER MEGA ULTRA INVESTIGATOR with 100 years experience?” Most PI’s handle their own marketing, so don’t put much stock in unverifiable or lofty claims like “elite, premier, top-rated, #1” It’s amazing how many #1 investigators there are out there! The truth is, there are no official ratings or rankings for our profession, so treat any such claims skeptically, and instead ask, is this website useful and informative to my questions and concerns, or is it just trying to convince me this company is the best thing since sliced bread?   

Reviews: Some are honest, heartfelt, and genuine from clients who had a great experience. Some are friendly reviews from friends and colleagues. And some are made-up by people trying to boost business. Reviews are great, and always welcomed, but the sensitive nature of private investigation means they will be rare. Not every client wants to post on a public forum that they were cheated on or had a bitter custody battle, and most private investigators understand this. My advice? Let how you feel about the phone call or meeting take priority over the reviews. After all, you’re not deciding which smartphone case to buy or where to get tacos here. There’s a lot of incentive for businesses to game the review system to get work, so treat them skeptically, and definitely check out other review sites beyond Google, such as Yelp, or Angieslist.

Lastly, and maybe it’s just a personal preference, but I like to see a photo of the private investigator somewhere in the about me or contact us section. Putting your photo out there means you’re not trying to hide from your clients. I understand different investigators have varying opinions on their privacy, and to each their own, but for me, it’s nice to see who I’m actually dealing with, and puts me more at ease. I always like to know who I’m dealing with, and understand my customers often do too.

At TMS I have personally tried to make this website as informative and user-friendly as possible for potential clients inquiring about hiring a private investigator. The more questions I can help resolve here, the better, so when and if it’s time to contact us for a free consultation you have a general understanding of what to expect and know the right questions to ask. People seem to love our pay-as-you-go system and easy-answer chat forms over our competitors. We’re constantly striving to make hiring a private investigator as painless as possible for our clients.



How should I pay the investigator?

However you want to! This should always be your decision, and you should pay however you feel most comfortable. You shouldn’t feel pressured to pay with cash, personal check, or a money order if you do not want to. There’s no good reason a private investigator in this day in age can’t accept your credit card, and ideally, they should have a system to take payment that doesn’t require asking you to give your credit card information to them over the phone or written in an email.

At TMS, we accept all major credit cards, PayPal, Apple Pay, Google Pay and will NEVER ask you for your credit card number. We have multiple payment options. You can insert chip or swipe your card at our office, you can pay securely on our website, or we can email you a custom invoice which you can pay online.



Do you have an office where we can meet?

Yes. It's one of the areas that sets TMS Investigations apart in the Orlando area. We maintain a physical office near downtown, where clients can meet discreetly to discuss their case. While it is certainly easier and cheaper to operate out of a home office, and just meet clients at a coffee shop, we afford our customers the opportunity to have a private consultation in a professional environment where they can meet the investigator in-person and go over the needs of their case.