Are you ‘prepped’ to find out how good your Investigative/Surveillance vendor truly is?

  • are they preparing properly to complete the assignment the first time:


There will inevitably be many in my industry not very happy with this article. And I have to tell you that I am okay with that.  I have been in the Private Investigation business specializing in Insurance Claims/Fraud Investigations for 26 years.  I have had more investigations move through my hands than any other P.I. in the State of NJ, and possibly the Tri-State area.  I have always been known for my ability to investigate by computer, even prior to the internet.  This is what separated me from others in this industry, especially in the 90’s.  I have a knack for data, for reading between the lines, knowing how the data is obtained, and most importantly how to stack search.  As a P.I., I discovered that my data talent helped me investigatively.  As a business owner I have discovered that my data talent has hurt me financially; but I am okay with that.  I take more pride in doing a great job and more importantly exceeding my client’s expectations.  It was important to me that all of my employees were trained on understanding data and how to apply that data to their investigation.  No matter the assignment that comes into our office we fully prep each case so that the field investigator is armed with all available pertinent data.  We do not charge for prepping as it is built in to our hourly or flat rate fees.  The purpose for this file prep is to make the field investigator more efficient, and I have found it absolutely does.

The issue at hand is that many investigation companies do not prep every case; and if they do prep, it is only on surveillance cases. Most likely they will charge for the prepping, and then there is the question of whether it was prepped properly.  Now, this article is not about how great we are and how bad everyone else is at prepping a file.  You might learn after reading this that your vendor is doing their part.  The intent of this article is to educate the Claims Manager/Adjuster, SIU rep and Defense Attorney on how to determine if your investigation vendor is prepared when they work your case, OR are they instead on a scavenger hunt at your expense, working 1hour/1 mile/1 toll at a time.

I have to imagine you now understand why an investigation company might not want to prep every assignment. First and foremost is the cost to prepping a file.  For even the simplest assignment, such as a statement of a witness, we invest on average $38 in data fees and in-house prep time.  From that data prepping we look to confirm the subject’s residency or identify a new address, obtain a cell and residential number, identify a motor vehicle, and possibly an employer.  While doing this we will also obtain the names, addresses and phone numbers for relatives of the subject.  The alternative is the vendor does not prep the case and simply assigns it to the field investigator.  That field investigator will then go to the address provided by you the client (possibly during work hours) and if the subject is not home or does not live there, that investigator has no alternative information to complete the assignment.  That same investigator might even visit the same address 2 or 3 times only to tell you that no one was home and/or no one there knows the subject.  You then receive an invoice for 2 to 3 visits at 2 to 3hrs per visit, accompanied with mileage, and possibly tolls and parking fees.  I would estimate each visit to cost around $225 (being conservative) and you now have an invoice for $600 to $750 while the statement was never obtained.  The report will probably recommend a Locate Investigation.  If you agree, you might receive another $200 invoice and then another round of field visits.  In this example, a witness statement case could cost you over $1,000 and you might not still have the statement.

This same investigation, when prepped properly in advance would enable the Field Investigator to contact the witness by cell phone, or at his/her employer, or via a relative to schedule an appointment ahead of time. One field visit and the assignment is completed.  Now of course not every assignment works out that way, but most should.

So what can you do to determine if your vendor(s) management/ownership is not preparing their investigators, which in turn allows them to bill you more? Look for the following:

  1. Do they start their report with the prepping data they obtained? And if so, how extensive is it? If you see terms like ‘Internet Search’ you should be concerned. This is an archaic term that means they did a free Google search to ID a residential phone number. Your child could do better for you.
  2. Does the report reflect phone contact attempts made prior to visiting the address? And if so how many? There should be at least 3 phone attempts made to more than one number.
  3. Did they only call the number you provided with no success and then go straight to a cold call visit?
  4. Is the first step in the investigation a cold call visit to the provided address? If so, how many times?
    1. Do they list the days and times they visited the address?
  5. Did they attempt other ways to contact the subject like Facebook/LinkedIn/Relatives/Employer, or is the effort the same in each report.
  6. Does the report end with ‘we suggest’ or ‘we will now conduct’ a Locate Investigation?

If you see some of the above on a few of the reports you receive it is most likely that your vendor is not prepping the assignment thoroughly, or at all. To be efficient is to accomplish more and bill less.  Since most investigators are paid by the hour they would also want the re-visits.  And since the company makes more money, they don’t make issue with it.  Please understand that rush cases and even cases that are properly prepped could result in a few visits with no success.  But I feel this should be a rarity and not the norm.

 In the following two examples, the investigation vendors were tasked with obtaining signed Answers to Interrogatories from an insured. They were provided with only a name and address. The following results are real, taken from real reports submitted by the vendors.

 In Example 1, the vendor first conducts database prepping on the insured and confirms the current address.  The vendor also identifies a mobile phone number listed to the insured.

The Investigator’s first action is to call the mobile phone and leave a detailed message for the insured, explaining the investigation and requesting a return call. The insured returns that phone call later the same evening, and they discuss the interrogatories.  The insured advises that due to a hectic schedule he would prefer to meet on the weekend, but requests a call back over the weekend to secure a date and time.  The Investigator, unable to reach the insured again on the phone on Saturday or Sunday opts not to travel to the residence; based on their previous conversation the Investigator instead leaves additional voice messages and also sends text messages to the mobile phone.  When the Investigator eventually receives a return call the following week, the insured apologizes and explains a busy work schedule.  They then agree to meet the following Saturday.  The Investigator meets with the insured on a Saturday afternoon and the Interrogatories are completed in one visit.

Invoice Total $328.25

In Example 2, the vendor conducts no database prepping on the insured and the Investigator’s first action is to cold call the provided address on a Thursday afternoon.  Finding no one home, additional cold call visits are made to the provided address on a Sunday morning and then on a Monday evening.  The final report indicates that efforts to locate the insured and complete the Interrogatories were unsuccessful.

Total Invoice $586.90

In the above examples, the investigation which was not prepped in advance cost the client approximately $260 more, and the end result was an unsuccessful, an incomplete assignment. This type of handling adds up over time, assignment after assignment.

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