I have been a private investigator for three years now, and experienced my first client issue recently. I knew it would happen sooner or later, but it was the way it happened, and I blame myself. I had several domestic cases, and they all went smoothly. But I should have reverted to my old law enforcement "gut" on this one. The client was referred to me by someone I knew. I actually know the referral's parents because they are my neighbors. The initial consultation was over the telephone, and when I insisted that we meet in person, the client always had an excuse. For a week the client haggled over whether or not they wanted to find out the truth. The client decided to retain me, and mailed my retainer fee.
During the course of three weeks all contact was texting or telephone conversations and I managed to confirm that the clients spouse was lying about his whereabouts, but never caught them in the act. When I suggested the best way to go about conducting rolling surveillance, the client balked because it was too much money. On two occasions I received texts that the spouse would be at a location only to wait and find out that they never left home. The client also wanted me to place GPS systems on the spouse's vehicle and inside their workplace. I told the client, "No!"
I hadn't heard from this client for a week, when I received a text that the spouse was supposed to work at a location. I had information on their vehicle, and conducted several "drive-by's" to confirm whether or not they were there. After I gave my findings I found out the spouse had driven a different vehicle. The client did not want to pay for surveillance, but told me in so many words I should have done it free!
The client demanded to know why I wasn't more dedicated to their case. I told them that I had other cases and responsibilities with my business, and that statement prompted a long email illustrating my unprofessionalism, the fact I was rude, and the client demanding a refund for their retainer. I responded with the fact that she signed a contract which stipulates the retainer is non-refundable, and other provisions were applicable. The client then responded by threatening to take me to small claims court to collect their refund.I called my attorney, and he told me to pay the client and be done with them completely.
I said earlier this was my fault. This is why. First I never physically met the client. That has always been a prerequisite. Secondly I responded because of the referral by someone I knew and gave a discount because I felt sorry for the client's financial position. Thirdly I didn't fully check out the client. If I had done so I would have found out they have a history of taking people to small claims court. Fourthly I didn't stick to my principles set forth in my beliefs.
As a result of this "lesson learned," there will be no over the telephone consultations, no more discounts, I will screen all domestic cases and if I don't feel right about the client or the case I will not take it, and my contract language will be re-visited and changed to eliminate this from happening again. You can teach old dog new tricks!