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The Downfall of Trustify

Founded in 2015, Trustify, Inc. was a start-up company dedicated to helping people hire private investigators on-demand. In 2016, Washington Business Journal named the company one of its Startups of the Week, and Trustify amassed a lot of press in its early years for its forward-thinking business model for the private investigations industry. Some likened Trustify’s business model to Uber for its quick-access, hire-on-demand, and short-term capabilities.

The company rapidly grew before its descent into financial troubles in late 2018, leading to the company’s complete demise in 2019. As 2019 winds down with a plethora of lawsuits against Trustify, it seems pertinent to evaluate what impact did this seemingly revolutionary company have on the private investigations industry and what we can learn from it? Let’s take a look back and see how Trustify shook up the PI world.

Trustify’s Rise

For those not involved in the business side of private investigations, meaning those looking to hire a private investigator, the ability to download an app, hire an investigator at affordable rates, and get the information they were seeking was an exciting, progressive change to an industry that operated using the same tried and true methods since the Sherlock Holmes days.

However, for investigators, Trustify all but turned the industry on its head. The rates being offered by subcontractors in Trustify’s network were well under market value, which threatened scores of well-established private investigators and their livelihoods. Though this would certainly have driven down the wages for investigators, it wouldn’t necessarily kill the industry.

But then, Trustify was seemingly hiring private investigators who weren’t licensed or who did not have the appropriate state-required licensure. While private investigators were turning away jobs that didn’t feel right, Trustify was taking anything and everything on. Even still, they were on an upward trajectory, as those hired worked as independent contractors, and licensure was up to them. Trustify continued dumping money into advertising in profound amounts, driving up the cost of advertising for established investigators while simultaneously cornering the market. They were rocking the boat of the industry, but longtime investigators pressed on despite Trustify’s intrusion on the industry.

What Happened to Trustify?

What goes up must come down — at least in the case of Trustify. Its meteoric rise led to an equally astounding fall. Things seemed to be going well, as evidenced by the prolific advertising and extravagantly decorated office with lavish furnishings — until things weren’t. And at that point, things were very, very wrong.

When the direct deposit for investigators failed to clear, paper checks were issued, which then subsequently bounced. Unpaid bills mounted. Investigators were left wondering what was going on and whether they’d ever get paid for the work they received through Trustify. And then it came to light that Danny Boice, the founder and former CEO of Trustify, was using Trustify funds for personal matters. The financial woes compounded. The beautiful office was abandoned with Trustify evicted. The company quickly became completely defunct.

Virginia-based Private Investigator John Morse of Morse Investigation Services explained, “They had little to no desire to get in compliance, and they imploded from corporate culture that they bred. It’s as much about delivering client expectations as the final product, and I don't think they were successful at either.”

Currently, there are a number of lawsuits against Danny Boice, the founder and former CEO of Trustify. PR firms sued due to unpaid advertising bills. Investors sued for malfeasance, mismanagement, breaches of fiduciary duty, and fraud. Investigators sued because they were not paid. Trustify was evicted from its office, and the real estate investment company sued to garnish wages stemming from those unpaid bills. Boice was sued (lawsuits still in progress) for pretty much anything and everything.

Trustify’s Impact on The Industry

Though Trustify is long gone, there is still the possibility for other companies to come about using a similar business model springing up across the country. Their potential impact could be dangerous should they venture down a similar path.

Investigation companies like Trustify threatened the industry by not vetting jobs, charging low rates, and not maintaining the proper licensure. Morse related: “Whether it’s Trustify or one of the many others that tried to come up in the pack —they are a danger. They work off of a margin. They’re sales agencies. They just don’t care about vetting the work product. We’ll turn away people and deny taking on cases - a less ethical company would’ve gladly accepted those same people as clients. We’ve worked hard through regulation and state associations to bring PIs from the image of the back alley trench coat cash in the bag image to professional organizations.”

All is not lost, however. With Trustify’s short stint in the world, many found it to be nothing more than a blip on the radar, with its impact temporary.

Where Do We Go From Here?

In the wake of Trustify, the path to maintaining a professional image is easy. Stay above board. Maintain proper licensure. Charge industry appropriate rates. The future is much the same as what investigators had been doing before Trustify came along.

If there are any pointers investigators should take from seeing the dumpster fire that was Trustify’s operations, it is to not follow their business model. Run the other way. Perhaps hire a marketing company to build your brand. It’s likely the only thing that Trustify excelled at doing.

Looking to the future, Morse advised, “You should know your worth [... and] charge what you’re worth. There are plenty of state and national organizations where there is a wealth of knowledge where information is shared and leads are referred. There’s plenty of resources out there for someone to go and learn and expand their business. If everyone banded together and refused to take on sub-par, sub-paying projects and operate within an ethical code, then these businesses couldn’t exist.”

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