Understanding Asset Investigations
There are a variety of reasons why a law firm, an insurance company, or an individual litigant may need to determine the assets of an individual or a business. These range from pre-litigation (where an attorney is trying to determine if someone has enough assets to make a lawsuit worthwhile), trying to trace stolen money, and trying to collect on an old judgment. Our asset investigators are seasoned veterans when it comes to legally finding assets. We are frequently asked by our clients what our asset searches entail and/or what can or can’t be done when it comes to finding assets, so as a result, we have addressed some of the most common topics below.
What is an Asset Investigation and an Asset Investigator?
The purpose of an asset search is to determine the total assets of an individual or business entity. Depending on the goal of your asset investigation, these searches can uncover valuable information you need to move forward with a claim or case.
Why Do I Need to Conduct an Asset Investigation?
An asset investigation may be necessary for a variety of situations. A few examples include:
- Pre-litigation. You may want to conduct an asset check during the pre-litigation phase of a claim or case. An investigation into the subject’s assets may provide you insight into whether the case is even worth pursuing.
- Court cases. You can use asset investigation services for family law cases, such as cases for child support or spousal support. An asset search can also be used in estate/probate cases to locate any assets that the deceased person did not properly document.
- Bankruptcy cases. An asset check can verify that the assets disclosed in a bankruptcy case are accurate.
- Judgment recovery. If you win a judgment in court, you want to know that the defendant has the means to pay you and where to levy their assets.
You may also want to use an asset check when investing in a property or a business. An asset search can ensure that the business is legitimate and is worth what it claims to be worth.
What Does an Asset Search Reveal?
At Bosco Legal Services, Inc., our asset investigators have more than 30 years of experience and we have seen it all. Our experience with asset location includes cases in the Civil, Probate and Family law areas. An asset search will help find information about the financial stability and liquidity an individual or entity has.
How Does an Asset Investigation Work?
Asset investigations can differ, depending on why it is needed and what information is needed. An asset investigation may combine multiple departments from our business. It may include:
Many of our clients ask for civil or criminal background checks alongside an asset investigation. We offer comprehensive background checks too. Please feel free to contact us for more information.
What Assets Can You Find in an Asset Investigation?
We can find virtually any type of individual or commercial asset. It does not matter if its property, vehicles, bank accounts, or investment accounts that you need, we can find them. For example, we are able to find the following types of assets:
- Bank accounts. We provide statewide and nationwide bank account search services. Our bank account search can find financial accounts in the subject’s name, hidden accounts, and safety deposit boxes. We offer both basic and comprehensive search options, depending on your needs and budget.
- Brokerage accounts. This includes investment accounts, 401k and IRAs held by brokerages.
- Real estate properties. We can find local, national, and in some cases, international properties.
- Business ownership. We can find businesses that the subject of our investigation owns or that they have a financial interest in.
- Personal property. This includes motor vehicles, jewelry, art, and more.
- Intellectual property. We can find patents, trademarks, and copyright information.
Continue reading for a more in-depth description of some of the most popular of these types of asset searches, with some context as to their value.
Property can be an excellent source of leverage when it comes to collecting on a judgment. Using a combination of propriety and public databases, we search for any counties that the subject has known ties to and then search for property records in the subject’s name. We will frequently look for variations of the subject’s name as well. There are times where it may be necessary to look at past properties as well, and then to follow the paper trail looking for fraudulent conveyances. It is common for people to try and protect or hide their properties by transferring them into the names of relatives, a business, a trust, etc.
While in most instances, you probably aren’t going to try and go after someone’s vehicle (depending on the jurisdiction/circumstances you may not even be able to), but vehicle research is an important step in the asset locate process. The types of vehicles that someone drives can provide important insight into their lifestyle and financial wellbeing. In addition, by locating a subject’s vehicles, you can frequently determine how they are holding assets (i.e. in the names of relatives, a business, a trust, etc.). Frequently, vehicle records may also help to determine the lien holder for the vehicle, which can then be subpoenaed to gain additional insight into the subject’s financial dealings.
In one case that we worked on, the ex-spouse was known to have significant assets, but was failing to pay his court ordered alimony; however, once we identified and located his beloved car collection and initiated the levy process, he brought the payments up to date and made sure they were always on time thereafter.
Liens & Judgments
As part of the process of looking into a person or a company’s assets, frequently we will look into any liens or judgments that may have been filed. This can be important for our clients to know, as they may have to complete with several other parties to collect a debtor’s assets. If a person has a judgment against them, we are often able to legally pull their credit report and use it to establish banking relationships.
When it is found that an individual has a significant number of liens or judgments against them, often it is an indicator that collecting a judgment may not be possible; however, that is not always the case. Sometimes it is still possible with the right information. For example, in one case the debtor we were after had a long list of creditors with judgments against him and he was making efforts to hide the money; however, through our investigation we found that on a certain day of the month, he had to transfer money into a particular bank account to meet payroll requirements for his company. Once we were able to determine the day, we orchestrated serving the writ on the exact day the funds were deposited, thereby intercepting the funds before they left the account.
When trying to determine a debtor’s business affiliations, we use a variety of resources including proprietary databases, the Secretary of State’s office, deep web searching, etc. to help our clients determine where a debtor works, or if they have ownership of or a financial interest in any businesses. Finding this information can be useful because it increases our ability to garnish their wages or to be able to conduct a third-party levy, to collect the money that their customers owe them. It also provides another avenue for the issuing of subpoenas, both for production of records and for a personal appearance by key employees, when necessary.
Bank & Brokerage Accounts
One of the most asked about aspects of our asset searches includes searching for Bank and/or Brokerage/Investment Accounts. Many people ask whether or not bank/brokerage searches are legal & the applicable laws can be confusing; however, all of the methods that we use for doing these types of investigations are in compliance with both the GLB and the Dodd-Frank Act. Yes, there are many techniques that can be used that are illegal; however, we’ve been in business too long and have worked too hard at building our reputation, to jeopardize what we’ve built over illegal business practices.
Because we choose to work within the bounds of the law to conduct these searches, there is no way for us to guarantee that we will find all accounts, and oftentimes with our covert investigations, additional steps are needed afterward (i.e. subpoenas, debtors’ exams, etc.) to find all of the desired information; however, our process is thorough and reliable.
While much of our process is complicated and proprietary, it is useful for those interested in doing bank account or brokerage account searching to understand some of the basics of how the information is legally obtained. Since the passing of the Patriot Act, any individual/or organization that sets up a bank account must go through a background check process, the requests for which are logged into databases. Based on our licensing, we have access to these databases and various electronic communications networks that banks use to share account holder information, which we can query to generate information. Additionally, in certain circumstances, especially when a judgment is in place, a bank’s Writ Department will work with us to verify the debtor’s account status and assist in freezing the assets.
To run a search for an individual, we need their full name, Social Security Number, date of birth, and last known address. To run a search for a business entity, we need the entity’s legal name (including any DBA’s), their Federal Employer Identification Number, a current address, and a principal or a corporate officer’s name. If you don’t have that information, no worries, in most instances we are able to locate that information for you.
Social Media Searching & Open Source Intelligence
If your subject is hiding their assets, it can really pay off to spend time looking at social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Frequently people will use sites like this to show their friends photos of their vacations, their possessions (i.e. cars, boats, homes, etc.), to talk about business ventures that they are involved in, or to even talk about their financial hardships. Frequently we will see that an individual trying to conceal their assets may be discrete on social media, but their family members may not be. A significant amount of information can be learned about someone by examining their social media accounts, and Bosco Legal Services is uniquely positioned to help locate accounts on the major and the obscure platforms, as we are nationally recognized as being experts in the field of social media investigations.
Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) or deep web searching is another useful tool when it comes to learning about someone’s assets and/or possessions. One example of this is that we can search various review type websites (i.e. Yelp, Google, Trip Advisor, Amazon, Foursquare, etc.) to look for reviews posted by the subject. This may provide some deeper insight into their lifestyle, possessions, how they are spending their money, etc.
Common Asset Search Packages
There are a variety of types of searches that we can do for our clients, in order to look for specific types of assets. We have listed some of the more common ones on this page; however, there are many other types of searches/methods that we can utilize, depending on our client’s needs/the specifics of the case. With that in mind, we do have some asset search packages that we offer our clients, which include many of our most popular/common types of searches. The level of detail of these searches is outlined as follows:
Basic Asset Search: Includes limited searching for properties, vehicles, judgments/liens, and business ownership, as well as searching for bank accounts through a single banking electronic communications network/database. This search focuses on grabbing any low hanging fruit & being able to generally understand a persons’ financial status. This level of searching is typically recommended when:
- The client needs to keep costs down and/or
- When a general idea is good enough
Standard Asset Search: Includes thorough searching for properties, vehicles, judgments/liens, and business ownership, as well as searching for bank accounts through multiple banking electronic communications networks/databases. This level of searching is typically recommended when:
- There is a judgment ready to be collected and/or
- The subject being investigated is believed to have sophisticated finances
Comprehensive Asset Search: Includes thorough searching for properties, vehicles, judgments/liens, business ownership, brokerage/investment accounts, searching for bank accounts through multiple banking electronic communications networks/databases, as well as OSINT/deep web searching. This level of searching is typically recommended when:
- The subject is believed to have significant assets
- The subject is believed to actively be hiding assets and/or
- The need for complete and thorough results outweighs the need to keep costs down
For current pricing on each of the options outlined above, please contact us.
Out of the Box Asset Searches
With asset searches (as with many types of investigations), often one size does not fit all. In addition, dealing with especially sophisticated targets requires thinking outside the box. Depending on the complexity of the case, some of the more unorthodox methods that we can use for locating assets may include the following:
Third-Party Payment Apps: (i.e. Venmo, PayPal, Apple Pay, Zelle, Google Pay, Square Cash, etc.). If it can be determined which of these payment apps that the subject uses (we frequently locate these through our social media investigations), subpoenas can then be issued to obtain the financial records associated with these accounts. This may include who they are banking with, who they are paying, and who is paying them.
Trash Runs/Dumpster Diving: While we can’t go onto someone’s property to look through their trash cans, in most jurisdictions it is perfectly legal to go through someone’s trash once it has been placed onto public property (i.e. trash cans being placed at the curb on trash day). While this is not a fun or glamorous job, people throw away all kinds of potentially useful information every day. This includes receipts, bills, statements, photos, records, documents that may contain an alias, or other types of information that may provide insight into how they are holding their assets or how they are paying their bills.
Bank Statements: On occasion, our clients will have access to the subject’s bank account statements or the ability to get them through legal means (i.e. subpoenas). While that sounds great, the problem is often interpreting the data, because there can be so much of it and it can be hard to know what to look for. When we have access to these statements, we can go through them and put an entire profile together, to determine if we really “have everything” or if we need to keep digging.
Are Asset Searches Legal?
Our asset investigators follow the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) and the Dodd-Frank Act. There is no pretexting involved, and all information that we provide to you is in compliance with these laws. These regulatory guidelines require a legally permissible reason to conduct the investigation, and as such, we won’t conduct these investigations just because someone is curious and willing to pay for the information. Legally permissible reasons could include collecting a judgment, researching an opposing party in litigation (or reasonably foreseeable litigation) and locating accounts hidden by a spouse or a business partner.
Keep in mind that there are legal and illegal ways to conduct bank account searches. When choosing a company to conduct your bank account searches, you want to make sure that they are complying with all state and federal laws.
If you’re unsure if you have a permissible reason to conduct an asset locate, feel free to contact us.
Can You Find All of Someone’s Assets?
In short, it depends. Because we choose to abide by all applicable laws, which does limit certain capabilities, it can be difficult for us to definitively state that we have “found everything.” We’ve been in the business too long to make promises that we can’t keep. Naturally, the more in depth we go, the higher the probability that we will find everything; however, it is not always prudent to go “all in” at the outset. As we work an asset search, we stay in communication with the client to make recommendations whether or not more exhaustive searching is warranted, based on the information found already and the remaining leads that can be followed.