Hidden asset investigation is a process of locating, identifying and recovering assets, holdings, and properties that have intentionally been concealed. These assets are hidden by individuals or corporations in legal situations where they are unwilling to be honest about their wealth, probably because they are required to settle debts, or where their wealth would be split between them and another party. Such situations include Divorce, Civil Litigation, contested Estate proceedings etc.The most common cases are Divorce proceedings, Insurance claims, and business partnerships where one party may suspect the other of foul play or may just be doing due diligence; like carrying out an asset investigation before going into a business partnership. These investigations are usually carried out by Government agencies or private investigators.
Locating and recovering hidden assets can be achieved through a process. This process usually starts with a consultation where you submit your case and speak to a private investigator or an agent within a law enforcement agency. Details of the case which includes the person(s) who is believed to be in possession of concealed assets, the situation surrounding the concealment, and other important information are usually provided at this juncture. The investigator looks into the case, performs background and other necessary checks to ensure the validity of claims. Once checks come back clear the process for finding the assets in question is then set into motion.
The first thing to do is to draw up a plan. Hidden asset investigations are usually time sensitive, and the actions carried out by investigators have to be swift and purposeful. Investigation plans generally iron out the objectives of the investigation, the potential information sources, the subject of the investigation, the assets in question, the reasons the subject has for hiding the assets and a timeline for the recovery of assets, among other details. An investigation plan also helps prioritize and organize the objectives of the investigation and the steps to be taken to accomplish them. Another part of the investigation plan is its scope; how long the investigation is going to run, how much it will cost, possible constraints and limitations etc.
The next step is to collect information relevant to the objectives of the investigation. This includes the subject’s name and address, place of work, known assets, available financial information, social security number, known associates etc. Some of this information can easily be gotten from records, business profiles, social media, and other public sources. The information gotten is used to guide searches that ultimately would lead to the uncovering of assets. Law enforcement agencies usually have more access or means to private information like bank statements than private investigators, but there are records where private investigators who cannot get access to private records as easily can look to legally get more information on subjects. Some of these records include:
• Land Registry: Real estate transactions are public records.
• Corporate filings: The subject may not hold assets in their name but in the name of their company. Also, the company may acquire property in the subject’s name.
• Patents and trademarks: The subject may hold a patent or trademark that could be worth a lot. This is an asset that can easily be found in a patent database.
• Non-Profits and Charities: While non-profits and charities are generally not meant to be assets, some individuals or corporations may try to hide assets by filing it under the name of the organization or charity.
• SEC Listings: If the subject owns a publicly traded company or is an executive, his/her stock info may be accessible on the SEC listing as public companies are required to provide some information on their stock ownership to the SEC.
• Motor Vehicle Registrations
• Department of revenue
The information collected is used to create a subject profile. Subject profiles are detailed reports that are constantly updated until the close of the case. These profiles are created to identify intelligence gaps and assist analysis, among other things. Profiles may include content like details of lifestyle and habits, employment details, financial profile and details of family and relationships.
The financial profile is a financial statement(s) that shows the earnings, expenses, assets, liabilities, and debts owned by the subject over a period of time. Financial profiles are useful in cases of assets being hidden as it shows the subject’s financial condition. Financial profiles can be created on both individuals and businesses to keep track of their transactions. There are two methods or approach to creating a financial profile; each method has its own set of sources. The direct method involves the investigator reaching out to the subject’s bank, brokers, credit card company etc. for information. Federal agencies can get that type of clearance, but private investigators may not unless they strictly follow the GLBA federal guidelines. Thus, they may employ the indirect method and draw from sources like charitable contributions, lifestyle and habits, interviews with associates and online or public records. The general process of creating financial profiles involve identifying assets, liabilities, income, expenses, and finally calculating the subject’s net worth.
Analyzing all the data gathered and the profile created comes next. Investigators analyze every piece of relevant information they can get their hands on. They review documents and search for leads that could result in substantial evidence. Leads could include names, phone numbers, email accounts, bank account numbers, addresses, etc.The investigators then conduct interviews with known associates of the subject. They ask relevant parties for information that could further guide their search, reveal new variables, or create new leads. This is usually the final step before the tracing of the assets is done.
The tracing of the assets involves ‘following the paper trail.’ It is the examination of financial records, accounting for the movement of assets, finding criminal activity if there is any and linking it back to the assets involved. It helps to prove the existence of hidden assets by providing evidence via financial records and statements. Hidden asset investigations are usually difficult and time-consuming but, once done successfully, could be rewarding and noble.
About the Author
Chris Cavallo has been in the Security and Investigations Industry for 40 + years and is highly proficient in various areas of Investigations such as Skip Tracing, Background Investigations, Hidden Asset Discovery and conducting complex Surveillance operations. He has done business on every continent either through his own companies or through the partnerships that he has developed and maintained during his professional career.
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