Asset Searches : What Are They and What's Legal?
  • The art of locating assets is something that Parrent Smith Investigations investigators have spent a professional lifetime cultivating and perfecting. With our collective 75 years of investigative experience, we have the ability to find bank accounts, stock accounts, real estate and vehicles or any other assets of value anywhere in the world. So, when a potential client wants to know if we to do asset searches, the answer is definitely, yes we do. But then we ask:
    "What is the reason for the asset search?" and
    "What kind of assets are you looking for?"

 

  • The answers we get to the first question include:

            • *Clients want to collect on a judgment or recover stolen assets.
              *Attorneys and their clients are contemplating suing but want to find out in advance whether or not the other party has assets to levy on.
              * Companies want to verify a potential business partners' financial-worth.
              * Investors, both businesses and individuals, want to ascertain the financial status of the people or companies they're thinking of investing in.
              * Creditors want to check the financial stability of potential debtors.
              * A client suspects fraud inside their company.
              * In family law disputes, one party may suspect the other of hiding money.

             

            When answering the second question - what kind of assets are you looking for - most clients first tell us they want us to find out if the subject owns real property. We can do real property searches nationwide through several proprietary databases, as well as searches at the individual county recorder's office where we suspect the subject might have property. If requested, we can also provide the net equity of the real property.

            The next most common request is that we find financial assets such as bank and brokerage accounts. Some clients ask us: "Is it legal to obtain banking information?" The answer to that is: In many circumstances it is legal (see below), but it depends on the purpose for the search, the kind of information obtained and the method of doing the search.

 

In rarer cases, clients want us to find personal property such as automobiles, boats, airplanes; collectible assets, such as art, antiques, stamps, coins, and jewelry and off-shore assets. Personal property is easier for us to find in some states than in others, but we are usually able to find many of these assets, though they may not be worth as much as real property and financial assets. Collectible assets and off-shore accounts are the most difficult types of assets to locate, but there are some methods of locating them in cases where a lot of money is at stake.

 

Bank Searches - When Are They Legal?

 

We conduct our bank searches in compliance with the provisions of the law, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). For all of our bank searches, our clients first must have a permissible purpose for us to make the inquiry.

Permissible purposes for bank searches are actually quite reasonable and include:

* Debt Collection
* Judgment Collection
* Authorized Matrimonial Investigation
* Authorized Estate Investigation
* Child Support Collection
* Court order or subpoena
* Authorized Employment Background
* As a potential investor or servicer or current insurer in connection with a validation or, an assessment of the credit or prepayment risks associated with, an existing credit obligation
* Credit transaction involving extension of credit to the consumer or review or collection of an account
* Determination of consumer's eligibility for a license or other benefit granted by a government instrumentality required by law to consider an applicant's financial responsibility or status
* By written permission of the consumer to whom it relates
* Underwriting of insurance involving the consumer
* Legitimate business need for the information in connection with a business transaction that is initiated by the consumer or to review an account to determine whether the consumer continues to meet the terms of the account.

Second, to maintain compliance with GLBA, we do not report account numbers. The account number provision is also not a hindrance in collection efforts since, as our attorney clients know, ALL writs served should state "any and all accounts" held by the banking institution where the levy is served rather than specify a particular account.

Our reports provide the name and location of the financial institution and a description of the accounts in that institution with either the most recent balance or the average balance over the past thirty days depending on the individual institutions reporting protocols. In some cases, a subject may have an opt-out agreement with the bank or a private banker. In those, rarer, cases we may only be able to provide the financial institution and type of account but no balance information. Generally, this is only with high net worth accounts.

 

Finally, the pretexting provision of GLBA makes it illegal to use a consumer's personal identifying information in order to impersonate him or her to gain account information. Some investigative agencies use this method to obtain bank information, and it is blatantly illegal. We do not use that method. Be careful of doing business with companies who do.

 

International Asset Searches

 

Because we routinely perform searches for banks, stocks and real property inside the United States, we are frequently asked if we can perform the same type of searches outside of the United States. The answer - and how much it costs - depends upon the country involved.  Some countries have very strong banking laws and privacy regulations. Others may have policies and statutes that allow for the creation of financial vehicles that greatly increase the difficulty of locating bank accounts. Panama, for example, allows for "Bearer Bond Corporations" in which the name(s) of the owners of the corporation does not have to be in public records but is actually vested in whoever has physical possession of the bonds. Couple that oddity with the ability of such corporations to obtain anonymous credit and debit cards issued in the name of the corporation alone and things get even more difficult. What you have is a credit or debit card that can be used by anyone, in the name of a corporation whose ownership is not listed anywhere but is determined by who physically holds the shares! That can make tracing the source of funds very difficult.

 

When a client wants to find assets held in foreign countries, we contact an associate in the country in question from our large network of associates from around the world and try to determine how much information a search in the country in question would be likely to provide and how much it would cost. We then prepare a short proposal for our clients so they can decide if the expense is worth it. In a fraud case where a client of ours was owed millions of dollars, it was worth spending quite a bit for us to search for funds. In other cases, the amount owed versus the cost of the search for funds and the degree of difficulty attaching funds once they are located has to be weighed.

We are living in a global economy now. More and more business is being conducted not just across state lines but throughout the world. Although that leads to greater income for our clients, sometimes it also leads to situations where international asset searches are necessary. If that happens to your business or a business you represent, please don't hesitate to call us. It won't cost you a thing to find out what is possible.

 

The Bottom Line on Financial Assets

 

As many clients soon realize, securing a judgment against a defendant is only half of the battle. The second half is trying to find assets to satisfy the judgment. We believe it is important for those who have been defrauded or who have been the victim of scam artists or chronic debtors to be able to collect on their judgments. We are happy to offer a legal way to help through our asset searches.

Please call us today with any questions you may have.

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