The main purpose of an asset investigation is to identify the tangible and intangible assets owned by an individual or business. Asset investigations are necessary in a variety of situations, such as when trying to collect on a debt, recovering a judgement, child support and alimony cases, when purchasing a business and many other situations.
This article will provide an overview of asset investigations. We’ll talk about what qualifies as an asset and who might need to have an investigation done. In addition, we’ll cover the types of companies that perform such work, the costs involved, the legal considerations and more.
What are Assets?
For the purposes of this article, we’ll treat those items owned by an individual as personal assets and those owned by a business or corporation as business assets. Examples of personal assets include:
- Cash in bank accounts, savings accounts, money markets, Certificates of Deposit (CD) and even offshore accounts
- Personal property such as automobiles, jewelry, art, etc.
- Contents of safety deposit boxes
- Investments (e.g. mutual funds, stocks, bonds, etc.)
- Residential and commercial real estate
- Insurance policies with cash value
Examples of Business Assets include:
- Cash and cash equivalents
- Fixed assets such as buildings, furniture and office equipment
- Vehicles, watercraft, aircraft
- Intellectual property
- Patents and trademarks
In addition to identifying assets, investigators seek to identify additional financial information such as bankruptcies, tax liens, judgments, UCC filings, hidden accounts, etc.
In addition, the investigation seeks to identify fraud and criminal activity such as money laundering, tax evasion, fraud and embezzlement. A criminal records search may be included as part of the package or a full blown background check.
Asset Search Companies
A number of different types of companies may conduct asset searches. Such companies include:
- Asset investigators (investigators who specialize in investigating financial matters and running asset searches for both individuals and companies)
- Private investigators and investigation firms
- Collection agencies and debt collectors
- Law firms and individual attorneys
- Background check companies that are checking someone’s financial history
Sample Asset Investigation Scenarios
Prior to Litigation – If you are suing a person or company for punitive damages, an asset search will reveal if they have enough assets to make the lawsuit worthwhile. An asset check will uncover financial accounts, verify equity in real estate properties,
Judgment Recovery – When someone wins a judgment in court, it is their responsibility to collect the judgment from the debtor. A professional can help investigate the financial background of the debtor to prove they have the ability to pay. Learn more about Judgment Recovery.
Child Support and Alimony – In divorce cases, a private investigator can dig into the financial life of the spouse who is responsible for making child support or alimony payments. A spouse that is obligated to pay support may hide assets to understate their ability to pay.
When Purchasing a Business – Before someone purchases a business, it is important to have a true picture of its financial condition. An asset inquiry will help to ensure the business is free of debts, liens or bankruptcies. In addition, it will help to paint a clear picture of the true assets and liabilities of the business.
Estates and Inheritance – Many people die without an official will or estate plan. This leaves the survivors without a true understanding of the deceased person’s estate. An asset investigator can uncover the details of cash, bank accounts, investment accounts, real property, insurance policies, physical valuables, safety deposit boxes, and much more.
Can Private Investigators Look Up Bank Accounts?
Private Investigators don’t have the legal authority to access information in financial accounts such bank accounts, investment accounts, etc. However, with the appropriate access credentials, some investigation agencies may be able to pull credit reports from one or all of the consumer credit reporting agencies. Some firms have access to conduct background checks, financial investigations, etc.
Credit reports will reveal financial liabilities such as mortgages, credit cards, loans, etc. In addition, the report will provide the payment history, which gives an indication of the credit worthiness of the individual or company. However, Private Investigators can’t legally access the individual accounts.
How Much Does an Asset Investigation Cost?
If the investigation involves the recovery of money, firms will most likely charge a percentage of the amount recovered. Many firms will require that the amount to be recovered be above a certain threshold. Generally, a firm will require that the recovery amount be at least $3000.
If the firm is only running an online search through their many databases, they may charge a flat fee. Prices will likely vary between individual and business searches. Based on our research, costs range between $150 and $650 for these types of services.
Investigative firms usually don’t charge an hourly rate for this type of work. Due to amount of time that could be required to do an asset investigation, I recommend that you avoid paying investigators by the hour.
Legal Guidelines and Considerations
Private investigators can only access publicly available information through public records searches. Any investigation that a private investigator performs must be in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.
Learn More About Asset Investigation
Book: How To Do Financial Asset Investigations
How To Do Financial Asset Investigations: A Practical Guide for Private Investigators, Collections Personnel and Asset Recovery Specialists – This book emphasizes the use of public records and online resources and correlating the data from different open sources. It is an excellent primer for private investigator, recovery specialists and collection agents who need to learn how to uncover financial information. The book includes checklists for typical asset investigations and has a helpful glossary. In addition, it explores how the dark web is used by criminals, especially in organized crime.
Questions and Comments
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