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Example

If Sam does not want to pay out a big chunk of his fee to X Company, he has to use a different strategy to find the information. The tactic is called pretext. Posing as Arnie, over the Internet or the telephone, he will attempt to gather the necessary account information. Here’s how the pretext scheme works: When you hired Sam to investigate Arnie’s assets, Sam requested Arnie’s full name and address. With this information, he then located Arnie’s Social Security number. This is the key to all asset searches. It unlocks the door to almost every other piece of information, and it’s easily accessible.

It is easier to find a Social Security number than an address or telephone number. Almost everyone has applied for credit and has provided their Social Security number on the application. The information on the applications are used to create databases, which are available for marketing and commercial purposes. For example, every individual credit report maintained by the three national credit agencies-Trans Union, Equifax, and Experion-contains a “credit header,” which is the portion of the report with the name, aliases, birth date, current and prior addresses, telephone number, and Social Security number. Credit headers may be sold to services that compile information databases on millions of people. In a promotional brochure one service, People Finder, claims that its database contains credit header information on “160 million individuals, 92 million households, 71 million telephone numbers, and 40 million deceased records.”

Sam maintains a subscription to several database suppliers, and he finds Arnie’s Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, and telephone numbers in a few minutes.

Sam then calls the customer service representatives at the firms, pretending that he is Arnie. The first task is simply to locate the accounts and the account number. One clever ruse is the wire transfer ploy. He may say, “This is Arnie Smith, and I would like to wire transfer $100,000 into my account. Can you please give me the proper routing instructions?”

The helpful employee responds, “Certainly, Mr. Smith, let me just find your account here.” If she can’t find the account in the computer, she’ll say, “I’m sorry, sir, but there must be some mistake. We can’t find your account. Do you have the account number handy?” If she does find the account, she may ask for some verifying information such as date or place of birth or mother’s maiden name. But Sam is prepared and he already has the right answer. She will then provide Sam with the routing information for the wire transfer, which will include the account number. Once Sam has the account number, that’s the end of the ball game. He can now call and get whatever information he needs.

Although the telephone pretext strategy works well for brokerage firms, which are limited in number, these time-consuming techniques cannot be used when the requested search covers a large number of banks. It is not possible for the investigator to personally telephone even a fraction of the banks where the accounts might be located. And it is not cost effective to hire a room full of callers when the total fee is only a few hundred dollars.
Instead, Sam can use the high tech solution and can send a computer message to thousands of banks simultaneously-again posing as Arnie. Most banks now provide computerized responses to customer inquiries, and when the proper identifying data is furnished, the requested information can be elicited. Online Internet searches, in this manner, allow the investigator to cover banks throughout the country and to obtain account information quickly and inexpensively.

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