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Case Study

Several years ago in connection with our own legal practice, we decided to invest some money and create several tests to see what the investigators could find. We were refining our own strategies for protecting financial privacy and wanted to see exactly what we were up against. We wanted to know the most advanced techniques the investigators used and how deeply into a given structure they could penetrate.

We selected a close friend of ours, Steve, to be the subject of the investigation. He agreed, but we are not using his real name. Steve is a good subject because he has financial accounts, properties, and business interests which range from straightforward to fairly complex. We were interested in seeing which assets could be found. Here is the description of what he owns.

  1. Five single family rental houses in California, Texas, and Arizona.
  2. Joint checking account with his wife at a California bank.
  3. Business checking account-with his signature only-in California.
  4. Brokerage accounts with stocks and mutual funds at two different firms.
  5. Account in the name of a Nevada corporation at a bank in Las Vegas. Steve is the owner of the company and one of three signatories on the account.

To perform this search, we chose a firm at random from several hundred advertising “Financial Investigations” on the Web. We told the investigator, a woman named Julia, that one of our clients was considering filing a lawsuit against Steve and we wanted to know beforehand exactly what he owned. Julia said she did these type of searches for many lawyers and helpfully suggested that we do a national search of real estate, bank accounts, stocks, and mutual funds for a fee of $600. We supplied the name of the subject-(Steve) and his Social Security number. If we had not known the Social Security number, the firm would have provided it for an extra $35. We also asked for the location of any safe deposit boxes. Three days later we received a faxed report from Julia which contained the following information:

  1. Steve’s full legal name and the names of his wife and two children.
  2. His current and previousaddresses and place of employment.
  3. Each of the five real estate properties was listed with street address, legal description, purchaseprice, loan balance, and estimated value.
  4. The joint account and business checking account were identified by account number, bank branch, andcurrent balance. An additional account was located which Steve had forgotten he had; it contained$45.67. We were particularly impressed because this account was in Maine-Steve had opened itwhen vacationing there ten years earlier-and there had been no activity since that time.
  5. Both of the brokerage accounts were listed. The report contained all of the stocks and mutual fundswith the account balance and deposits for the month. Julia noted that a list of all purchases andsales for the year could be obtained for an additional $95.
  6. Similarly, the Nevada corporation did nothing to shield the ownership of the bank account. Complete details, with the name of each signatory, was provided. We were supplied, without charge, the namesand addresses of the corporate officers and directors.
  7. As you might expect from the results so far, Steve’s safe deposit box was located, with box number,bank, and branch. To the best of our knowledge, the contents of the box were not revealed.

Even though the accounts were held in different forms and at different financial institutions, each had been discovered. In subsequent tests using ourselves and willing friends as guinea pigs, a total of fourteen out of sixteen possible accounts were accurately located.

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