Asset searches are simple in theory, but often complicated in practice. When people talk about conducting an investigation into someone’s assets, terms like “multi-jurisdictional”, “complex financial structures”, and “forensic accounting” get thrown around - and for good reason. The more wealth someone is hiding, the more complicated and elaborate the methods of obfuscation.
Every asset search boils down to answering these questions:
- "Where is the money?"
- "How much money is there?"
- And, sometimes, “does this mean I can trust this person?”
Private investigators conduct asset searches on a regular basis for a wide range of purposes. Generally speaking, you would request an asset search to establish someone is trustworthy (e.g. if you want to make sure someone is as creditworthy as they appear to be), or to find how much wealth someone has hidden and where they’ve hidden it with a view to recovering it, or obtaining payment.
What Are Asset Searches for?
Why request an asset search? Asset searches have plenty of specific uses for business and individuals alike - people make all sorts of claims about their wealth (or lack thereof) in order to get loans, cash, affection, or to avoid having to make payments. An asset search can sort fact from fiction, and determine whether someone is worthy of a loan, able to make a payment, or has stolen assets.
We’ve highlighted two kinds of asset searches and the reasons someone might request one.
Why Would I Need a Personal Asset Search?
- If you fear may have been a victim of fraud, such as catfishing or a get rich quick scheme (classified as confidence tricks), an asset search will determine whether someone is who they claim to be. Scammers that claim they are wealthy, or are waiting on some kind of payment from an estate or a bank are not who they seem to be can be verified quickly and with confidence.
- Finding assets ahead of divorce proceedings as part of the discovery process.. People are required to disclose their assets - but often, individuals of high net worth try to hide their wealth to avoid having to give part of it up. Asset searches can confirm the existence of assets revealed during discovery, and find hidden ones. If someone is caught in the act of hiding assets a judge will often order a more aggressive, wide-ranging discovery process. This often means that a judge will hand down court orders giving investigators special powers to investigate further.
- Ensuring that a will has been properly executed. Sometimes, heirs to an estate will ask an investigator to look into what assets are included in an estate, and to whom they have been transferred. By finding what and where an estate's assets are, investigators can help make sure that the executor has distributed them appropriately.
Why Would I Need a Business and Corporate Asset Search?
- Establishing wealth and credibility. Before you loan someone money, invest in their business, or enter into any other kind of arrangement, you’ll want to make sure they are creditworthy. An asset search can make sure that someone hasn’t misrepresented their wealth, businesses, and creditworthiness.
- Enforcing legal judgements and recovering financial damages. Winning a case is just the first step. Even if a judge has ordered that someone pay damages, you still need to make them follow through. An asset search can determine whether someone has hidden their assets in an effort not to pay a court judgement, or has otherwise engaged in capital flight.
- Finding lost funds hidden from investors or employers. If you’re an investor who has been defrauded or an employer trying to recover embezzled funds, the first thing you’ll need to do is find the stolen or misappropriated assets. An asset search can find evidence of offshore bank accounts, fake invoices, shell companies and other tactics used to hide wealth or obscure theft.
What Will a Private Investigator Look for
in an Asset Search?
Experienced private investigators can spot the various (and often complex) ways people hide their assets when they don’t want it to be found. From finding money buried in a backyard to carrying out multijurisdictional searches requiring forensic accounting and court orders galore, private investigators are skilled at tracking down both tangible and intangible assets.
When you engage a private investigator to search for assets on your behalf, they’ll typically look for the following:
- Fake or fradulent loans and liabilities created to lower someone's apparent net worth
- Contracts and obligations both filled and unfulfilled that can be used to hide wealth (for instance, an invoice to a friend or business associate for thousands of dollars that they can call due at any point)
- Associations with businesses and boards
- Deferred compensation and under/overpayment of debts and accounts.
- Life insurance policies and pension plans
- Stock options and brokerage accounts
- Big ticket items like boats, cars, and planes, whether purchased in their name or the name of a nominee or intermediary
- Vacation homes and other properties
- Bank accounts and safety deposit boxes
- International assets including stocks, bank accounts, and shell corporations under the name of intermediaries, nominees, or alter-egos
- Evidence of capital flight
- Financial assets hidden in capital havens - think Panama Papers
- Intangible assets like patents and intellectual property
- Items with “subjective” value like art and collectibles
- Unusual checks or shifts in credit score
- Statements from colleagues, friends, and family about spending habits or transfers of wealth
- Unusual or large loans that would have required significant collateral
This is just a brief overview of asset searches. In reality, they are often much more nuanced and specific to the needs of you, the client. Sometimes a case will be straightforward and simple, other times it will require intense effort and special expertise. Whatever the scope of the investigation, an asset search is generally excellent value for money. After all, money spent on one will likely pale in comparison to the money you’ll save from avoiding a bad business deal, or gain from uncovering wealth that ought to be paid back to you.