I get asked all the time whether I can find hidden bank accounts around the world. The answer is mostly no. Brian Willingham of Diligentia Group wrote a helpful article about this last year, entitled “Can a Private Investigator Get Bank Records or Account Information?”. His answer is also no.
There are laws in place to protect your financial privacy. So if a private investigator, forensic accountant, or other professional tells you that they can find hidden bank accounts, you can be assured that they are using dishonest and illegal means to do so.
According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners manual, the Right to Financial Privacy Act prohibits financial institutions from disclosing bank records or account information about individual customers to governmental agencies without: 1) the customer’s consent, 2) a court order, 3) subpoena, 4) search warrant, or 5) other formal demand, with limited exceptions.
Even though the statute is limited in scope and only applies to demands specifically by government agencies, most financial institutions will not release information without one of the above listed authorizations.
It’s simple. If you want bank records, you either need consent, a subpoena, or a court order. (Or a search warrant if you’re a law enforcement officer.)
The same goes for tax records. You generally can’t get them without consent, so stay away from investigators who tell you they can get someone’s tax returns. They’re either lying to you or they will use illegal means to get them. In either case, you don’t want to be associated with that investigator.
Brian explains the methods that rogue investigators use to get bank account information:
Although pretexting does have legitimate and legal uses [which is a story for another post], the use of pretexting to obtain financial information about another person is protected under the The Gramm-Leach Bliley Act, passed in 1999, which imposed strict penalties for individuals who obtain information about a third party account through pretext or deceit.
I said above that the answer to whether I can get banking information is “mostly no.” So when and how can I get banking information? When there are clues to bank accounts in public records or in the financial documentation we already have.
For example, a search of court records may turn up cases involving the business or person you’re interested in. A careful review of the court documents might indicate bank accounts or other assets in play. Alternatively, a detailed analysis of bank records already in hand might show transfers to other bank accounts you previously did not know existed, sources of income which were previously unknown, or payments to people or entities that might suggest the existence of other assets or bank accounts.
These techniques can be very useful when trying to find hidden income and assets in divorce cases, or trying to track down money in other litigation or fraud cases.
For more information on our services in high net worth divorce cases, please visit our Divorce Investigation website.