When someone is involved in a legal dispute such as a bitter divorce, he or she may be motivated to hide his or her assets in order to shield them from a legal judgment. But if someone has a legitimate need to find the assets, there are means available to do so. A fair amount of information as well as considerable determination are required on the part of the seeker.
Discovering hidden assets
Collect relevant information on the search subject. This includes the search subject's full legal name, Social Security number, address, workplace, bank records and any other information available. Gather as much information as possible by any legal means.
Verify the accuracy of your information. This means double-checking the spelling of a name, updating an address and perhaps making a call to the search subject's workplace. This is essential in order to obtain accurate information in a search. An accurate Social Security number is essential for many searches.
Obtain a court order, if possible. This is especially relevant for child-support cases. With a court order in hand, many records that may otherwise be off-limits, such as bank records, will become available.
Obtain phone records, including cellphone records. These records can be obtained by subpoena. Phone records can be a clue to relatives or other associates who may be hiding assets for the search subject.
Determine the search subject's workplace and frequency of pay. Again, this is much easier with a court order in hand. Simply following the person in the morning, however, can often disclose the search subject's workplace.
Look at tax records. For a spouse who files joint tax returns, obtaining a copy of a tax return is a legal right. Tax returns can also be obtained by subpoena or in response to an attempt to collect child support. Tax records always include a Social Security number.
Check for suspicious trips, especially overseas. Trips to places like Switzerland may be clues to offshore bank accounts that may contain hidden assets.This is especially true with repeat trips to the same location.
Search for large purchases of goods or even insurance policies, as well as substantial money transfers. Large withdrawals from a bank account or generous gifts to relatives may signal an attempt to shift assets to a third party.
Check for real-estate transfers or auto-title transfers Also, check for payments or purchases made on behalf of a third party. Real=estate records are filed with the county recorder’s office as well as with the registrar of deeds.
Check for rentals of storage units and safety deposit boxes, which are frequently used as hiding places for heirlooms, jewelry and other assets that the search subject cannot or does not wish to convert into cash.
Decide whether to conduct your own search or hire an investigator. A great deal of information is available in the form of public records. But searching through public records is time-consuming and can be fruitless unless you know what you're doing. Hiring an investigator may be more time- and cost-effective in the long run.
If the search subject is a spouse or close relative, it may be easier to obtain sensitive information such as a Social Security number, and to keep track of at least some of the calls he or she makes and receives, as well as his movements.
Overly large credit-card payments are another possible red flag as an attempt to hide assets.
Be aware of what is legal and what is not in conducting a search. There can be serious legal consequences if information is obtained by illegal methods or if information is used for illegal purposes, such as stalking.
Many online "investigation" services are little more than computerized scans of public records. The information retrieved is often out of date, and the prices can be high. It's much better to conduct one's own search, and the information obtained will probably be more accurate as well.