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Can a Private Investigator Obtain Bank Account Information?

September 4, 2014 Private Investigations

As Private Investigators at Sunset Blvd. Investigations (SBI) we receive numerous requests for asset investigations for a variety of reasons, including ongoing litigation leverage during the course of negotiations, divorce concerns or simply to see if a civil case is worth pursuing.

More often than not, private investigators do not have the legal authority to access information such as bank or investment accounts. There is no comprehensive database of bank accounts in the United States and identifying undisclosed or hidden accounts is not an easy task.

A seasoned private investigator may be able to identify accounts linked to an individual through interviews, public records searches, or other legitimate investigative techniques. Once accounts are identified, legally obtaining specific account information is nearly impossible without a court order or the consent of the account holder.

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 still remains that the most effective way to acquire bank account information is with the customer’s consent.

Throughout the United States there are a handful of private investigators and online businesses who claim that they have the ability to obtain bank accounts and other financial information. The fact of the matter remains, that obtaining this information without specific authority is against federal and state statutes.

The most common ways that private investigators obtain bank account information is through an inside source in the banking industry or via pretexting (gaining personal information under false pretenses).

The use of pretexting to obtain financial information is a Federal crime and is protected under the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act (GLB), also known as the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999, (Public Law 106–102, 113 Stat. 1338, enacted November 12, 1999).

Subtitle B: Fraudulent Access to Financial Information, codified at 15 U.S.C. §§ 6821–6827: Pretexting (at times referred to as “social engineering”) take place when an individual attempts to gain access to personal, nonpublic information without appropriate authority to do so. This may entail requesting private information while impersonating the account holder by phone, email, or even by “phishing” (i.e., using a deceptive website or email to collect data).

NOTE: The GLB imposed strict penalties for individuals who obtain information about a third-party account through pretext or deceit. Although administration of the Act falls under the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) the Act provides for criminal penalties and imprisonment of up to five years.

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  • The Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA)
  • Southern California Fraud Investigators Association
  • World Association of Detectives
  • California Association of Licensed Investigators

DisclaimerThis blog is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this blog should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. We strongly recommend that people contact an attorney for legal advice relative to this specific area of expertise in the law.

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