In the United States, bank records and financial accounts are one of the most protected personal records. Health records are protected by law and they are almost easier than getting a look at someone’s financial accounts. Can a private investigator obtain bank account information? In short, no. Brian Willingham wrote a very helpful article back in 2011 that is still relevant today. Mr. WIllingham is a highly experienced PI and his answer is also, no.
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Can a Private Investigator Obtain Bank Account Information?
In reality, federal and state law prohibit any person from accessing another’s bank or financial records without specific authority.
From Mr. Willingham’s article:
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.
Honest private investigators will tell you, the most simple way to obtain bank account information is through the account holder’s consent. The only other ways to access another person’s financial information is with a court order, subpoena, or search warrant. Federal law applies these standards to law enforcement, but financial institutions almost always apply the same rules to PI’s and all other private persons.
Traditional investigative techniques such as interviews and public records searches may indicate the existence of specific financial accounts, but getting access to the actual account records still requires consent or a court order.
What About Database Searches?
PI’s use a variety of different proprietary databases to run background checks, to aid in searching for missing persons, and for other investigative assignments. While some private investigators claim to have access to financial account records, the truth is that no database exists that lists private bank account information.
How Do Private Investigators Obtain Bank Account Information?
A hardworking PI might get lucky and find old bank statements while digging through a subject’s trash. Some PI’s are willing to use illegal means, as Mr. Willingham explains further in his article:
The two most common ways that investigators obtain bank records or account information is through a source in the banking industry or through pretexting. [To save you the Google search on pretexting, it’s loosely defined as the practice of getting your personal information under false pretenses.]
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.
Finding bank records is itself a difficult task. A smart PI can find clues that point to hidden financial information, but gaining access requires consent or a court order. Tracy Coenen who is a Forensic Accountant and Fraud Investigator wrote about this subject on her blog and had this to say:
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.
You may have legitimate reasons for wanting to obtain another person’s bank information. Just be certain the private investigator you hire uses ethical and legal methods to solve your case.
H7 Investigative Services conducts private investigations in Santa Clarita, Antelope Valley, and throughout the greater Los Angeles area.
If you want to know how our agency can help with your case, click through to our consultation request page or call us at (661)454-7513.