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.

Even with law enforcement agencies, the most effective way to get bank records or account information is with the customer’s consent.

There are many private investigators who claim that they have the ability to obtain bank records, account information, account details and other financial information.

While this may be true, the fact of the matter remains – obtaining banking or financial details without specific authority is against federal and state statutes.

How does a “rogue” investigator get bank records?

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.

Word of Caution

After reading this, you may be thinking, “if I hire an investigator to get banking records, it’s the investigators problem, not mine.”  Consider this though – if you are ever asked to testify as to how the information was obtained, not only will the evidence be thrown out, but there may be legal implications against you and the investigator.

There are several instances investigators conducting a “banking sweep” only to later find that the information was fake.  For example, in 2009, a Toronto private investigator charged his client $60,000 for a “banking sweep.”  The investigator reportedly identified $2.6 million in the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas, but the information was later found to be bogus.

Are there legal ways to get bank information?

There are legal ways to identify bank accounts such as this case study where we identified bank accounts in a divorce filing.

But what you really need to figure out is what you are trying to do?  Are you really trying to conduct an asset investigationfind assets or locate hidden assets?

Final Thought

Information obtained from “inside” sources can be extremely valuable for any investigator, but when the information obtained is by unlawful means, there can be serious legal implications.

Guide to Hiring a Private Investigator

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21 replies
  1. lilly diabetes research
    lilly diabetes research says:

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  2. maureen
    maureen says:

    i live in PA- husband walked out on us- I discovered he has two secret credit card account in his name with thousands of dollars of charges. I have not seen the statements- only saw the account with balances in his credit report. He has now served me with divorce papers- he left with no reason. Says non of my business after 20 years married and 3 kids! refuses to show me the statements or tell me what they are for- says non of my business. Can I subpeona those credit cards statements or see them some other way?

    • Alien 2 Earth
      Alien 2 Earth says:

      If the cards are HIS I guess it IS “none of your business”. Why do women assume entitlement to every aspect of one’s life (But they’re able to have a closet full of secrets??? Hypocrites.)? Especially the annoying dependent/damsel-in-distress types; kickass self-sufficient women, not so much.

      Marriage is a PARTNERship not a communism. The fact that you treat him like a child, and not an individual capable of making HIS own decisions may be why he walked out on YOU. Not the kids; he didn’t divorce them… what a tacky low-blow using the kids as pawns. SMH I bet you’re fighting him for sole custody so you don’t have to work huh?

      Love when women try to villian-ize the guy because they can’t accept the fact that maybe, just maybe, they’re bat-shit cRaZy and practically forced the guy to make the logical split for the door…

      Sniffing through HIS bank statements like a bloodhound doesn’t necessarily place you in the completely sane category. Your whole paragraph alone screams CONTROL-FREAK!!!

      Unfortunately, control-freaks are divorced 99.999999999% of the time. I wonder why hmmmm… They usually have an unhealthy fixation on controlling everyone around them. Meanwhile… their own life is shit.

  3. Donna
    Donna says:

    Dear Brian,
    How do I go about legally conducting a full financial search for the purpose of property settlement?

  4. Brick
    Brick says:

    Hi Brian,
    You talk about individuals but what about corporations? Is there a way to obtain bank information in NY about
    A COMPANY? Thank you. Alex

      • Jessica
        Jessica says:

        What about requesting bank information, to ensure the information is accurate, for court? Like forensic accounting. For example: when you hear about ex-husband’s lying about his income, and is hiding his assets and income in their company.

  5. Dave
    Dave says:

    Very helpful blog post, but I noticed a typo – the word “their” in this sentence should be “there”. Best, Dave

    “…not only will the evidence be thrown out, but their may be legal implications against you and the investigator.”

  6. Ron
    Ron says:

    You forgot dumpster diving or checking trash left by the curbside for finding bank account information. This is a gray area, but not necessarily illegal.

    Another good work around for legally obtaining banking information is to have the client sign an assignment of judgement over to the PI. Of course this only works if there is a judgement. Once the assignment of judgement is signed over to the PI, the PI can then, with the assistance of the court, send information subpoenas to various banks for that information.

    Another way to get them to pay up, providing there is a judgement, is for the pi to obtain an assignment of judgement and to file liens on the debtors vehicles. Once the liens have been filed, The PI can then repossess the debtor’s vehicles though self help repossession or hire a repo company to do the dirty work.

    Whether or not you would want to lien the debtor’s vehicles would depend upon the value of the vehicle, verses what may be owed to the primary lien holder. This generally works best with smaller judgements up to about $10,000.00. Once the PI has an assignment of judgement credit bureaus, dmv info and information subpoenas become legally available to the PI.

    I worked for a repo comany and we had clients who were in the business of buying judgements, then liening the vehicles of the judgement debtor. They would then hire us to locate and repossess the vehicles. These companies supplied a vey large volume of work to us.

    As far as medical records and so forth are concerned, there are always those who are willing to break the law for a few dollars. The information will not be admissible in court but would certainly point a person in the right direction.

    Back in the day, before all the federal privacy laws took hold, the attorneys wanted this info without subpoena, so they could have the upper hand on the other side or to have a heads up on where to subpoena.

    Happy Hunting

  7. leila
    leila says:

    Can a pi who works with hospital security get someones medical records changed if they have a vendetta against say a former inlaw, lets say they found out that the sister had a mental disorder and a cousin… So the talk to the doctor io charge of said records and replace an mri of the brain with another one, this would be after getting said person coerced into going to the doctor? This would be thd second time this

    • Brian Willingham
      Brian Willingham says:

      Of course anything is possible, but this sounds more like a Lifetime movie than something may happen in reality.

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