If an investigator told you he could get you some cocaine or find you a way to conduct illegal business with North Korea, would you say “go ahead” simply based on the idea that it could be done?
We ask people this question fairly often when they ask us to get bank account information of a former spouse without a court order.
No matter how often we write that pretending to be someone else in order to gain information about a bank account is illegal, there are always investigators and even lawyers prepared to violate the law to get that information.
Why do we say this? Two reasons:
- Some lawyers who call us respond to the above with something along the lines of, “but my investigator last year got bank accounts.”
- Search Google for “divorce asset search.” When we did, at least two of the companies that came up on page one offered to get detailed bank account information. Results for you could differ because Google provides different results based on your location, time of day and of course who currently advertises with them.
If you insist on trying to get bank account information without a court order, ask your prospective investigator how he does it without violating the Gramm Leach Bliley Act (15 USC, Subchapter II, Sec. 6821-6827).
One answer we once received from a database that offered to get us such information was that while the Act forbids pretending to be the account holder (thus obtaining the financial record under false pretenses), it supposedly allows banks to answer yes or no as to whether a specific person holds an account there. Banks are not required to answer such questions, and most of the larger ones will not.
We wouldn’t go near such an approach. What got us suspicious that things would not end with a simple yes or no question was that instead of performing this straightforward operation themselves, the database outsourced this job to “specialists” they would not name. Therefore, if the specialists came back with an answer, how would we to know whether or not they used false pretenses?
What is beyond dispute is that without a court order banks may not divulge balance information, account numbers or transaction details to anyone who is not an account holder.
If you are offered such information, assume that information was obtained illegally unless your investigator can show you otherwise.
Maybe the account statement was left in the garbage on public property. Maybe it was lying around in a desk drawer to which the investigator’s client had legal access, or maybe it was on a computer that didn’t need to be hacked in order to obtain the data.
However the data was obtained, the burden could fall on you to show that the data was obtained legally.