In a country in which people can form a company in minutes over the internet, it’s amazing to us how many asset searches proceed on the basis that you only need to look for property owned directly by a person.
So often, we find that someone can truthfully state at a deposition that he owns no real estate personally. But unless he’s asked about ownership beneficially or ownership of shares in companies or membership interests in limited liability companies, you could be missing out on lots of wonderful assets.
How to figure out the name of a person’s company, through which he may own all kinds of valuable property, is a good part of what our asset searches are for.
One place we always like to start is the search for licenses. As The Economist highlighted earlier this year, U.S. businesses in many sectors face a blizzard of licensing requirements before they can get up and running.
Licenses can be a pain, but for asset hunters they are a gift: an on-line record of names, addresses, and often trade names that link the public name of a business with the name of the company behind that business.
Take the New York State Liquor Authority: If you enter the name of an establishment you know into the Authority’s website, chances are the name of the company that owns it won’t be the same as the name by which you know the establishment.
Because most bars and restaurants in New York don’t operate with their legal names on the outside, lit up in neon, any proper asset search will proceed based on the company’s real name. As it is with restaurants, so it is with lots of retail establishments.
The other thing we love to do when we find the name of a new company is to look for other companies with closely similar names. That’s because many people just don’t put a lot of time into naming companies for the purposes of making them hard to find.
If someone who owns’ “Bill’s Tavern” names the holding company “Jeffersonville Restaurant LLC,” his next establishment could be owned by “Jeffersonville Restaurant II, LLC.” What does company II own? Instead of starting with the business and finding the name of the owner, this time you find the owner and figure out the name of the business.
A little bit of playing around with name indexes kept by licensing authorities or the Secretary of State can pay big dividends.