It’s often the first idea people have when they want to know what their spouse is up to.: Surveillance.
We are not usually in the business of following people around to prove infidelity, but will bring in experienced surveillance personnel in the case of high net worth asset searches. In most cases, the client decides against surveillance for these three reasons:
- It can be shockingly expensive, not least because you have to give it a lot of time;
- In the era of electronic funds transfer and banking, you could wait years before following someone in the door of a bank or stock broker;
- There are cheaper and easier ways to obtain proof of assets and, increasingly, of movement.
In a city with a subway system, count on needing at least two people when you follow someone. Figure at least $100 per hour minimum for experienced people. You need two because if the subject jumps into the subway you need someone to drive the car. You need the car in case he takes a taxi or bus. A pair of people watching a building for the evening could run you $1,200 once you add in mileage, tolls and meals.
Multiply that by needing to follow for a few days, and see your surveillance bill balloon. And that is for a comparatively easy situation.
Many buildings have multiple entrances: which one will your man use? To be sure you need to cover all of them. We were involved in a corporate surveillance once that involved a subject staying in a hotel with five entrances. After five days he had emerged just once, had walked to the end of the block and then returned. The bill was $50,000.
While getting bank records without a court order is illegal, surveillance to try to get evidence of which bank someone uses should be a desperation move of last resort.
The idea that you search for cash first is antithetical to the philosophy of this blog. If you could easily get at substantial cash, you could probably find the other assets too. The usual reason you need to do an asset search is to find things that cash has acquired: real property, secret businesses, cars, boats, and other things cash can get. In searching for those things, we can often see where the cash came from and then get to the source of the cash.
For instance, a new business never before disclosed could own property with a mortgage. Chances are that this business banks with the mortgagee, and perhaps the business owner does too. You can subpoena that bank.
Other ways to get evidence of where someone banks is to examine computer records from a computer you have the legal right to examine. We recently worked on a case in which computer records demonstrated that the husband had visited some 14 banks and money managers on line. How much cheaper it was to subpoena all 14 than to follow him for even one day!
Cheaper and Easier Ways
As with the computer banking, so with the sedentary guest in the five-entrance hotel above. Even though our client insisted on doing the surveillance, the client had forgotten one essential place to look first.
They were worried that their employee was leaking confidential information to the competition and wondered whether he would venture out of the hotel to meet competitors. But what they had never done was examine his work computer, which they had the right to do. While this employee would have been extremely careless to barter company secrets on his company email, he may have used a personal email account while at work.
Such activity can be recovered from deleted space on a hard drive even after it is “erased.” Again, all for the price of about half an hour’s standing outside five doorways.
As for tracking spouses, consider this story from The Daily Mail, which points out that Uber records are preserved permanently. If a husband takes an Uber on an outing he’s not supposed to be on, the Uber app’s history can be excellent evidence. Excellent and cheap to get.