5 Misconceptions and Limitations of Private Investigators

Mainstream media has done a fantastic job of skewing the public’s view of private investigators to be something that it’s not. Specifically, TV-shows and movies portray private investigators as people who are not bound by the same laws as everyone else. Here are some of the popular misconceptions about private investigators:

Misconceptions about Private Investigators


  1. Private investigators can’t make arrests.

It is a common perception that private investigators function similarly to the police. However, private investigators are not permitted to make arrests unless they are in a state where a citizen’s arrest is legal. Even then, specific circumstances must be met and it is more probable that a private investigator would contact the police if they felt an arrest was warranted.

  1. They can’t check someone’s financial records.

Private investigators have several tools at their disposal but access to financial records is not one of them. Bank account information falls under private property and cannot be accessed without the appropriate approval from a court.

  1. They can’t tap phone conversations.

This is another instance where a private investigator is bound by the law. Private phone conversations are still protected property and it is illegal for anyone to tap a phone without permission from a court. This also applies to recording any kind of conversation without the subjects being aware.

  1. They put together background reports on people that contain private information.

This misconception is derived from the background reports people purchase online. The information in these reports, however, consist of public information and are usually generated by an automated system. You can often find the same information online yourself without paying a fee for it.


  1. They can’t access someone’s credit information.

Laws in the United States have made it exceptionally difficult to obtain an individual’s credit information. A private investigator is bound by the same laws and cannot legally obtain someone’s credit information without telling them first.

Now that you know a little more about the misconceptions of private investigators, let’s talk about how they can actually be of help. The advantage of a private investigator is that they can tell you where to find information that will bolster your case. They can also compile useful information that might be difficult to obtain on your own. If you decide to hire a private investigator, be sure to get complete documentation of the services they provide.

Feel you have a case? Feel free to contact us to see how we can help.

Conduct Due Diligence for Corporate Merging

Why You Should Conduct Due Diligence for Corporate Merging or Acquisition of Another Company?

Indianapolis Private Investigator, Lauth Investigations can assist companies with the merger and acquisition due diligence process.

Just like you would do a background check on a potential employee, it is also important to do a comprehensive due diligence check on another company that you are considering merging or acquiring. While a business deal may seem lucrative and advantageous on the surface, complex and devastating problems could be lurking below the surface. By determining a potential company’s background and assets, you will be preventing business disasters by determining the factual background of a company as well as lowering the risk of crime within the business.

While Michael Sisco may be describing due diligence as related to technology, he still has several key concepts that every business may consider which follow as:

  • Stability
  • Financial cost trends
  • Individual “flight risks”
  • Business continuity issues
  • Key players (2)

What exactly is involved in the due diligence process? First of all, a confidentiality agreement is requested from the seller by the buyer. This is basically an agreement to gain the knowledge about EVERY aspect of the business before you make an agreement with the seller. If you do not make an offer in the end, this agreement ensures you will keep all information confidential. The following is a list of items that are typical in a confidentiality agreement:

  • Financials–3 years of financials is typical
  • Employees–title, wage, duties
  • Vendors—relationship with company
  • Inventory
  • Equipment
  • Furniture and fixtures
  • Debts—It is vital you understand if you are acquiring any debt, and if so, how much

Due diligence also involves a review period, which can be agreed upon, and three critical issues are explored during this time period. Legal due diligence is important to determine if the seller has the title to sell the company which is essential if the seller is part of a franchise. The financial due diligence portion can determine if there are hidden assets or financial issues that need to be addressed. Commercial due diligence will determine the competition of the business as well as how the market views the business. If everything goes well and you decide to buy the business, consult someone to write a buy/sell agreement. (3)

Other key ideas to keep in mind: “Capital—If you have leftover capital, use it wisely, and don’t overspend. Employees—Review all employees again. Fire the ones that have red flags or hire new ones if they current employees are doing their job. Inventory and Equipment—Be frugal. Upgrade instead of buy brand new equipment.”

Keep in mind to not rely on verbal statements. Stick to the confidentiality agreement. If the seller is not divulging all information, there is probably a (shady) reason so look into a new seller. Do not try to conduct due diligence on your own, and do not neglect the due diligence process. It could end in disaster. (3)

The lack of due diligence can have significant unforeseen financial consequences. For example, the Victorian Funds Management Corporation lost $500 million dollars due to lack of due diligence and relied only on Google searches. Their choice in pursuing death funds by Life Settlements Whole Funds turned out to be a financial disaster. Instead of taking the time to properly check out the deal and listen to regulators who cautioned against it, they went through with the merger. If they would have performed due diligence, they would not have been discredited or have suffered such a substantial financial setback. (4)

Remember, when you merge with another company or acquire their company, THEIR problems become YOUR problems. These problems can be as minor as inflated labor costs or as disastrous as embezzling corporate funding. The solution to this potential risk is to ensure you conduct proper due diligence before you partner with another company. You wouldn’t want their mistakes to become the failure of your company. The positive aspect is that by acquiring or merging with another company can lead to more success for your business if the background check is conducted properly.

About the Author: Kym L. Pasqualini is founder of the Nation’s Missing Children Organization in 1994 and the National Center for Missing Adults in 2000. Kym is an expert in the field of missing persons and continues to advocate for crime victims utilizing 20 years’ experience working with government officials, law enforcement, advocates, private investigators, and national media.

Computer and Cellular Forensics.

Computer forensics remains a growing field in private investigations. Sometimes referred to as computer forensic science, private investigators specialized in computer forensics, may be hired by private individuals and major corporations to securely collect data, examining and preserving the contents of the computer, cellular or storage device, and assist with investigations from pornography detection to corporate espionage. Law enforcement detectives and private investigators are a very specialized group of professionals with the ability to recover, analyze, and present their findings and opinions in a court of law. Many serve as expert witnesses in court trials.

Considered a branch of digital forensic science, the search of computers and other devices commonly refers to legal evidence presented in a court of law. There is a wide range of serious computer crimes that have emerged since the early 1980s such as fraud, the exchange of child pornography, cyber-stalking and more recently ‘hacking’ that created the necessity for this specialized group of detectives.

Forensic science used in computer investigations in civil proceedings is now termed ‘electronic discovery’ and is another form of information gathering. Through use of computer forensics, information referred to as ‘digital artifacts,’ such as an electronic document, email, and images are is gathered, identified, preserved, extracted, analyzed, documented and then interpreted using forensic methodology.

One of the most famous cases in history solved by the use of computer forensics was the feared “BTK Killer’ in Wichita, Kansas. From 1974 until 1991, a string of murders had occurred that cost millions and thousands of police man-hours to investigate but remained unsolved for over thirty years.

The investigation into the murders of four members of the Otero family began on January 15, 1974. Joseph Otero Jr., 38, his wife Julie, 34 and their two children, Josie, 11, and Joey, 9, were found murdered inside their home. The couple had three other children that were not home at the time of the homicides.

Police did not know it at the time but Dennis Rader, who claims he had been depressed after a lay-off at work, began searching for his first of ten victims. He spotted Julie and her daughter, Josie and followed them to school one morning. Raider regularly had thoughts of sexual bondage and approximately two months later, he decided to act upon his twisted thoughts with the intention of fulfilling his sexual fantasies by attacking the mother and young daughter.

With his parka filled with weapons and bindings, he headed to the Otero home and cut the phone lives before entering. Rader had not planned on the father or son being home when he entered the Otero residence so he ordered all to lie on the floor at gunpoint. He placed plastic bag over Joseph’s head killing the father first, and proceeded to strangle Julie with a rope in front of her children. Next, Rader sat in a chair and watched on as little Joey thrashed around while he slowly suffocated to death.

Josie he took to the basement where he already had a rope hanging from the ceiling where he hung the little girl, her little toes barely touching the floor. Julie’s body was found hanging from a noose tied to a sewer pipe with panties pulled down and semen traces on her body. Her siblings, Carmen, 13, and Charlie, 15, were the ones to discover their parents and younger brother and sisters bodies.

Three months later, Rader attacked a brother and sister, Kathryn Bright, 21, and her younger brother Kevin, 19, in their home. While forcing Kevin to tie up his sister, both put up a fight and Rader shot Kevin two times with a .22 caliber, once in the head. Rader then attempted to strangle Kathryn but ended up stabbing her with a knife and left her for dead. Departing the residence, Rader saw Kevin fleeing, running down the street. Kevin was the only one of Rader’s victims known to survive.

Over the next fifteen years, Rader killed five more victims. During this time, Rader also taunted investigators with notes, poems, puzzles, and pictures; even naming himself ‘BTK’ for Bind, Torture, Kill. Then ten years went by with no communication until police received a 3.5 floppy disk with a Word document in 2004.

Computer forensics broke the case. Investigators were able to find a document on the disk that had been deleted but contained metadata indicating someone by the name of Dennis at Christ Lutheran Church has modified the document. Looking on the church website police quickly found Dennis Rader served as president of the church council. After thirty years, it only took forensic computer investigators a couple hours to break the base.

Thomas Lauth, private investigator and owner of Lauth Investigations, with headquarters in Indianapolis, IN also has offices in Colorado and Arizona. An experienced private detective, he has spent years working all kinds of investigations but credits computer forensics as one of the most effective ways to delve into a person’s activities, even if the individual has gone to great lengths to cover their tracks. “Spending twenty years as a PI, I have seen incredible advancements in technology and computer forensics allowing police and those of us working in private investigations solve more and more crimes,”says Lauth. “Using computer forensics, we are able to examine computers, cell phones, web chats, and various other Internet activities contributing to helping solve everything from missing person case to corporate fraud and forgery.”

About the Author: Kym L. Pasqualini is founder of the Nation’s Missing Children Organization in 1994 and the National Center for Missing Adults in 2000. Kym is an expert in the field of missing persons and continues to advocate for crime victims utilizing 20 years’ experience working with government officials, law enforcement, advocates, private investigators, and national media.

Private Investigators – The Sherlock Holmes of today.

Due to blockbuster movies, books and television shows people may have a notion that private investigators sit in their smoke filled offices smoking a pipe while hired by some jilted homemaker to follow around her cheating husband. While investigators do follow cheating spouses, the world of private investigation has expanded beyond our wildest dreams with use of new methods of investigation and ever enhanced technology. Private investigators have existed for over 150 years. In 1850, Allan Pinkerton founded Pinkerton National Detective Agency in France. Eventually it became the most recognized private investigation firm in the United States, even coining the term private eye.

Private investigators of today are creative and masterful in their investigative techniques whether investigating a murder, searching for a missing person, tracking down art thieves, corporate investigations that can include everything from employee background checks to financial and insurance fraud. In essence, the private detectives of today are responsible for ensuring the quality of the workforce today. They can provide clients with background information about a person or corporation.

Instead of smoking a pipe and lurking in the shadows, the private detective of today may be a master at Yoga, sipping on green tea while sitting in his vehicle providing surveillance on a Fortune 500 company employee suspected of embezzlement. Similar to sworn officers, many private investigators are experts in their fields as well as track down witnesses in a homicide case to unearth new information in order to provide a family with justice. They may be infiltrating the child sex trafficking rings to rescue children or making a buy of stolen jewelry from an international crime ring.

Not always the most glamorous job, but the investigators of today possess skills that make them masters in their trade. Gathering and analyzing information, private investigators know where to go to obtain the most up to date and accurate information on subjects of interest. Their findings and expert testimony can make or break a court case. Whether they are on a fact finding mission, verifying an identity, generating new leads on a cold case, tailing a person of interest with GPS, or taking baby diapers out of trashcans to obtain DNA for the subject of a paternity test the new age private eyes are masters of their universe.

About the Author: Kym L. Pasqualini is founder of the Nationals Missing Children Organization in 1994 and the National Center for Missing Adults in 2000. Kym is an expert in the field of missing persons and continues to advocate for crime victims utilizing 20 years’ experience working with government officials, law enforcement, advocates, private investigators, and national media.

When is GPS a legal tool to use in private investigations?

Thomas Lauth, a private investigator, and owner of Lauth Investigations International provides private investigations services throughout the country with offices in Denver, Phoenix, and headquarters in Indianapolis, IN. When working in various states a private detective must remain knowledgeable of state laws in order to provide services that stay within parameters of state law and best serve the client. “Many private investigators find themselves in trouble and can compromise a case if they do not remain in compliance with state regulations, says Lauth. It is our duty to remain in compliance with local, state, and federal law to best serve and protect the client.State laws regulating the use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) varies from state to state. Even law enforcement officials must adhere to state laws. GPS had been traditionally used by hikers, campers, hunters, aircraft, and in the military to navigate and maintain coordinates. GPS devices receive signals from satellites orbiting the earth and provide precise positioning using the Earth’s longitude and latitude.

A groundbreaking investigation of a missing child case in the late 1990’s may have been the catalyst for using GPS as an investigative tool for both law enforcement and private investigators. October 1999, nine-year-old Valerie Jackson vanished from her home in Spokane, WA. Police found bloodstains on the missing child’s bed and on her father, Brad Jackson’s shoes. The father of the missing third grader was an immediate suspect in the police investigation.

Police obtained warrants to search Jackson’s vehicles and returned them to Jackson with hidden GPS devices attached. Using satellite technology police then monitored Jackson for the next eighteen days. In November, when police went to the GPS coordinates that had tracked Jackson’s every move, they discovered two grave sites. At one location, they found an empty gravesite approximately 10 miles from the family’s residence. The second location approximately 50 miles northwest of Spokane they found a second gravesite containing Valerie’s remains.

By utilizing GPS surveillance, police were able to provide information to the prosecution indicating Jackson had murdered Valerie, buried her at one location, then exhumed her body and reburied her in a remote site further away. Police charged Jackson with first-degree murder of his daughter. Utilizing GPS in an investigation by law enforcement and private investigators and the potential of misuse violating individual’s constitutional rights has raised some issues. How far can one go to solve a case?

Colorado law specifies use of GPS and other surveillance tools to track a person or vehicle can be used as long as the purpose for using the tracking technology is legal. For example, many companies utilize GPS on company vehicles to ensure the employee is not using the vehicle for personal use. It is commonplace in the trucking industry. However, a spouse placing a GPS device to track their partner’s activities is considered illegal and constitutes stalking if the device is placed on the other person’s vehicle without their knowledge or consent.

In February 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court (U.S. vs. Jones), unanimously voted that even police must obtain a search warrant before using GPS to track criminal suspects in Arizona and throughout the country. Antoine Jones was suspected in drug trafficking and police obtained a warrant and tracked his activity for 28 days. Using GPS, authorities were able to locate the location where they found $850,000 in cash, 97 kilograms of cocaine, and 1 kilogram of crack stashed away in the suburban home. Jones was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for drug-related charges. Later, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction in a landmark decision based upon the fact the warrant police used had expired.

Two major issues were a factor in the U.S. Supreme Court decision. First, it was determined authorities violated the Fourth Amendment, that guarantees the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, paper, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. They determined the installation of GPS tracking technology constituted an illegal “search” because authorities were physically occupying a private property for the purpose of obtaining information.

Second, judges analyzed the individual’s right to privacy and sustained tracking. While limited tracking may be permissible, long-term tracking was determined technical trespass. Justice Sotomayor wrote, “It may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties. This approach is ill-suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks. People disclose the phone numbers that they dial or text to their cellular providers; the URLs that they visit and the e-mail addresses with which they correspond to their Internet service providers; and the books, groceries, and medications they purchase to online retailers.”

“While GPS can be an incredible investigative tool, there is a fine line between intrusion and privacy that every private investigator must adhere to,” Lauth says. Whether you are an Indiana PI, Colorado PI, Arizona PI or Timbuktu we all must adhere to standards that protect the citizen and serve our clients.

About the Author: Kym L. Pasqualini is the founder of the National Missing Children Organization in 1994 and the National Center for Missing Adults in 2000. Kym is an expert in the field of missing persons and continues to advocate for crime victims utilizing 20 years experience working with government officials, law enforcement, advocates, private investigators, and national media.

Guidelines to Ensure You Are Working With a Licensed and Competent Private Investigator.

Any time you hire an individual or company to provide a service whether it may be a simple home repair or as important as hiring someone to watch your children it is always a good idea to check the background of the business or individual you may be contemplating on hiring. This is also recommended as a good rule of thumb to also investigate the investigator when hiring a firm to assist you in any private investigation.

Commonly private investigators assist companies, individuals and attorneys with services that can identify, locate, analyze and verify information about personal, financial or legal matters. From providing employment verification to investigating identity theft, harassment and infidelity, private investigators also perform surveillance and conduct interviews when assisting attorneys in case preparation of civil and criminal cases.

Private investigators play an important role in ensuring facts are documented and presented in a legal manner acceptable by courts throughout the country.

Taking into consideration Federal and State Laws privacy laws, working with a licensed private investigator or firm is the first step to make certain that information and the manner it is obtained is legal, accurate and admissible in court. Many times private investigators must make judgment calls and it is vital that you are working with individuals of the highest integrity.

Most private investigators have worked in the criminal justice field and some even former law enforcement. Despite credentials, it is important to verify the individual or firm you are working with is also licensed to carry out the work to be performed. Though not every state requires a private investigator to be licensed, doing some of your own footwork can ensure you are protected and even save you time and money.

For states that do require private investigators to be licensed, most require the investigator to be over the age of eighteen, a combination of education or work experience in the field of criminal justice. They must also pass a criminal history background check. For those who carry firearms, they must meet additional requirements. To verify the license of a private investigator or firm contact your state licensing entity.

About the Author: Kym L. Pasqualini is founder of the Nation’s Missing Children Organization in 1994 and the National Center for Missing Adults in 2000. Kym is an expert in the field of missing persons and continues to advocate for crime victims utilizing 20 years’ experience working with government officials, law enforcement, advocates, private investigators, and national media.

When to Use a Private Investigator in Custody Matters?

When considering the welfare of the children, courts must be informed in order to rule on decisions to determine custody and parenting time. The court’s decision must be based upon credible information submitted to the court; to include interviews and potential testimony of litigants and witnesses.

Typically when thinking of custody we may immediately think “divorce” but there are many circumstances that may warrant representation when taking children’s lives into consideration.

  • Legal separation or divorce
  • Parental Death
  • Parental Incompetence
  • Domestic or sexual abuse allegations
  • Paternity
  • Third party care
  • Child protection services involvement
  • Juvenile Delinquency

Basic Definitions of Custody and Parenting Time

  • Legal Custody is defined as the individual who has the right to make decisions on behalf of the child, including the child’s education, medical care, and even religious preference.
  • Physical Custody is defined as the individual who makes decisions in regard to where the child lives and the child’s daily activities.
  • Sole Custody is when an individual is the primary custodian and decision- maker in every aspect of the child’s life.
  • Joint Legal Custody is defined as a situation where both parents/custodians share in the decision-making for how a child is raised, educated, receives health care and religious preference.
  • Joint Physical Custody refers to the responsibility of the daily care and living arrangement being shared and handled in agreement with both parents/custodians.
  • Parenting Time is commonly referred to as ‘visitation’ granted to noncustodial parent/custodian and usually by court order.

Grandparent’s Rights

Increasing numbers of grandparents are denied visitation to their grandchildren following a divorce. In response, laws have been passed in every state giving grandparents the right to petition the court for visitation in the event of divorce, parental incompetence or parental death. Grandparents may be granted visitation and at times even custody dependent upon the circumstances, if they can prove they share a substantial relationship with the child.

The Visitation Rights Enforcement Act of 1998, improved uniform visitation laws state by state, provisioning grandparent visitation. The law assured grandparents can visit grandchildren anywhere in the United States as long as they have been awarded visitation rights in one state. In a 2000 landmark case Troxel v. Granville the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state of Washington permitting grandparents visitation rights over the objection of the mother. The Supreme Court ruled ‘fit parents have the fundamental right to make decisions concerning care, custody and control’ of their children.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, representing the majority stated, “So long as a parent adequately cares for his or her children, there will normally be no reason for the state to inject itself into the private realm of the family to further question the ability of that parent to make the best decisions concerning the rearing of that parent’s children.” Basically this decision supports in most cases the custodial parents can alone determine visitation for their children.

In any case though, states can grant visitation rights to grandparents. It has encouraged grandparents to attempt to get along and build a supportive relationship with the custodial parent for the benefit of the child.

Child Support and Deadbeat Parent Investigations

Private investigation firms can also assist parents when attempting to enforce a child support order by locating the subject and verify employment, asset searches, and even document if the subject is working off the books by following the individual and document any work activities. This information can be presented to the court to expedite enforcement.
“Whether an individual is concerned for the safety of their children in another custodian’s care or attempting to enforce an order of the court, private investigators can be an invaluable tool in the successful conclusion of a dispute,” says Thomas Lauth, owner of Lauth Investigations International, headquartered in Indianapolics IN. “Hiring a private investigator is even cost-effective when evaluating hiring an attorney to represent the case. After all, utilizing any legal means to ensure the proper care of children is recommended and its value cannot be underestimated.”

Custody Evaluations

Commonly during custody disputes, the court will order a ‘custody evaluation’ that can include an assessment of the child’s emotional, physical, psychological well-being, even who the child prefers to live with. If siblings are involved they heavily consider the benefits of keeping them together and examine the bond the child has with the prospective custodial parent. These evaluations are vital to the decision-making process to make an informed decision consistent with the well-being of the child.

In addition, prospective custodians are also evaluated to include evaluating moral character and psychological stability, financial condition, potential substance abuse, willingness to provide personal care rather than relying on third-parties (relatives, grandparents or friends), if a step-parent may be involved in the care of a child, any suspected abuse or previous allegations of domestics or sexual abuse and many other factors that may be deemed important and could affect a child’s well-being.

When a Private Investigator Can Help Courts Make Informed Decisions

A licensed private investigator can be a vital tool before, during or even after a custody evaluation is conducted. In a case where one parent is concerned for the child’s safety while in the care of the other parent, a private investigator has the ability to document information and behavior of the other party; while in another circumstance a the court may decide custody against one party and information that can be obtained can show just cause for reevaluation. A private investigator can provide organized information on behalf of the client that can be used and admissible in court decisions.

Methods and Information That Can Be Obtained

A private investigator can obtain evidence regarding financial stability, emotional stability, criminal history and any aliases, residential history (moving many times disrupting child’s stability), activity with associates, leaving children unattended, taking the child to a third party while staying at boyfriend/girlfriend’s or excessive partying; any contradictions in information provided to a court evaluator. When contradictions surface it has the potential to discredit the other party.

Private investigators can follow a subject during scheduled visitation times to determine any improper activity or neglect while the child is in their care. They can also follow the subject during their off-time without the child and document daily activities, living conditions, lifestyles, and persons they are associating with.

Private investigators can also conduct interviews with acquaintances and other family members familiar with the behavior of the subject, conduct video and photographic surveillance of the subjects activities, places they frequent, dropping off the children with third parties, conduct background investigations on acquaintances and visitors by obtaining license plate numbers of vehicles that frequent the subject’s residence. Associations can be quite revealing when attempting to validate concerns for a child’s safety.

Trash pulls – When trash container is placed curbside on a trash pickup day it then becomes public property and private investigators are able to obtain and inventory items such as prescription bottles, empty alcohol containers, contraband refuse and paraphernalia related to substance abuse, pornography, financial purchases and transactions are just a few examples of evidence that can be used to present to the court and discredit another party.

Comprehensive Background Investigations Can Include the Following:

  • True Name
  • Aliases
  • True Social Security Number
  • Of Birth
  • Previous 7 Year Residence Verification
  • Previous 7 Year Employer Verification
  • Previous 7 Year Criminal History
  • Previous 7 Year Civil History
  • Driving Record
  • Professional License Verification
  • Tax Liens
  • Education
  • Siblings
  • Bankruptcies
  • Media Confirmation
  • Intensive Internet/Multi Search Engine Investigation
  • Police Incident and Case History Report
  • Verification of Subject’s Personal Conversational Declarations/Comments/Claims
  • Background investigations
  • Criminal history check
  • Civil background check
  • Judgment or property liens
  • Bankruptcy
  • Background checks of associates

Licensed private investigators are able to present findings that can be admissible in court and are also qualified to testify in court on behalf of their client.

About the Author: Kym L. Pasqualini is founder of the Nation’s Missing Children Organization in 1994 and the National Center for Missing Adults in 2000. Kym is an expert in the field of missing persons and continues to advocate for crime victims utilizing 20 years’ experience working with government officials, law enforcement, advocates, private investigators, and national media.

Unclaimed Property is No Joke. How to Find the Right Help?

How to Find the Right Help?

What is Unclaimed Property?

So you get a call from someone who tells you there is a half-million dollars that belongs to you and is being held in a state trust. Next , they asks you to sign a contract to pay a small fee to receive assistance recovering the unclaimed property. Sound like a scam?

Recently, the Washington Post reported over $32 billion in unclaimed money in the United States. According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, every state including District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have unclaimed property. Programs usually administered by the state treasury to actively attempt to find rightful owners of assets that have been lost or simply forgotten. Unclaimed money can end up in a state trust simply by an individual moving, not having their mail forwarded, having a death in the family, assets not documented in a will, misplaced documents or a safe deposit box that may have belonged to an individual and other family members who were not aware of it. The unclaimed funds do not become property of the state and remain in trust until a rightful owner or a legal heir claims the money. It is estimated 1 in 10 people have unclaimed money held in state trusts.
Source: Washington Post, National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, Missouri State Treasurer

As one of the original consumer protection programs, unclaimed property laws have existed since the 1940s. State laws require financial institutions, insurance companies, public agencies and businesses to report and turn over assets that belong to a customer, client or employee. If there is documented proof that no transactions have occurred or there has been lack of contact with the owner for five or more years. The property typically consists of cash in bank accounts, securities, bonds, escrow accounts, contents of safe deposit boxes, pensions, uncollected insurance policies, government and state refunds, utility deposits and even wages from previous employment.
Source: National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, Missouri State Treasurer

Contents of safe deposit boxes are usually held for one to three years after an individual has stopped paying rent on the box. If the contents are not claimed, the state can auction the items within one to five years and proceeds from the sale are recorded in the name of the safe deposit holder. The proceeds are then held in trust until the owner or heir is located. Everything from currency, stamps, diamond rings, watches, sports cards and other collectibles such as, coins, medals, even letters signed by Presidents have been found upon opening unclaimed safe deposit boxes. A 2010 law passed in Missouri prohibits the sale of unclaimed military medals which are held until claimed by the rightful owner or heir.
Source: National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, Missouri State Treasurer

Most states maintain websites that contain names of individuals that have property listed within their state and there is no time limit for filing a claim. Attempts to locate rightful owners of unclaimed property by the state can include publishing names in state newspapers in hopes an individual will respond. States also use various websites, cross-referencing public data, public awareness programs and the use of a national database to help locate heirs.
Source: Missouri State Treasurer, Arizona Department of Revenue – Unclaimed Property Unit

Recently, the state of Missouri returned a record $6.1 million in Unclaimed Property to a woman in Kansas City. Though the name of the recipient has not been released by the state, it was confirmed that the unclaimed property was made up of one security. Apparently her ancestors invested in an obscure company and stock was lost over the generations while growing in worth.
Source: Missouri State Treasurer, Washington Post, Kansas City Star

Recommendations – Using a Licensed Private Investigator to Assist in Unclaimed Property Recovery

Many times businesses or holders of unclaimed funds will hire companies, commonly referred to as heir-finders to locate the rightful owner of unclaimed assets. Prior to turning the unclaimed property over to the state as required by law, Heir-finders may also contact consumers to notify the individual they may be the rightful owner or heir of unclaimed funds. For the protection of consumers most states require heir-finders to be licensed private investigators.
Source: Unclaimed Money Finder, Missing Money.com, azunclaimed.gov

These companies usually charge a percentage of the total amount recovered. Even Good Morning America has reunited forgotten funds with the owners and touts a whopping $418,598 in recoveries.
Source: Good Morning America, Yahoo News, Unclaimed Money Finder, AZ-UCP

Though there are many free websites available for trying to locate unclaimed property or funds, not all missing money or property has been listed in government or state databases due to various reasons. The most common reason is due to a specific time frame which has not expired so the unclaimed property is not turned over to the state. A claim for money may have been filed by someone else so data may have been removed from the database pending proof of ownership; and in a few states, after 10 years, the state will transfer money to the state treasury.
Source: Good Morning America, Yahoo News, Unclaimed Money Finder, AZ-UCP

Benefits of Using a Private Investigation Firm to Represent You

Private investigators help people recover assets they would not have known existed. When considering representation when filing for Unclaimed Property, it’s beneficial to be working with professionals who are familiar with laws governing the state were the unclaimed property was located. They will be familiar with all the forms that will be filed, The proper identification, probate laws, court properties, co-claimants and joint claims, beneficiaries, un-redacted wills, death certificates, judicial authority, requirements for claiming personal property and business property, etc. Hiring a professional can ensure you receive all of the unclaimed funds you are entitled to and that your claim is handled with efficiency.
Source: National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, Arizona Department of Revenue – Unclaimed Property Unit, www.azunclaimed.gov, Utah State Treasurer

Heir Tracing – A Complex Matter of Facts

It is not uncommon when an individual passes away that their heirs (related or unrelated) are unaware that there is an existing inheritance. Typically required by Trust and Estate Officers or by attorneys, heir searches can be complex. Possible heirs will need to provide required legal documentation to establish their identities to the individual and prove that they are related as a family member. Heir searches may also be conducted on behalf of guardians, executors, private fiduciaries, conservators and trustees.
Source: National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, Arizona Department of Revenue – Unclaimed Property Unit, www.azunclaimed.gov, National Unclaimed Property

Searches for heirs can take a day or can become quite complicated taking an incredible amount of research on the Internet, in courthouses, libraries, census records, birth, death and adoption, marriage or divorce records. Investigators are not only researchers they become genealogists.

  • Direct Search – A search could involve searching for one individual or expanded to search for the individual’s family members such as children, if the property owner is deceased.
  • Multiple Search – A Multiple Search would include locating multiple related individuals if those initially located are found deceased.
  • Heirs at Law – When attempting to identify heirs for a trust or estate, law requires heirs to be located in order of consanguinity
  • Lineal Search – A Lineal Search must identify if the deceased have any living relatives such as; children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren. If no living lineal relatives can be located, a lineal search can be conducted to one generation back, referred to as Level I Heirs.
  • Level I Heirs –are comprised of; parents, siblings (whole or half), nieces, or nephews. If no heirs can be located probate law may require the search to be expanded to Level II Heirs.
  • Level II Heirs – could include; grandparents, aunts, uncles, first cousins and usually requires both maternal and paternal searches.
  • Level III Heirs – though not a common search this type includes; great-grandparents and their descendants.

Once you have confirmed the legitimacy of the heir-finder, a simple contract should be signed agreeing to the proposed fees up to 30% that will include all services conducted by the heir-finder. Beware of any company requesting a down-payment of services. Legitimate heir-finders will not expect payment until the property has been returned to rightful owner. In Arizona, the Department of Revenue requires a copy of the contract and payment is issued separately and directly to the heir-finder by the Arizona Department of Revenue. Claims are usually processed within 90 to 120 days.
Source: Arizona Department of Revenue – Unclaimed Property Unit , www.azunclaimed.gov

California Requirements

The state of California reports the return of $399.5 million in unclaimed property returned to owners during 2009-2010. California has made incredible strides in efforts to reunite unclaimed property with their rightful owners or heirs and is currently pursuing additional reforms to include:

  • Restored interest paid on claims.
  • Imposing strict penalties on banks, utility companies, insurance companies and other businesses that fail to comply with law and notify customers of unclaimed property they are holding.
  • Allow the state to keep property deemed as having no commercial value for 7 years, instead of 18 months, allowing families to recover heirlooms, photos and other items of personal value.

California requires a signed full disclosure contract between the owner and the private investigator specifying where the property is coming from and has an agreement between the owner and investigator of the amount of payment due not to exceed 10% of the value of the property as stated in California Code of Civil Procedure – Section 1582. Fees charged by investigators should include all services connected with returning property to the rightful owner or heir. No fee restrictions exist for investigators filing for owners or heirs of County Probated Estates.
Source: California State Controller

Indiana Requirements

The state of Indiana reports approximately $361.1 million in unclaimed assets held in trust. Indiana does not require heir-finders to be licensed private investigators and according to Indiana law heir-finders can charge up to 10% of the total of unclaimed property. Again, it is advisable to never pay anyone in advance when entering a contract for representation.
Source: Indiana Unclaimed

How to Prevent Your Property from Becoming Abandoned?

  • Keep good records of all bank accounts.
  • Record stock certificates and cash,and all dividend checks received.
  • Record all security deposits to include, utilities, rental properties. Telephone, etc.
  • When moving be sure to notify all banking, broker, credit card companies, insurance companies, safe deposit box account are properly notified. Also send notification if you are to get married or divorced.
  • Ensure you have a will and place it in a location it will be found in the event of emergency or inform a trusted friend or attorney of its location.

Source: Maine Treasurer, National Unclaimed Property Network, Utah State Treasurer

About the Author: Kym L. Pasqualini is founder of the Nation’s Missing Children Organization in 1994 and the National Center for Missing Adults in 2000. Kym is an expert in the field of missing persons and continues to advocate for crime victims utilizing 20 years’ experience working with government officials, law enforcement, advocates, private investigators, and national media.

Corporate Due Diligence and Asset Searches in Litigation

How Corporate Due Diligence Investigations, Asset Searches, and Litigation Support Can Protect Your Company

Our Indianapolis Private Investigators at Lauth Investigations International work with national and global corporations and their corporate attorneys to provide a variety of investigative services. Our Indiana corporate investigators specialize in performing comprehensive due diligence investigations, corporate background screening, validation of assertions and representations, employee infidelity, asset searches, embezzlement and fraud investigations, and other complex internal investigations. At Lauth Investigations, our corporate investigative team works to provide comprehensive investigative services that help corporate officers assess risks and liability to strengthen internal controls, along with litigation support.

Corporate Veil

Unlike the structure of typical small businesses or a limited liability companies (LLC), corporate structures vary and created under the laws of a state to establish the corporation as a separate entity of its Board of Directors. Various forms of corporations exist and the actions of the corporate officers governed by the bylaws of the entity.

Generally accepted by law, corporations have responsibilities similar to that of an individual. Corporations can exercise rights against other individuals and entities, and the corporation held responsible for violations and criminal offenses, such as fraud.

Though not universal throughout the United States, one aspect of an incorporated entity is the “corporate veil” or limited liability protection in the event that a corporation fails. The term “corporate personhood” allows a corporation to exercise the same rights as an individual and in some states, provides limited liability to shareholders removing personal liability and insulating them from criminal liability, bankruptcy, corporate debt, and judgments against the corporation.

Corporate Litigation Support

Corporate litigation is a complex area of law that can include a variety of tort and contractual claims, such as breach of contract, misrepresentation of assets, fraud, trade secrets, worker’s compensation, infringement of intellectual property, and breach of fiduciary duties to name a few.

Lauth Investigations Litigation Support focuses on helping our clients resolve business disputes with the most comprehensive investigative and litigation support. Our litigation support investigators help uncover information and verify facts that will assist with pre-trial preparation, discovery, trial, and post-trial.

Corporate Disputes and Legal Considerations

  • Employment Law Disputes
  • Corporate Contract Negotiation
  • Breach of Contract and General Contract Disputes
  • Payment Disputes
  • Non-Compete Agreements
  • Property sell and purchasing
  • Mergers and Acquisitions
  • Commercial Leasing Disputes
  • Insurance Disputes
  • Employee Fraud/Embezzlement
  • Corporate Partnership Disputes
  • Business Torts

Why Companies in Litigation Over 500K Should Conduct Asset Searches

When facing corporate litigation in excess of $500K, the decision makers of the corporation must take into consideration the cost of legal representation and other potential liability. If the defendant has assets, an evaluation of those assets, along with deliberating litigation costs are worthwhile.

A comprehensive asset search can quickly identify and locate a property that can be attached to satisfy a judgment or be used as a powerful negotiation tool between the parties prior to ever initiating a lawsuit.

Indianapolis private investigator Thomas Lauth, the owner of Lauth Investigations, recommends any corporation weighing the pros and cons of pursuing litigation that may result in a judgment in excess of $500K, should first have an all-inclusive asset search conducted to determine if a judgment can be collected.

Private investigators and investigative firms have the capability of assisting a corporation prior to initiating litigation by reviewing financial records, trace and discover fiscal misrepresentations, confirm accurate financial information and locate hidden assets enabling corporate representatives to make an informed decision whether to pursue litigation. If litigation is pursued, it becomes paramount to ensure the information collected is comprehensive and presented in an understandable and simplified form that will be admissible in court.

The Role of In-House Corporate Attorneys

Corporate lawyers typically have experience and knowledge in licensing, contract and tax law, corporate structure, zoning, security law, accounting, intellectual rights, bankruptcy and any other laws specific to the companies they represent.

An in-house corporate attorney advises corporations on the entity’s legal rights, duties, and responsibilities of the corporate officers, along with providing legal oversight on all commercial transactions and contracts.

Corporate attorneys act more as facilitators and negotiators in the role of corporate transactions, reviewing and drafting documents, structuring deals and attending meetings. A corporate attorney’s duties can vary from acting in an advisory capacity to negotiating corporate mergers and acquisitions.

The Role of an Outside Civil Litigation Attorney

An in-house corporate attorney, who primarily acts in an advisory and negotiation capacity, may determine that civil litigation is the only way to remedy a dispute.

A civil attorney deals specifically with disputes between corporations and /or individuals and is a branch of law focused on representing those whose compensation may be awarded. Civil litigation typically focuses on contracts, torts, and other disputes as mentioned above.

Civil law differs from other types of law and designed to ensure agreements and settle disputes are honored; in essence, to ‘right a wrong’ and ensure the victim is compensated.

In any type of case it is important for a corporation or attorney to conduct due diligence on the potential defendant before expending money and time in pursuing a claim that may never be repaid because the defendant has no assets, has minimized or successfully hidden assets.

The Role of Creditor Rights Attorney

Creditor Rights Attorneys represent creditors who are attempting to collect money borrowed and loans not repaid. Normally, the Fair Collections Practices Act protects debtors, yet it is still necessary for the creditor to make every attempt to obtain a judgment requiring the debtor to repay the loan. Debt falls into two categories; secured and unsecured.

Secured debt is a loan secured with collateral, meaning some type of property to ensure repayment, should the debtor fail to make payments. An unsecured loan is debt that has no property or collateral to secure the loan, therefore if the debtor defaults and the creditor must take alternative measures to collect the amounts owed.

Any repossession of secured personal property must follow State Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). Creditor Rights Attorneys assist creditors with creditor litigation, liens, domestic and foreign judgments, garnishments, and collection services.

Types of Services That Can Assist Corporations and Attorneys in Due Diligence Asset Searches

Asset search companies and licensed private investigative firms that specialize in providing comprehensive asset searches can provide invaluable assistance to attorneys and corporations such as financial institutions, debt recovery units, government agencies, and private individuals in recovering assets.

Corporate Summaries identify corporate EIN, DUNS, estimated sales, and income; to include the number of employees, operating locations, employee profiles and structure of the potential target corporation.

  • Identify names of officers, directors, and management teams of potential target corporations.
  • Identify potential target corporation’s clientele, nature of business and volume of business with each clientele.
  • Identify potential target corporation’s vendors, suppliers, logistics and financial institutions.
  • Credit and payment analysis for 12-36 months; this includes creditors and debt amounts.
  • A search of court records.
  • Identify all physical locations of the potential target corporation, tangible assets, and on-site physical confirmation of assets such as machinery and equipment.
  • Analyze annual production capacity.
  • Identify financial institutions, brokerage firms, and offshore assets.
  • Domain names, website traffic and domain’s estimated value.

About the Author: Kym L. Pasqualini is the founder of the Nation’s Missing Children Organization in 1994 and the National Center for Missing Adults in 2000. Kym is a consultant and expert in the field of missing persons and continues to advocate for crime victims utilizing 20 years’ experience working with government officials, law enforcement, advocates, private investigators, and national media.

Global Corporate Growth Warrant Increased Use of PI Firms

How Corporate Private Investigators Root Out Illegal Activity in the Workplace and Illegal Workers?

At Lauth Investigations International headquartered in Indiana, our Indianapolis private investigators work with national and global corporations and specialize in internal crisis management investigations and business intelligence.

In the corporate world, there is a lot of room for treachery, especially as companies continue to grow globally. Over the years, corporate private investigators have been commonly utilized to perform corporate due diligence such as running background checks on potential hires and business partners. However, in the expanding world of business with too little regulation, corporate private investigators more frequently perform business intelligence investigations in an effort to protect companies by discovering deceptive practices, and performing damage control. Essentially, a corporate private investigator is responsible for identifying risks and adds an additional layer of protection to a company’s financial assets, credibility, and legal integrity.

Along with potential fraud in the corporate arena, many companies are facing government scrutiny. Prior to any corporation responding to a government inquiry, senior executives must begin gathering relevant facts to assess potential liability. Promptly hiring an experienced private investigator can help alleviate the pressure on the leadership of the corporation while the private investigator works in cooperation with the corporate legal team to help expedite findings and develop information sharing agreements that can earn cooperation credits.

Management & executive leaders in the corporate world know prevention is worth its weight in gold. This list of risks is endless so corporations know being proactive and developing strategies that protect the company, involve developing their corporate intelligence programs. Corporate private investigators are highly skilled in internal crisis management investigations and discover everything from employee malingering, employee infidelity, fraud, embezzlement, improper billing, contract fraud, illegal hiring of immigrant workers, divulgence of trade secrets, slanderous employees and competitors, and drug detection and misuse. In addition, private investigators can help corporations prepare for domestic and international mergers, acquisitions, board appointments, and leveraged buyouts.

No Company is Immune

Well-known companies like 3M Company, Hewlett Packard, Walt Disney Company, Allied Defense Group, GlaxoSmithKline, Goldman Sachs Group, and even Halliburton Company can find themselves in the midst of a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation that can result in administrative action or land them in federal court. The SEC is responsible for investigating evidence of violations brought about by tips, complaints, market surveillance activities, and whistleblowers. Typically, violations that can lead to an SEC investigation include:

  • Theft of funds or securities
  • Insider trading
  • Selling unregistered securities
  • Omissions or misrepresentation
  • Manipulating market prices

During 2010, the federal government brought more Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement actions than any other year. As with SEC investigations, there are many ways companies can take a proactive approach to reduce incidents that have long-lasting and costly effects. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) issued a 2012 Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse. Compiled from a study of 1,388 cases of occupational fraud that occurred worldwide, the report provides a global view and insight as to the prevalence of fraud and abuse in the workplace.

The Undocumented

According to the Center for Immigration Studies, illegal immigration and high levels of identity theft go hand in hand. In Arizona, 33 percent of all identity theft is job-related. Eight of ten states having the highest incidence of illegal aliens in their total population are among the top ten states in identity theft (Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Texas, Nevada, New York, and Georgia).

When illegals come to the United States, they also look for employment and they will commit felonies to do so by using fraudulent documents obtained by identity theft.

The illegally employed send billions of dollars to their families still residing in their home countries instead of spending here in the U.S. and helping to stimulate the economy. For example, those residing in the U.S. transferred $2.8 billion to Mexico during 2008.

Bribery and corruption land U.S. corporations in the chicken coup

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the primary and largest investigative agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. ICE is responsible for the criminal and civil enforcement of federal laws that govern border patrol, customs, trade, and immigration. Meat processing plants throughout the country have been frequent targets of immigration officials in an effort to track down undocumented workers. One of the most publicized Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids occurred during 2008 at Columbia Farms, a poultry processing plant located in Greenville, NC. Approximately 330 illegal workers were arrested during the raid. The U.S. Department of Labor was investigating the plant for possible child labor violations following the arrests of the illegal immigrants, including six juveniles.

Tyson Foods, an Arkansas corporation and one of the largest producers of poultry, pork and beef products, has been subject of several allegations of corruption over the years. In 2002, two Tyson executives and four former managers were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiring to smuggle illegals from Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras to work at its U.S. poultry plants.

The 2002 indictment connected 15 plants in nine states throughout the country as part of a conspiracy to smuggle at least 140 immigrants to plants located in Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas, Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, and Virginia. In an effort to boost productivity and lower wage cost, Tyson paid $200 for each Mexican illegal delivered to their plants where they were provided false identification so they could work. Investigators presented audio and video surveillance that substantiated the allegations and fined $100 million, Tyson contended a few managers’ acted outside company policy at only 5 of its 57 poultry plants.

Again, in 2004, the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice fined Tyson $5 million for violations under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for bribery of meat packing plant inspectors. Tyson had paid two veterinarian’s wives 30,700 pesos or $2,700 a month for years in order to prevent the veterinary inspectors from creating problems.

More and more we hear stories of companies hiring Human Resources employees who then bribe potential new hires with a bribery fee for employment. For example, an illegal immigrant produces fake identification, such as a work visa or green card and pays the HR employee $300.00 for a job to clean chicken cages.

Weeding out illegal activities in the workplace – Prevention is worth a pound of cure

Incidents of corruption and bribery have become common in the corporate world and more and more companies are hiring private investigators to conduct uncover investigations of those participating in illegal workplace activity. While “companies” do not commit crimes, employees do.

Highly skilled corporate private investigators are joining corporations throughout the country to help prevent human trafficking (including child trafficking), bribery, employee infidelity, MS-13 gang activity, fraud, identity theft, and drug trafficking that has become all too commonplace in various industries.

Clearly, prevention should be a priority within any corporation. Teamwork between corporate executives and corporate private investigators acting as undercover operatives, weed out illegal workplace activities crucial to ensuring crimes are detected and prosecuted.

Indianapolis private investigator Thomas Lauth, owner of Lauth Investigations, specializes in business intelligence and corporate investigations. A twenty-year private detective, Lauth has worked with many corporate clients over the last twenty years to include, Aldi Foods, Sysco, Pepsi, and Dollar General Stores.

“If we respond to concerns immediately and investigate thoroughly, we are able to prevent huge financial losses early on,” says Lauth. “In addition, with due diligence and comprehensive corporate investigations, we are able to assist in strengthening internal controls helping corporations save in the long run.”

About the Author: Kym L. Pasqualini is founder of the National Missing Children Organization in 1994 and the National Center for Missing Adults in 2000. Kym is a consultant and expert in the field of missing persons and continues to advocate for crime victims utilizing 20 years’ experience working with government officials, law enforcement, advocates, private investigators, and national media.