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Asset Investigations-- The Process and Value

Protecting Against Corporate Espionage

Protecting Yourself Against Identity Theft

Asset Investigations--Uncovering hidden community property and what you need to know to get a fair shake

Whether you’re involved in a family law matter associated with the uncovering of hidden community property assets, or if you’ve received a default judgment and you wish to evaluate the availability of assets, the investigative process remains the same.

The first phase of the inquiry involves running an “asset profile.” An asset profile of a person is the accumulation of public information which references and cross references literally millions of pieces of information. I routinely triple source this information to insure it is the most accurate and up-to-date. The asset profile serves as a “road map” for continued inquiries.

At a minimum, asset profile information contains an address history, businesses associated with the subject, bankruptcies, liens, judgments, UCC filings (important), properties owned and whether or not there has been any “equity stripping” (in cases of family law) of the properties. Equity stripping is a situation where a spouse will borrow against the equity in the home unbeknownst to the other spouse. A portion of or all of the money borrowed is then placed in hidden bank accounts, front businesses, etc. UCC filing information is very important because it is an indicator of a person's ability to borrow money. The lending institution is required to file with the state a UCC filing. If a person has the ability to borrow money, the next question is "what collateral was used?" Was it a community property asset?

The asset profile can also contain civil and criminal filings and a DMV report which shows vehicles, boats or other recreational vehicles owned which can be considered assets. Asset profiling can also expand into the search of properties owned which may be titled under the name of a business or other person. This method of "secreting" assets is quite common.

Phase 2 is a search for bank accounts, both personal and business. All bank account searches are conducted in accordance with state and federal laws. No account numbers are available, but account numbers are not necessary to determine balances. The key is to identify the banks and where they are located at which time a subpoena for more information can be issued. “More information” means acquiring account monthly statements for a forensic review.

I can do these searches by state or nationwide. Personal bank account searches will provide me any personal or savings bank accounts associated with the subject’s name, address and SSN. This search tells me the location of the account, the balance in the account at the time of the search, any savings account balances, co- signers, and sometimes if there is a Certificate of Deposit or other financial instrument associated with that account, that will show up as well.

A search for business accounts requires the FEIN for the business. You can provide that to me if available or I can obtain same. This search provides me the location of the account, amount of money in the account at the time of the search, and co-signers. In both personal and business account searches, more often than not I can determine when the account was opened. This is important, for instance, if a person opens a bank account shortly after the date of separation and funds the account with monies from accounts which were in existence prior to the date of separation. These are monies which can be considered community property.

A transactional analysis of bank accounts is also available. This analysis tells me how much money has gone in and out of the account during any thirty day period. No information is available re payees.

Phase 2 can also include a brokerage account search. The top 50 U.S. brokerage houses, including on-line houses, are searched. I learn from this search the location of the accounts, and the value of the account.

Corporate Espionage: How are you protecting your business?

The following information comes from a chapter which I contributed in the book: Business Security-Protect Your Business Against Threats Internally and Externally--authored by T.A. Brown and published by Crary Publications-2004.

The word "espionage" congers up many images. In today's corporate climate, make no mistake about it, there are countries, corporations and persons who want to know more about your company and employees. This information is sought so as to give another company a competitive advantage over your company. How this information is obtained is defined by the means in which you are targeted and who's doing the targeting.

A few definitions to get you started:

Economic Espionage is defined as the "unlawful or clandestine targeting or acquisition of sensitive financial , trade, or economic policy information; proprietary economic information; or critical technologies.-excluding the collection of public domain and legally available information.

Industrial Espionage is defined as "any activity conducted by a foreign government or by a foreign company with the direct assistance of a foreign government against a private U.S. company for the sole purpose of acquiring commercial secrets-excluding the collection of public domain and legally available information.

According to the annual report to congress on foreign economic collection and industrial espionage 2001- the U.S. business community estimates that in calendar year 2000 economic espionage cost from $100-250 billion in lost sales.

A third area of concern to businesses is that of Competitive Intelligence collection. Simply put, this is an activity (most often done legally through publically available information, and sometimes illegally by unscrupulous collectors) to acquire information about your business for the purpose of giving someone else's business a competitive advantage over yours.

In 1999, a landmark study was published by the American Society for Industrial Security International and PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLP indicating that Fortune 1000 companies sustained losses of more than $45 billion from thefts of their proprietary information. The survey covered a 17-month period, January 1, 1997, through June 1, 1998.

According to PriceWaterhouseCoopers' "Trendsetter Barometer" newsletter of March 27, 2002, companies placing a premium on competitor information are outperforming their peers on sustained revenue growth, gross margins, and a number of other key performance measures. Changes in pricing, new product initiatives, and changes in corporate strategy top the list of desirable information.

Yes! The spies are out there. Go to www.hotjobs.com and enter key words "competitive intelligence." I did (on 6/18/04) and 531 jobs popped up. Using the same keywords at monster.com you get 1230 listings. Yea folks! The people they hire may someday soon be stalking your company.

Companies that are the most successful are those that have the best information and use that information the most effectively. Then why give away your company information knowingly, or most often unknowingly? You've probably done a pretty good job in protecting your physical plant with video cameras, badge access, etc. What have you done to protect the intellectual capital of your company-that information stored in the brains of each and every employee?

How are you collected against and the "antedote" (countermeasures)? There are a myriad of techniques utilized by "collectors." And, there are many things you can do in terms of countermeasures to protect your company.

It all starts with employee education-educating your employees on how they are collected against, what to watch for, what to say and do, and what not to say and do. Know where you're vulnerable. The remaining portions of this chapter will address some of the more common techniques used to collect against you and what to do about it.

  1. Trade shows and conventions. A seemingly innocuous event, but ripe for information gathering. A skilled elicitor of information has no problem against an unsuspecting employee. This is a "target-rich" environment. The elicitor has planned his conversation. It's friendly and not intrusive. It's slick and the conversation is comfortable. Your employee, during the conversation, has complained about a rise in their health insurance rates, or a cut-back on vacation time. What does this tell the elicitor? It could provide a clue to your companies' overhead rate. It's a small part of the puzzle for the elicitor, but by the end of the conversation he has a bigger picture. Do your employees understand what they can and cannot say about your company or product at trade shows?
    Have you ever debriefed your employees after they've attended a convention? It might be a good idea. You can learn whether or not they were a target of an elicitor. You can also learn what your competitor is interested in and this can benefit you.
  2. Pretext conversations through internet newsgroups, chat lines, or email. What are your employees saying about your company through these venues? Intelligence (information) collectors routinely scan these sources of information. Employees should be cautioned about what is said in these venues.
  3. Technical surveillance of your home or office. Although rare and illegal, it's a technique that can yield valuable information. If you have suspicions, obtain the services of a competent "sweeper" to detect such devices. If you find a device, don't let the whole world know. You could use it to your advantage.
  4. Computers. Do you have firewalls? What is the status of your access codes? Do you know where your laptop is? Hackers know all the security vulnerabilities out there. Do you? Are your computer wiring closets locked?
  5. Do you have employees who write trade articles? Are these articles screened to insure they contain no proprietary information?
  6. How about your SEC filings? Are you putting too much information in there? Many companies produce much more documentation than is legally required.
  7. How about your press releases, brochures, website, annual report, or employment ads? Is what's in there reasonable, or does it provide a business profile that can make you vulnerable to the collector? Are you putting too much information in there, i.e., computer systems used, client businesses you're supporting, specific project names, etc?
  8. Do your employees travel abroad? Have they ever received a pre-travel briefing concerning the protection of your business information? How about a post-travel debriefing? Your business information is particularly vulnerable during foreign travel periods. Foreign companies, governments, and intelligence officers don't play by the same rules.
  9. Most of the time, trash is just trash. What do you do with your trash? Do employees have separate trash cans, one for personal trash, the other for work product trash? Is it dumped in an unsecured dumpster? A rough draft of a business proposal thrown away and found by your competitor is like finding gold. Do you shred first? You can never have too many shredders. Is there an employee responsible for "trash" security?
  10. Do your employees leave work product on their desks at the end of the day? Is the "in" box cleared out and secured. Easy pickings for anyone interested in what you're doing.
  11. Do you conduct background checks? Conducting a background check of all prospective employees, regardless of position sought, is a step in the right direction. Advise the prospective employee of your intention to do a background check and obtain a written acknowledgement from the prospective employee. This check, as a minimum, should start with residence verifications dating back at least 3 years. Without this verification a criminal records check attempt is useless. How are you going to know where to do a criminal records check if you don't know where the employee has lived? Once residence information is verified, do a criminal records check of that county. Then proceed with educational verification, and previous employment verification. Could the prospective employee be in fact working for your competitor? Maybe!

    Have you ever considered having your employees execute a nondisclosure/no compete agreement? This impresses upon the employee your seriousness about not disclosing information learned at work to outside third party persons. Further, it minimizes information about your company and it's use against you. The terms of the agreement should be reasonable and constructed utilizing legal counsel.

    Do you hire temporary employees? What do you know about them? What company information will they have access to?
  12. The TELEPHONE. What a wonderful piece of equipment to be used to collect against you. Does your company receive calls from those purporting to be from a trade magazine, local media, etc? Always ask for their call back number and learn their bonifides before answering their questions. And how about that company phone directory? It's a prized possession of any collector. I'm not advocating that phone directories by accounted for on a daily basis, but your employees should understand the importance of this information to a collector.
  13. The copy machine. A great "hang-out" for someone who has penetrated your company. Are bad copies tossed into the trash can next to the copy machine? Get rid of the trash can. Have the employee take all trash copies to their work station and dispose of them properly. Do you have a copy machine accounting mechanism to determine if the copy machine is receiving extraordinary use? Copy machine usage is a simple way to uncover activities that could be harmful to your company.
  14. Don't routinely discuss security countermeasures amongst each other, especially with employees you're not familiar with.
  15. Do high-level company officials always fly or drive together? Separate travel arrangements, although inconvenient, may be warranted. In the event of an accident, your company will not suffer from catastrophic key personnel losses.

The foregoing information is not meant to be all encompassing. It was presented to give you a simple picture of how vulnerable you and your business can be. Just because you don't often hear about it in the news, that doesn't mean the collection of information against companies isn't happening. They certainly are, but you'd never know your company was a target until you started seeing your market share drop.

In summary, educate your employees on the importance of protecting company information. Determine what information should be protected and how to go about accomplishing that goal. Identify your vulnerabilities and close the holes.

John M. Elliott is President of Elliott Investigative Services, and a retired FBI counterintelligence Special Agent with over twenty-six years federal law enforcement experience. He can be reached at 805-494-3138 or at elliott@elliottinvestigativeservices.com

Protecting Yourself Against Identity Theft


Below is information which I hope you find useful. It describes what you can do to help prevent identity theft and what to do after if you do become victimized. Further, identity theft is becoming a useful modus operandi for terrorist and funding for their activities.

Before You Become a Victim:

When ordering checks, have printed on your checks only your initials for first and middle name. The thief won't know how you sign your checks, but the bank does based on past history of signings.

Put your work telephone number on your checks. Consider using your work or P.O. box address. Never put your SSN on your checks.

Photocopy the contents of your wallet.

One should maintain an unlisted phone number.

Order your credit report once per year. Request a copy of your social security earnings once per year

If you become a victim of identity theft, the following steps should be taken:

  1. File a fraud report with the local police department. Get and keep a copy of the report. If not already done, notify your bank and credit card companies.
  2. Call the three credit unions and file an identity theft fraud alert.
    EQUIFAX: 1 800 525 6285
    EXPERIAN: 1 888 397 3742
    TRANSUNION: 1 800 680 7289

    Because you have been an identity theft victim, you can request a free credit report. Reviewthe credit report and make sure that there is no fictitious /fraudulent activity on the report
  3. Go to WWW.FTC.GOV and submit an online identity theft complaint input form. Or, call 877 438 4338. This is a good website to learn more about how to prevent identity theft and what to do if you become a victim of identity theft.
  4. Contact the IRS via the IRS Identity Protection Unit or call (800) 908-4490
  5. If you believe you have been a victim of an internet crime, you should file an online complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov. The IC3 gives victims of cyber crime a convenient and easy-to-use reporting mechanism that alerts authorities of suspected criminal or civil violations. IC3 sends every complaint to one or more law enforcement or regulatory agencies that have jurisdiction over the matter. IC3ís mission is to receive, develop and refer criminal complaints regarding the rapidly expanding arena of cyber crime. For law enforcement and regulatory agencies at the federal, state, local and international level, IC3 provides a central referral mechanism for complaints involving Internet related crimes. The IC3 reflects a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National White Collar Crime Center and the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
  6. Fill out any fraud affidavits that are sent to you by the merchants.
  7. Call all credit card companies and advise them that you are a victim of identity theft and make sure that they have your correct address and not a "NEW" address.
  9. Call Social Security, 1 800 269 0271 and alert them that you are an identity theft victim.
  10. Alert your local post office to make sure a fraudulent change of address has not been filed.
  11. Call 1 888 5 OPTOUT and "opt out" of pre approved credit card offers. Select the "permanent" option.
  12. Contact the U.S. Passport Office and advise them that you are a victim. Alert them in case someone orders a passport in your name with a different address.
  13. Alert your Department of Motor Vehicles. Make sure no fraudulent address has been filed.
  14. Verify that no mail, bank/brokerage statements are missing as well as blank checks. Have future check orders sent to your work address or pick them up at your bank.
  15. Contact banks/brokerages and advise them. Verify that no change of address has been filed.
  16. Pay for a service that monitors your credit history with the three (3) credit bureaus. WWW.IDENTITYGUARD.COM is such a service. The service will alert you when there is activity on your credit report. All the credit bureaus have such a service, but it is possible that one of the others will be checked and not the one that you have the service with. The biggest credit bureau in the West is Equifax, Experian in the Midwest and Trans Union in the South.