Locating the assets of a business can be incredibly difficult, because assets can be held in many, many ways. Among the many creative money management methods available, business assets can be legally held in a foreign country, as a corporate shell, or a personal trust. Some are liquid—cash or easily converted into cash. While some are intangible—lacking a physical presence and may be hard to place a value upon. And still others may be hidden—cleverly by choice to hide wealth or hard to find because of government financial protection laws.
Hiding business assets is so much easier than hiding personal assets, because one can create new umbrella accounts and shell companies to hide money. The only way to locate business assets is to start finding the ‘dots’ and then begin to connect them.
Typical assets controlled by a business include: Real Property; Personal Property; Investments and Trusts (Financial Assets); Intellectual Property; and Subsidiaries/Spin-offs.
In our 5-Part Industry Undercover series, we will examine how to conduct an assets investigation and offer some practical search procedures follows. This week, we look at real property and provide examples of how to search for and investigate them.
Real property refers to real estate. For many individuals, the first sign of wealth is taking on incredible debt, such as a large mortgage. In most instances, families own one home. However, do not assume that is always the case. Plenty of people with extensive investment money have purchased second homes, summer homes, or investment properties—even undeveloped property, farmland, or open-space land.
Businesses also own property, manufacturing plants, and office spaces. They may use all or part of the property for themselves or rent several floors to other interests.
Where to Search
With the right sources, researching property deeds or assessment records can be a snap.
Property records are recorded and maintained by the county or parish or city in which that property resides. County records are open to the public. Many of the populous counties can often be found on the internet through a variety of free and fee resources. Hg analysts often start a property records search with BRB Publications, a free service which enables us to locate county-by-county databases for searching public records. Fee-based searches can be conducted on a variety of platforms, including LexisNexis, CLEAR, Accurint, Tracers, IRBsearch, and Delvepoint.
A caveat: Be aware that many counties do not share their public records online. These counties may maintain their records in an electronic index and have decided not to supply online service, or the records may be maintained in card files or microfiche. In such instances, contact the county recorder’s office and ask about the cost and turnaround time for a search within that county, or hire a local record retriever for an on-site search.
In asset investigation or debt recovery work, have a clear starting point for your attack. Document everything—even the smallest detail—you find. Save all your files. A random mention of flying lessons on a social media page may, a few months later, prompt you to search for aircraft tail numbers.
Pair your excellent searcher skills with some of these professional tools reviewed here and watch how your report fills out.
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