Great work by the Atlanta Journal Constitution on an issue that’s bugged me for years: the brazen violation of federal law by investigators and the lawyers who hire them.

At issue is the Gramm Leach Bliley Act, meant to protect the confidentiality of banking records. You are not allowed to pretend to be someone else in order to trick the bank into handing over account information, and with a few narrow exceptions, you need a court order before a bank should be handing over a third-party’s banking records.

Yet, all over the internet there are licensed investigators who claim it’s all legal. Lawyers who should know better rely on these people and get away with having their agents commit crimes. We turn away several people a month (including attorneys) who want pre-judgment banking records, and we’re both confident and saddened that these people will get what they are looking for with just a few more phone calls.

We’ve written about this issue on our firm’s companion blog, The Divorce Asset Hunter, including last year’s Can You Get Me Bank Accounts and Some Cocaine, Please?, as well as in my book, The Art of Fact Investigation.

Now comes a wonderful story here: Think no one can know how much you have in the bank? Think again that tells the story of a Georgia woman who had her accounts garnished after an investigator got her banking information, down to the account number, without the bothersome and law-abiding step of getting a judgment of a subpoena.

What’s alarming is how little federal law in this area is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. Even worse is the way the legal community not only tolerates these bad practices but even at times gives them a formal pass.

Not only are these information brokers to be found hawking their services at American Bar Association meetings (I’ve debated them right at their tables, where they insist what they do is legal). But in a companion story the Atlanta paper describes the formal acquiescence to the practice by the State Bar of Georgia. That story is here: Documents show how law firm got one woman’s bank account information.

It’s not a hard issue. If the investigators are following the law, why can’t they ever tell you how they get the account information? If an investigator can’t tell you how he does what he does, it’s time to find another one.

For more good ways to screen for lawyers and investigators who know and abide by the rules, see my American Bar Association article, Five Questions Litigators Should Ask Before Hiring an Investigator (and Five Tips to Investigate it Yourself).

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Photo of Philip Segal Philip Segal

Charles Griffin is headed by Philip Segal, a New York attorney with extensive experience in corporate investigations in the U.S. for AmLaw 100 law firms and Fortune 100 companies. Segal worked previously as a case manager for the James Mintz Group in New York and as North American Partner and General Counsel for GPW, a British business intelligence firm. Prior to becoming an attorney, Segal was the Finance Editor of the Asian Wall Street Journal, and worked as a journalist in five countries over 19 years with a specialization in finance. In 2012, he was named by Lawline as one of the top 40 lawyers furthering legal education.  Segal has also been a guest speaker at Columbia University on investigating complex international financing structures, and taught a seminar on Asian economics as a Freeman Scholar at the University of Indiana.  He is the author of the book, The Art of Fact Investigation: Creative Thinking in the Age of Information Overload (Ignaz Press, 2016). He lectures widely on fact investigation and ethics to bar associations across the United States.