Half the time when someone calls our office about asset identification they tell us, “I need bank account information.”
When told that without a court order there is nearly no legal way to get that kind of information from a bank without the account holder’s consent, many ask: “If it’s illegal, why did an investigator [or lawyer] get it for me last year?”
We’ve written about this before in Can You Get Me Bank Accounts and Some Cocaine, Please? But a refresher is always useful because the data robbers are still at it.
This blog takes no pleasure in calling anyone a criminal, but let us be clear: Most of those services on the web that promise “Bank account information – no hit no fee” are advertising a service that is almost certainly illegal.
Some say they are “Gramm Leach Bliley Act-compliant,” but when you press them on it, their reasoning crumbles. We called three of these outfits and did just that – pushed them until they were back-tracking or spouting nonsense.
First things first: The Gramm Leach Bliley Act (15 USC sec. 6801-6809 and 6821 – 6827) is the main piece of federal legislation that protects your bank account confidentiality. Most of us would not like the idea that competitors or nosey neighbors could pay a small fee and find out how much money we have in the bank. That is why banks are not allowed to hand over your account information unless they receive a subpoena, and even then, there may need to be a judgment or court order behind that subpoena.
What do some of these supposedly legal companies say when you ask them how they do it legally? Remember, by law you are not allowed to call up and trick the banks into thinking you are the account holder when you are not. That’s usually the way these companies do it, but they will never tell you that – it could get them arrested.
So how do they just walk in the front door, ask for the information and get it?
One place told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that they had access to the SWIFT system, an international messaging system between banks. That’s nonsense. SWIFT doesn’t have access to account data.
One place told us they use the “permissible uses” of Gramm Leach Bliley, and suggested we Google GLB permissible uses to see for ourselves that everything was legal. But doing so brings you to the page at Lexis Nexis that needs permissible uses (such as fraud prevention or witness location) to run data against Gramm-Leach-Bliley-regulated information. This means credit-header information – the stuff at the top of your credit report such as name, address, date of birth – but nothing like the contents of your credit report.
Yes, there are exceptions relating to matters of public safety or enforcing a child support order, but the average divorcing spouse who just wants to know if it’s worth continuing with an action rather than settling does not qualify.
In the end, if you have an investigator who tells you they can legally get bank accounts but will not show you the part of the law that permits this, find yourself another investigator.
If your lawyer insists that it’s all OK because the investigator has a license and knows what he’s doing, fire the lawyer too.