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A Private Investigator’s Guide to Asset Searches

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An asset search is the name of an investigative technique or service. You can use an asset search to help secure or protect the financial health of an individual, company or organization. The purpose of an asset search is to either collect a debt, confirm current finances or/and identify fraud. If you need an asset search done on an individual or company and you don’t know where to start, don’t worry. Most people aren’t familiar with this particular private investigator service. This is why we’ve put together a private investigator’s guide to asset searches. It’s our hope that by reading this guide you can determine whether or not asset search services are right for you or your company. 

How Can a Private Investigator Help?

Detectives and private investigators share many similarities. The main difference between a PI and a detective is that a private investigator is trained in investigative techniques. However, a private investigator can’t make an arrest or execute a search warrant. In order to learn and practice the right investigative techniques, private investigators must earn a licence after taking a private investigator training course. Some of the investigative techniques that a private investigator can offer clients include:

  • Surveillance
  • Background checks
  • Interviews
  • Locates
  • Asset searches

What Will a Private Investigator Find in an Asset Search?

When a private investigator conducts an asset search, they’re looking for many different things including:

  • Income sources
  • Real estate
  • Planes
  • Boats
  • Trust funds
  • Benefits
  • Bank accounts
  • Retirement accounts
  • Safe deposit boxes

Some of the most common reasons why a private investigator would conduct an asset search include:


In a typical divorce case, two people separate and need to split their joint assets. These assets can include finances, property, art, jewelry, and more. However, there are some divorce cases where a private investigator must search for hidden assets. The reason for this is because one or both of the people involved in the divorce believe that the other person is hiding assets. In North America, hiding assets instead of including them during a divorce proceeding is illegal. 

Personal injury Cases:

Let’s say that someone injures you in a car accident and you don’t have the right insurance coverage. The major problem with this scenario is that insurance coverage is something that you and your family require to live while you recover. When it comes to personal injury cases where insurance coverage isn’t enough, a lawyer will recommend an asset search. In this situation, an asset search on the defendant will help to locate additional financial aid. You should also know that when it comes to personal injury cases, a lawyer is legally obligated to inform you that you have the option to run an asset search on the defendant. If a lawyer doesn’t present this option, it’s considered malpractice. 

In many personal injury cases, a lawyer will hire a private investigator to do the asset search. Private investigators use many different techniques to find out whether or not the defendant has any assets that would help to change the outcome of the case for the injured plaintiff. Some of these asset search techniques are listed in the next section of this guide. 

Child Support: 

When it comes to child support, most people provide accurate financial information. Based on the provided financial information, an individual is then required to make certain payments to help support their child(ren)—At least until they’re old enough to support themselves. However, in some child support cases, the parent lies about how much money they have or earn. This is considered a hidden asset and a private investigator is often hired to do an asset search. The asset search will likely include surveillance, a background check, and other research. Using these techniques, a private investigator can gather evidence, which the client can present in court. 

Asset Search Techniques

A private investigator will use all of the tools at their disposal to uncover all assets belonging to an individual, company or organization. Some of the asset search techniques can include:

Background Checks:

A background check helps a private investigator gather information about an individual. In many cases, a background check is used to confirm that an individual is the right choice for a particular job. However, background checks can reveal a lot of information about a company or organization too. Therefore, if you’re a CEO of a large corporation and you’re looking to buy out a competitor, you also can hire a private investigator to run a background check. This type of background check will help the CEO to understand the true financial health of the competitor, amongst other important details. More importantly, a background check will reveal hidden assets, fraud, and other information that might negatively impact the deal.

In general, a private investigator will run a background check on a company or individual to gather the following information:

  • Education history
  • Employment history
  • Financial records
  • Criminal records
  • Driving records
  • Owned estate/property 
  • Credit score
  • Public records
  • Arrest records


A private investigator will often include surveillance in cases where they want to prove an individual has hidden assets. For example, an individual in the middle of a divorce case might have hidden several pieces of art in a storage locker. A private investigator will run surveillance on the individual. During this surveillance, the private investigator follows the individual to the storage locker and spots the hidden art. The private investigator will record their findings and bring that information to the lawyer or client. As a result, and if gathered legally, the lawyer or client can use that information in court. 

In general, surveillance is an investigative technique that is used to observe an individual (or group of people) as they go about their day-to-day life. The most important element of a surveillance investigation is that the individual does not know they are being watched. The reason for this is because he or she will immediately change their behaviour. So, in the case of the individual with the hidden art, if he or she suspected someone was watching, they wouldn’t go to the storage locker. He or she would alter their plans to avoid getting caught. If done correctly, however, surveillance in an asset search case can bring a lot of solid evidence to support the plaintiff in court. 

Public Record Search:

Public records refer to any information recorded by public agencies. The local and federal government is usually responsible for creating public records, but it is also possible for an individual to create them as well. Some example of public records includes:

  • Immigration records
  • Real estate records
  • Criminal records
  • Vital records
  • Corporate records

The important thing to remember about public records is that anyone can search through this information as it is available to the general population. That being said, it takes a private investigator’s skill and know-how to research an individual, company or organization and find the right information. It also takes time. If you don’t know what to look for, it could take you weeks or months to find what a private investigator can dig up in hours to days. This is the reason why so many lawyers rely on private investigators. A private investigator can help to support a case by finding public records quickly and efficiently.

A private investigator might also look through finance records, mobile devices, email and chat histories, and more. Ultimately, a private investigator must be incredibly thorough during an asset search. He or she can’t leave any stone unturned as they don’t want to miss any information that could either negatively or positively impact the investigation. 

Well, there you have it! Everything you need to know about private investigators, asset searches and more. Still have questions? Contact us today to speak to one of our private investigators about asset searches and how they can help you.

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About the Author

Whitney Joy Smith

Whitney Joy Smith is a prominent figure in the field of private investigation and security, serving as the founder and CEO of The Smith Investigation Agency Inc., Smith Security Inc., and Training Centre Canada, as well as a sitting politician.

With a remarkable journey that began in the early 2000s, Whitney's professional background as a private investigator is underscored by her unwavering dedication to the role. Born in Canada and having spent her early years between Canada and the United States, Whitney possesses a unique perspective shaped by her experiences in both countries. This background equips her with an in-depth understanding of the intricacies of private investigative laws, regulations, and operational standards in North America.

Throughout her career, Whitney has garnered numerous industry awards and accolades. She takes great pride in working closely with her continually expanding agency, striving to elevate industry standards, maintain compliance, and effectively meet the diverse investigative needs of clients.

Whitney actively engages in various membership, committee, board and support roles, demonstrating her commitment to the industry and professional community. She is affiliated with all local chambers, associations and more.

Whitney's wealth of experience is not limited to her professional achievements; her thought-provoking articles have been featured in publications ranging from Readers Digest, Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post, and Mens Health to Business News Daily. She constantly seeks to redefine standards and push the boundaries of excellence within the private investigative and security fields.

To discover more about Whitney Joy Smith and the dedicated team at The Smith Investigation Agency Inc., visit our website to learn more.

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