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Asset Tracing: A Game of Cat-and-Mouse

John Polizzi is a certified fraud examiner and a Partner at Gryphon Strategies.  John leads Gryphon’s asset tracing practice and has assisted clients in the identification of over half a billion dollars’ worth of collectible assets in the U.S. and abroad.

Asset tracing is the process by which investigators identify property and other valuables belonging to an individual or entity. While the impetus for an asset investigation may vary, these types of investigations are commonly initiated by creditors seeking to collect on a legal judgment against a debtor. Asset tracing services can also be employed as an intelligence tool by businesses seeking to gain leverage during high stakes financial negotiations, by lenders prior to the disbursement of new funds, and by parties who are weighing the cost of litigation against the possible sources from which they might collect upon a winning judgment.

In order to identify and value a person’s assets, investigators have to develop a general profile for that person. They need to know where the person has lived, where they have worked, and who they associate with. Using this information as a baseline, an adept investigator can begin querying the appropriate datasets, civil record offices, and private sources to piece together a person’s asset base and potential lines of revenue. In addition, a proper asset investigation will seek to understand whether the assets identified are encumbered or otherwise offset by liabilities and competing claims.

While the process sounds straightforward in theory, in reality the situation is often much more complex. Human nature dictates that when we have something of value, we ought to protect it. It’s no different than a squirrel with a nut. Whether it’s physical property, liquid assets, or intellectual rights, society has afforded us countless ways to shield our belongings from others. Classic methods revolve around the transfer of assets to trusted individuals, the formation of LLCs, and the movement of funds to offshore bank accounts. However, in the digital age, the methods of shielding assets are multiplied to include the use of blockchain technology and decentralized “currency” exchanges.

To combat these methods, investigators have to employ a wide variety of their own tools to keep up in the cat-and-mouse game of asset tracing. Depending on the situation, an investigation might call for public record inquiries, surveillance, interview work, and even dumpster diving. With the development of digital assets, an investigator’s toolkit has expanded to encompass computer forensics, digital pinging tools, and web scrapers.

Often times, the outcome of an asset investigation will provide a client with two key areas of information. The first is a listing of identified assets and their presumed value. The second contains a series of clues or signatures for additional assets that while still hidden, may be revealed through legal means (e.g. discovery and subpoena processes). As an example of the latter, an asset investigation may not uncover an exact bank account number, but it may reveal where a person has active banking relationships. Similarly, an asset investigation may identify a family trust, but it may not always reveal the full extent of the assets held within.

Ultimately, a well-conducted asset trace should provide the requester with a full financial profile of the party under investigation. Even more importantly it should provide the requester with actionable intelligence concerning their ability to recover against the party under investigation.

At Gryphon Strategies, we have had the privilege of assisting countless clients in the recovery of assets internationally. Our asset investigations have led us to review sovereign nations, international commodities networks, large commercial organizations, and high net worth individuals. And just like the process itself, the results have varied greatly from the identification of extensive real estate portfolios, shipping vessels, digital subscription networks, luxury vehicle collections, and competitive side hustles. In the end it’s not so different from a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.

For more information regarding asset investigations, contact our experts


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