Finding Hidden Assets in divorce is a common task

Finding hidden assets of an individual is a tricky topic to both explain to readers and to set out in a specific methodology. This is because every case is different and an expert in this area performs many of the steps together without thinking in a step by step fashion.

However having said that, below are some simple things to look for when trying to find hidden assets of an individual:

The first step is to find out information about the individual concerned. There will often be tell-tale clues about the country concerned and most people will only hide assets or money in a country in which they are familiar or have some type of past history with the country concerned.

Ask yourself:

  • What is the persons recent travel history?
  • Does the person talk about a particular city or country? Does the person always holiday in the same place?
  • Were they born overseas?
  • Does mail arrive with stamps showing a particular country?
  • Does the person receive emails from a particular country?
  • Has the person stayed in a country for at least a 3 month period sometime in the past?
  • Does the person have bank debit and /or credit cards from a bank that is international or not well known in Australia?
  • Does the individual socialise with another person who has extensive business interests in another country?
  • Does the individual have an accountant, solicitor, mortgage broker or some other professional adviser who comes from or does regular business in another country?

If you think about the individual concerned when answering these questions, you will probably have a short list of a couple of high risk countries where assets could have been hidden or transferred to.

The next step is to try and locate any documentation that could indicate a possible investment or transfer of assets to another country. Always stay inside the law, but if you can obtain access to bank statements, letters, emails, bank deposit or withdrawal slips or any other information this will assist you greatly in finding and recovering the hidden assets. Take photocopies of this documentation and return the originals to the same place that you found them. It’s important to only obtain documentation in a legal manner and if you have any doubts always consult your divorce solicitor or legal adviser prior to accessing any information or documentation.

If you suspect that you partner or the individual concerned has hidden assets in a country which has a modern and dependable legal system (such as the UK, USA) you may then be able to conduct property searches, company searches, director searches and other background checks using online databases. However if you suspect that assets are hidden in a developing country then you may need to hire an in country investigator to conduct searches on your behalf. In each country concerned there are local investigators who can obtain information that is not available from a government website. Whilst Rushmore Forensic does directly carry out these enquiries, we can assist you by referring you to the relevant overseas investigation agencies. Again, it’s important to stay within Australian law at all times and not to take any action which would jeopardise a future litigation matter.

The next step is to consider what the likely amount or value of the hidden assets is likely to be. The amount that is suspected of being transferred will impact the action you take and the expense you go to try and recover the funds.

Broadly, the hidden assets may be able to be classified as:

  • Held in Cash or other short term bank account
  • Shares or managed funds
  • Investment property
  • Property development (including deposit for off the plan purchase)
  • Purchase of a business (e.g. Hotel, Resort or other tourist accommodation)
  • Other assets

The documentation that you have collected in your initial enquiries may point you to one of the above asset classes. Once you have reached this step you may be able to confirm your suspicions using independent means.

Another useful technique for finding hidden assets is to review mobile phone and telephone bills for calls made to uncommon domestic or overseas locations. All it takes is for the individual concerned to make one call to the country using one of these phones and you may have uncovered where the hidden assets are located.

When reviewing financial records such as bank statements, look for unusual amounts such as “round numbered” payments in multiples of $10,000 (e.g. $50,000, $70,000 etc.)

Review credit card statements for payments that are not in the persons usual pattern of expenditure. This may include payments for Overseas Hotels when the individual was physically located in Australia or purchases of “exclusive items” such as jewellery, and designer clothes or accessories.

By Andrew Firth

About the Author

Andrew Firth has conducted numerous investigations and other forensic accounting engagements in Australia, Singapore, the UK, Thailand, Hong Kong, Vanuatu, and the USA.

He specialises in assisting people going through divorce and providing other forensic accounting services for commercial disputes.He is a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants and has appeared as an Expert Witness in numerous jurisdictions.

Contact Rushmore Forensic

If you have concerns about finding hidden assets in a divorce or other dispute, and would like further information, please email or contact us. All enquiries are treated in a confidential manner. Call now on 1800 454 622.