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Forensic Accountants

How does a Forensic Accountant find hidden assets?

How does a Forensic Accountant find hidden assets?
Matthew Ball

By Matthew Ball

12 Jun 2024

Forensic Accountants use accounting and investigative skills to examine the finances of individuals or businesses to identify concealed assets.

Commonly hidden assets and reasons for concealment

Individuals can hide various asset types, including:

  • Financial Assets: Undisclosed bank accounts, investment portfolios, and cryptocurrencies can be hidden to evade taxes, creditors, or legal obligations, such as in divorce settlements.
  • Property: Property can be concealed through various methods such as underreporting its value, or holding it within offshore entities, trusts, or complex corporate structures. Individuals may also transfer property to family members or associates.
  • Valuable personal belongings: High-value personal belongings, such as jewellery, artwork, or antiques may not be reported on financial statements but can still represent significant assets that could be hidden from scrutiny.
  • Intangible Assets: Intellectual property such as patents, trademarks, and licenses can be disguised or undervalued to avoid disclosure or minimise tax exposure.

The problem with hidden assets

While privacy is important for individuals with significant assets, hidden assets become problematic when there is malicious intent, such as in cases of divorce, bankruptcy, or corporate fraud.

  • Divorce: One party may hide assets to obtain a more favourable settlement or court decision, reducing the amount they need to share with their spouse.
  • Bankruptcy: Individuals may hide assets to protect their wealth from creditors, allowing them to retain funds post-bankruptcy.
  • Corporate Fraud: Concealed assets can be used to manipulate financial performance or misrepresent the financial health of a company, deceiving investors, creditors, and other stakeholders. Additionally, employees may conceal assets to facilitate embezzlement or bribery.

Techniques used to find hidden assets

Forensic Accountants investigate hidden assets by looking for accounting anomalies, suspicious transfers, evidence of manipulated financial information, or incomplete asset disclosure.  They use various methods to uncover financial wrongdoing, including:

  • Analysing financial statements: Performing trend and ratio analysis to reveal sudden or unusual patterns that may suggest that assets or liabilities are being manipulated.
  • Reviewing bank statements: Scrutinising deposits, withdrawals, and transfers to trace the flow of funds, and verifying the legitimacy of transactions to uncover potentially concealed assets.
  • Reviewing contracts and agreements: Reviewing such documents to reveal undisclosed relationships, and financial obligations that might not be immediately apparent from financial statements alone.
  • Reviewing public records: Examining publicly available records. This may include the Land Registry for real estate holdings, Companies House for business registrations, legal filings such as court records and insolvency proceedings, and regulatory filings with bodies such as the Financial Conduct Authority.
  • Performing interviews: Conducting interviews to gather information about financial practices, relationships, and transactions that may not be evident from documents alone. Interviews can assist with corroborating findings, identifying discrepancies, and uncovering leads for further investigation.

Challenges in tracking down hidden assets

Finding hidden assets can be challenging due to:

  • Complex financial structures: Assets may be hidden within intricate financial frameworks, such as complex corporate structures, offshore accounts, or trusts, making them difficult to trace.
  • Cross-border transactions: When assets are moved across international borders it can be challenging to track them due to varying legal and regulatory frameworks, language barriers, and limited access to information in foreign jurisdictions.
  • Privacy and data protection: Laws and regulations often restrict access to financial information and limit the disclosure of personal data, making it hard to gather the necessary information.
  • Lack of cooperation: Individuals or entities involved may not cooperate with the investigation, hindering efforts to trace hidden assets and obtain relevant information.
  • Changing technologies: Rapid advancements in technology, such as blockchain, present additional challenges, as individuals may use these technologies to hide assets.
  • Resource constraints: Tracing hidden assets can require significant time, resources, and expertise, as investigators must meticulously examine financial records, conduct interviews, and collaborate with legal experts.

Summary

Forensic Accountants play a crucial role in maintaining financial transparency and upholding legal and financial integrity. They can be vital in divorce proceedings, bankruptcy cases, and corporate fraud investigations. Despite the increasing complexity of asset concealment, the skills and methods of Forensic Accountants are indispensable.

We help everyone, from individuals with sensitive personal matters to businesses with complex financial issues. If you suspect hidden assets may be affecting your financial interests, contact our team of expert Forensic Accountants today.

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