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This article was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on November 24,

1999. All rights reserved.

A Spy in the House of Dot.Com: Pankau

by Melinda Sherwood

Smoking guns aren’t what this detective is looking for.

Ed Pankau, private eye, is looking for the burning paper trail

that white collar crooks leave behind when they try to hide bank

accounts

or assets. Thanks to the Internet, Pankau barely has to leave home.

"Today the courthouses are online," he says. "Whereas

it took me an average of 10 hours to find somebody years ago, today

it takes 15 minutes."

Security and investigation are the fastest growing fields today, says

Pankau, who teaches "How to Make $100,000 a Year as a Private

Investigator," on Saturday, December 4, at the Learning Studio

in Langhorne at 1 p.m. Call 215-752-5657. Fee: $42. The reason is

simple: "Police don’t take care of personal problems," says

Pankau from his office in Houston, Texas. "For any kind of

personal

matter private investigators are better than the police."

Attorneys are Pankau’s bread and butter, handing off research where

big money is at stake. In the early 1980s, for example, when the first

big banks failed in Houston, a lawyer telephoned Pankau and asked

him to locate 300 people in 90 days to find out if they had enough

assets to go after.

Ever since Pankau has been traveling around the country giving

seminars

on private investigation (one of his favorite stories is how he had

a student who might have married a serial killer had it not been for

his class) and wrote two best-selling books: "Check It Out:

Everyone’s

Guide to Investigation" and "Hide Your Assets and

Disappear,"

a book on privacy (http://www.pankau.com and

http://www.hideyourassets.com).

Crooked businessmen are Pankau’s specialty; he has had a life of

training.

His father, a nightclub and bar owner in Florida, routinely bribed

the police and eventually was thrown in jail. Pankau recalls,

"When

I graduated from high school he said `son, some day this will be all

yours,’ and I said `Dad, I’ll burn it to the ground.’"

Instead, Pankau joined the army, attended Florida State University,

(BA in criminology, Class of 1972) and worked for the local police

department before becoming a special agent in the IRS — the very

same department that had put his father in jail. "I became the

white sheep of the family," he says.

Blood is thicker than bars, however, so when his father was diagnosed

with cancer in 1972, and his brother was in a motorcycle accident,

Pankau returned home. When his father died, Pankau packed up and

headed

west, and he has been in Texas ever since.

He became a private eye who specialized in business and financial

investigation. "No other investigator specialized in that, finding

people with money and people who fled with money," he says. He

also trained a unique staff — paralegals or accountants looking

for a more adventurous career. "It’s a lot easier to teach an

accountant investigating than it is to teach an investigator

accounting,"

he says. "Other people hired ex-policeman, but I hired paralegals.

We could find twice as much as anybody else because the paralegals

were computer literate and understood the law. I made them records

analysts. They could go to the courthouse and knew where to use that

information."

Today Pankau’s cases involve Internet scams, crooked investors,

missing

person, and on occasion, divorce settlements. With everything online,

he no longer needs those old tools of the trade — surveillance

cameras and tape recorders. "In the 21st century, the criminal

and perpetrator never see each other," he says. All that an

investigator

needs to find them is a good business sense, computer skills, and

curiosity.

There’s a lot you can learn about your business competition online

(or, for that matter, they can learn about you), by tapping into some

of Pankau’s "recommended" resources (these are listed on his

website):

Corporate brochures. Have a company’s complete brochure,

annual report, and public relations material sent to a rented post

office box.

The office of the secretary of state holds public records

that list company officers, stockholders, and provides financial

filings

on a yearly basis, as well as assumed name county record filings that

indicate unincorporated businesses set up as joint ventures or

proprietorships,

and all those people involved, uniformed commercial codes where state

filings indicate creditors that sold or leased to your company, and

the collateral used for the transaction.

The public records at the county tax assessor’s office also has

records

of what equipment is owned by a company and property in a person’s

name, plus deeds and financial terms.

Regional weekly business journals are good sources of

information, but newspapers and other periodicals are useful.

Also helpful: Dun & Bradstreet reports, TRW Business Credit, trade

association reports, Chamber of Commerce information, and Better

Business

Bureau reports.

District or superior court records are loaded with reams

of highly confidential and valuable information. If your company is

involved in litigation of any sort — whether it’s over wrongful

termination, sexual harassment, contract violations, etc. — a

lot of potentially embarrassing information is made public and it’s

all online.

Snoops can learn a lot here about a company’s sales, operations, and

employees. If a company officer is involved in divorce litigation,

their financial information — stock shares, for example —

will be valued and made public.

Credit bureaus. This is how people can get residential

addresses of employees, social security numbers, and telephone

numbers.

"It’s the marketing companies and the credit bureaus, they

are the real big brother," says Pankau about privacy in the

Information

Age. Use it before your competition does.

— Melinda Sherwood


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