Published: 10th June 2014
Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are being used by solicitors to uncover hidden assets during divorce proceedings. Magistrates can now grant permission for social media sites to be used to disclosure private information without the defendants knowledge, in order to assess whether a person has lied about their personal wealth.
Solicitors can apply for a disclosure order, which overrules normal privacy laws in England and Wales where there is a suspicion of fraud and in cases where one of a divorcing party has attempted to hide additional finances or assets from their partner. Disclosure orders can also be used against any organisation or company who might be withholding information relevant to an investigation of fraud.
Sites like Facebook and Twitter contain a huge amount of personal information about each registered user, making it easier to catch people out who are doing things they shouldn't and helping solicitors to gain valuable evidence to be used in the courts.
The way in which the modern world communicates has evolved - through email, text and social media, giving legal experts many other channels to investigate and find evidence, rather than just relying on word-of-mouth.
Asset recovery and fraud expert Steven Phiippsohn said, "Cases where we are retaining and retrieving assets have improved substantially."
"People’s social media information can now be used to detect the assets or anything in relation to the assets and where they have gone that might be relevant."
"Past experience suggests that the introduction of any new form of social media is invariably followed by disclosure and search orders to obtain material evidence from that source."
Twitter have published guidelines on their website, addressing the issue of releasing personal information. Their guidelines state that "Non-public information about Twitter users will not be released to law enforcement except in response to appropriate legal process such as subpoena, court order, or other valid legal process - or in response to a valid emergency request."
They added, "Requests for the contents of communications (e.g., Tweets, Direct Messages, photos) require a valid search warrant from an agency with proper jurisdiction over Twitter."
There have been many high-profile cases in the media which have relied on personal data from social media sites. Earlier this year, a married women who was claiming benefits as a single mother was caught after it was revealed on her Facebook page that she was married. Another group of fraudulent individuals were caught out by Facebook after they each made a personal injury claim following a car accident. Insurance provider AXA investigated and found that all nine people were linked and that the claim was pre-determined.
Many family law firms have reported that some people go to even greater lengths to hide their personal wealth by investing their money in online currencies like Bitcoins.
Digital currencies like these allow individuals to run a parallel economy, making it easier for them to hide their personal wealth from their partners. There are tax implications, but many people who are hiding their wealth would sooner face Tax penalties rather than giving up half of their wealth to their partner following a divorce.
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