Impersonation to obtain personal information snares researchers and private investigators

Impersonating someone to a government agency or hiring another to carry out this ruse could result in a criminal prosecution.

The operators of BNT Investigations, which was not licensed in Washington state, where they were based, plead guilty to crimes that carry a minimum 2-year sentence. They “assumed the individuals’ identities and persuaded government agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service, the Social Security Administration and state labor departments to hand over tax, wage and other confidential records.” Private investigators from various states who submitted personally identifying information to the firm were also indicted and are still awaiting trial.

Private investigators, insurance companies and attorneys who hire others obtain personal information should confirm that they do not get unauthorized personal information from a government agency. Other laws invoke penalties for using subterfuge (not necessarily impersonating the subject) to secure telephone records from the provider or financial information from banks and account holders. Our clients don’t necessarily know this. It’s our job to educate them.


6 thoughts on “Impersonation to obtain personal information snares researchers and private investigators

  1. If you have to break ANY law to get information, you really shouldn’t BE in the business of obtaining information. And, frankly, if you have to PAY someone for most information, you’re a chump who needs to develop some serious skillsets.
    Just sayin’.

  2. A private investigator could have her private investigator’s licensed revoked for impersonating a law enforcement officer or presenting herself as working for a government agency when she doesn’t. You might want to post your question about attorney-client fee concerns at

  3. A lawyer I hired last November recommended that for my case I get a private investigator that would “play the part of internal revenue agent”. At first I refused for the fees on this alone but as I studied business law I knew that this had to be some dirty game…obtaining evidence/testimony on basis of the doctrine of “fruit of the poisionous tree” would mean it would be overthrown in court. Not just that, but impersonating federal agents is just illegal

    I just wondered if it being done by a private investigator would make it legal…

    Also could said lawyer owe me a couple thousand on flat fee retainer she charged me and withdrew from case?

    And could she be liable for playing a part in this ruse if the investigaor was never paid?

  4. Half the game is playing by the rules.

    Any idiot (these goofballs, Pelicano, etc.) could break the law to quickly solve an investigation, absent any other solid leads. But, the information gathered would be useless in court, so why bother?

    Impersonating a federal agent? That’s just stupid. Really. What do you expect from a firm without a license? They had nothing to lose!!

    This story is good knowledge – better amend our work agreement to specifically state we will not knowingly accept unauthorized government data from any source.

  5. The utter recklessness of some in my/our profession continues to astound me. Risk v. reward. So you get the information and make a few thousand, big deal. Risk? Lose your license, professional standing and jail time. Live to play another day…….

  6. This is exactly the difference between “Pretexting” and “Impersonating”. I wish we could educate others about it, so that everything doesn’t think “pretexting” is “impersonating”. I know they are similar and dangerously so sometimes, but is “manslaughter” the same as “murder”?

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