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How to Know You’re under Federal Investigation

We are often asked how someone learns that they are under federal investigation. Here are the most common ways people find out that the feds are looking at them.

The knock on the door

Most people who are under investigation learn about it when law enforcement knocks on their door and asks to talk to them. You'll still be asleep, or are just getting up and making breakfast, when you hear booming knocks on your front door. When you open it, two physically fit people in cargo pants and polos are standing in front of the door.

They'll identify themselves and ask if you want to talk. If that happens, and the agents are mainly asking questions about you, then you're probably under investigation.

A search warrant

Probably the second most common way people learn that they're under federal investigation is when the police execute a search warrant at the person's house or office.

If the police come into your house and execute a search warrant, then you know that you are under investigation.

A subpoena

If you run a business, it's possible that you'll learn about an investigation involving you when the business gets a subpoena for records. These can be tricky – even though you can avoid talking to law enforcement, if your business is a distinct entity, it may have an obligation to comply with a subpoena even if that gets you into trouble.

The Target Letter

Another way folks learn about an investigation is from a target letter. There, a federal prosecutor sends a letter to a person saying that the person is a target. Often these include an invitation to come in and talk to the prosecutor and agent about what happened.  Think carefully about whether you'd like to accept that invitation. You'd probably do well to hire a lawyer to think with you about that.

The word on the street

Sometimes you hear about an investigation involving you from someone else. Maybe a former business partner had a knock on her door. Maybe a former co-worker heard about someone being given a grand jury subpoena for testimony. If you hear about an investigation involving you from someone else, you may have the rare luxury of advance notice.

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