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Silence is your best defense during a federal investigation

You can find out that you're the target of a federal investigation a number of different ways. One way is hearing from friends, colleagues and business associates that they've recently been interviewed by investigators or asked to give a statement about your activities.

If you're shocked and upset, that's understandable, especially if you believe that you've done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide. Unfortunately, those feelings sometimes lead people to make serious mistakes that end up hurting their chances of coming through the process unscathed.

There's important advice that anyone under investigation by federal authorities should take to heart, even if he or she is innocent.

1. Don't talk to anyone about the investigation.

You've probably heard that you should never talk to the police without an attorney present. In reality, it's wiser for anyone who is targeted in a federal investigation to stop talking to anyone about the situation except their attorney.

Anything you say to a friend, relative, colleague, or business associate could end up being relayed to investigators. Even if it isn't something incriminating, you may end up giving investigators insights into your mindset that you'd rather not let them have.

In addition, anyone you talk to could be subpoenaed by investigators to testify in front of a grand jury. At that point, even your closest confidants would be required to relay whatever information you've given them. That could negatively affect the outcome.

2. If you do talk to investigators, don't lie.

Lying to federal investigators is a crime. In many cases, people who are otherwise innocent of larger crimes end up convicted for lying during an investigation.

People can be convicted of lying even when they didn't intentionally do so. Don't say, "I don't remember," or "I don't know," in answer to any questions. Investigators may have evidence showing that you do remember or do know what they are asking.

Instead, rehearse something simple and safe, like, "I decline to answer any questions without the presence of my attorney." Rehearsing helps you remember what to say even when you're nervous or caught off guard.

The best thing that anyone can do if they're targeted by federal investigators is to talk to an attorney before they decide how they want to proceed, even when they believe they will ultimately be cleared of any wrongdoing.

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