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How do you know if you're under federal investigation?

You never dreamed that a federal agent would be calling your office. Your not sure what the whole thing is about. Are you being investigated?

Maybe. The federal government seldom reveals all of its cards early in the investigation game, so you could be of interest to agents merely because of what they think you may know about someone else's illegal dealings. Before you pick up the phone to return an agent's call, however, look for these signs that you may be a target:

  1. A knock on the door. Don't let an agent's relaxed, easy demeanor fool you. If a federal agent is standing on your doorstep, the odds are high that you're being investigated.
  2. A search warrant. Agents will sometimes spring a search warrant on a suspect early -- in hopes that they can prevent any evidence of a suspected crime from being destroyed. They may also hope to rattle your nerves by taking an aggressive tactic up-front.
  3. You're given a subpoena. This can force you to testify in front of a grand jury and should immediately be taken as a sign that the government is casting its net your way.
  4. A target letter. A target letter is a formal request for your cooperation from the federal government and is a clear sign that you're in trouble.

Sometimes, signs that an investigation is brewing are much more subtle, however. Your friends, neighbors and business partners may start telling you that they've been questioned -- or that agents have been asking about how you operate your business.

Bear in mind that it's treacherous to speak to a government agent on your own. Any perceived untruth you may tell -- such as saying, "I don't know," in response to an agent's question so you can buy time to consult with an attorney (when you do, in fact, know the answer) -- can lead to criminal charges.

If red flags are popping up that could spell a federal investigation, don't hesitate to seek experienced legal assistance.

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