How Do You 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.

If it turns out that you are under investigation, you should watch this video on what not to do when you're under federal investigation. It could save you a lot of time and hassle later.

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. (and, if you'd like to know how to think about whether to talk to them, please watch this video on whether to talk to federal law enforcement).

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.

For federal employees - an OIG meeting

For federal employees (here's our page for general information about federal employees and government investigations) things can be a little different - sometimes a federal employee learns about an investigation from contact by an OIG - or Office of Inspector General - agent. The OIG Agent comes in to see the federal employee and says that there's an investigation and they'd like to talk.

If you're brought into an OIG office to talk, there are two kinds of warnings they'll give you before you talk to them. To learn more about those, please visit our page on OIG Agents and the warnings they give.

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.

This short video explains what a target of an investigation is, as well as a subject and a witness.

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.