How Do I Know If I Am Under Investigation for a Federal Crime?

The law does not require federal, state, or local law enforcement agencies to notify you when you are under investigation or suspected of criminal activity. Instead, most successful criminal investigations are effectively conducted in secret, over long periods of time. Federal investigations are typically thorough and discreet.  

However, knowing the signs that you might be under investigation can give you a crucial head start in preparing a legal defense and protecting your rights. At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, we think people should be able to discern if they are under investigation for a federal crime before an arrest is made. If you think you might be under federal investigation, contact our experienced federal criminal defense law firm without delay. The sooner a skilled federal criminal defense lawyer can begin working with you, the longer they gain advantages in your defense.  


Indications of a Federal Investigation 

Federal investigations can be conducted by various agencies, including the FBI, DEA, IRS, and ATF, depending on the nature of the alleged crime. Here are several indicators that you might be under investigation: 

  • Unusual Interactions with Law Enforcement: If federal agents visit your home or office, or attempt to contact you repeatedly, it might be an indication that you are under investigation. Agents may ask for an interview or information about your activities or those of people you know. We highly recommend contacting a knowledgeable federal criminal defense lawyer before you speak to or communicate with government investigators. 


  • Subpoenas and Search Warrants: Receiving a subpoena for documents, or more dramatically, the execution of a search warrant at your home or office, is a clear signal that you are involved in a federal criminal investigation. It is possible that another individual may be the primary target, or that you are merely in possession of relevant evidence. A subpoena compels you to provide documents or testify in a matter, while a search warrant allows authorities to search your premises for evidence. Always contact a criminal defense attorney immediately if you are served with any law enforcement subpoena or any search warrant is executed at your property.  


  • Signs of Surveillance: Have you noticed that you are being followed or that your home or office seems to be under surveillance? Indications of surveillance are a strong signal that an investigation is ongoing. Signs of surveillance might include unmarked vehicles near your home or place of work, or even unusual cyber activity suggesting your electronic communications are being monitored. 


  • Contact by Informants or Potential Undercover Agents: If people in your social or professional circles suddenly begin asking about your business practices or specific transactions in a way that feels unusual or probing, it’s possible that they might be informants or undercover agents. Interactions with unknown individuals who show an intense interest in your work could also signal an investigation. As with other tip-offs of an investigation’s existence, the first thing you should do under these circumstances is contact a skilled federal criminal defense lawyer. 


  • Notices from Financial Institutions: Receiving notices from your bank or financial institutions about suspicious activity or requests for records by federal authorities can indicate that your financial transactions are being scrutinized. 


  • Employer Notifications: Sometimes, your workplace might inform you that federal agents have been inquiring about you or have requested access to your work-related documents. Employers are generally required to comply with legal requests from federal investigators. 


  • Changes in the Behavior of Colleagues: If colleagues, business partners, or other acquaintances suddenly distance themselves or their behavior towards you changes without clear reason, it’s possible that they have been contacted or interviewed by federal agents. 


  • Legal Notifications: Lawyers often receive what is known as a “target letter”, which is a notice from a federal prosecutor informing a person that they are the target of an investigation. If your attorney receives such a letter on your behalf, it is a definitive sign that you are under investigation. 


Steps to Take If You Suspect You Are Under Investigation 

First and foremost, it is important to stay calm. Panicking can lead to poor decisions that might adversely affect your case. Some people who panic decide to destroy evidence they think the government might use to prosecute them. Don’t do it. Destroying evidence can be considered an obstruction of justice, which is a serious federal crime.  

As soon as you suspect you are under investigation, consult with a lawyer experienced in federal criminal law. A lawyer can confirm if you are under investigation and provide essential legal advice on how to proceed. Your lawyer will also advise you about what documents or other items are relevant and must be maintained. 

Unfortunately, you must begin preparing for the possibility that charges may be filed. This includes discussing potential strategies with your lawyer, including negotiating with federal prosecutors or preparing to proceed to trial. 


Read More > White Collar Investigations: Subject, Target, or Witness  


Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent 

If federal agents approach you, you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. Politely but firmly decline to answer questions without your attorney present. 

Be careful about all your communications, with friends, families, or employers. Avoid discussing sensitive topics on the phone or through digital means like emails or social media; your digital or communication devices might be monitored. 

Recognizing the signs of an investigation can significantly impact your ability to defend yourself effectively. Immediate action is crucial, especially contacting an experienced federal defense lawyer. At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law in Tampa, our experienced federal defense lawyers will guide you through the complex federal criminal justice system. We help protect your rights and work diligently to achieve the best possible outcome for every client.  

If you believe you might be under investigation, contact our office at your earliest opportunity.  

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