Outlaws Beware Fraud Investigators Have Gone Social


Chris Mather is your good old fashioned crime fighter and has even worked undercover for many law enforcement agencies in both Canada and the U.S. At the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners conference held at Las Vegas offered his words of wisdom to the audience, “People don’t steal money to save it”. If you think about it, Mather did have a point. If you remember when Madoff was busted after the investigation, he had a penthouse in New York, a place in Palm Beach, some nice watches, a yacht and many other things.

This simple principle actually applies to smaller crimes as well, but the question is how does one go about gathering information and investigating leads on suspects committing white-collar crimes? Well, the answer is the Internet.

One thing that everybody loves to do, whether they’re honest or dishonest people, is that they love to brag about their interests. And there’s no better place to do that other than social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. In fact, fraud Investigators are turning towards social media networks to gather information on targeted individuals.

Cynthia Hetherington, who’s the president of Hetehrington Group, spoke about social media investigation techniques at an ACFE breakout session. She discussed the various techniques that were used to conduct the investigation on various criminal activities as well as routine background checks on employees. Why is that important? Well, it would be really important to know that “Bill in Accounting”, who makes $100,000 a year, is tweeting about his brand new Ferrari.

Hetherington told the audience during her presentation that “Pinterest represents all the things you used to pin up on your wall when you were in high school and it tells a story about you” and that story reveals everything about you like things that are important to you and what you like to share. Social Media Sites such as Facebook and Pinterest do not only provide information about an individual, but they also provide information about friends who are associated with them in their lives. If the clerk working at your company is sending his children to an expensive private school, that’s a red flag. If the purchasing agent in your company is friends with one of the major vendors, that calls for an investigation.

Most of the time fraud activities are simply a click away. However, it might take a number of searches to gather information that would lead investigators to uncover any misdemeanors. Hetherington focused on four different aspects you need to consider when conducting an online investigation of a person:

1. Pay Close attention to where the person is spending their time – By looking at the person’s Facebook and Pinterest pages, an investigator can create a list of interests that an individual has. All you have to do is follow the interest and you’ll know exactly where they’re spending their money.

2. Analyze the Person’s “Likes” and “Dislikes” – While investigating if you find a person that just “Loves” Vegas and high stakes poker, you have a red flag.

3. Search for Lings on the Social Media Sites – Pinterest is growing annually by over 1,000%. And just a few years ago no one had even heard of it. If you’re investigating someone, you need to keep a track of all of the social media sites in one place, and a good place for that is to go to www.Pipl.com. Once you put in a person’s name it will list down all of the social media sites that person is on. Another site to go on would be www.Delicious.com, which lists down everything that person as bookmarked on the Internet.

4. Focus on who people are following and who’s following them – You major focus should be towards conflict of interest relationships, which relate to work (competitors, buyers, vendors etc).

Hetherington also warned people about collecting all of that information, “You better capture the images you are finding with a screen-shot software (Jinga, Snagit, Fireshot, or print to PDF, etc.) because once someone knows you are on to them they will either change or delete their information.” Even if someone were to delete all of their information, you can always obtain the information from the social media network through a subpoena. “If you go to www.Search.org, you will find a list of contacts at social media companies handle legal/subpoena matters,” Hetherington said.

And one final piece of advice from Hetherington, “Don’t “Friend” the people you are investigating.”

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