On behalf of the Central Virginia Chapter and our partners the Virginia State Police and national ACFE, our Chapter officers would like to thank each of you, all our Chapter members and training attendees who made our May Event such a resounding success! Taught by Liseli Pennings, Deputy Training Director for the ACFE, ‘Investigating on the Internet – Research Tools for Fraud Examiners’ presented a treasure trove of information for the effective utilization of hundreds of readily available on-line resources and tools to support every step of even the most complex fraud investigation and subsequent prosecution.
As the course makes clear, investigations today can be undertaken solely through the investigative resources a computer offers. But there are so many tools available to a fraud examiner beginning an online investigation that it can be difficult to sort out the applicable resources. By better understanding computer and Internet media, examiners can more efficiently conduct investigations and save valuable time and money. While fraud examiners can easily begin searching the Internet without a plan, they will benefit if they develop a strategy prior to conducting a search. Employing a focused search strategy can save time, maintain direction, and make better use of resources.
Liseli presented two analytical techniques designed to analyze the following in an investigative scenario:
The SWOT methodology can help professionals achieve the goals of a due diligence investigation or when evaluating a company or person. SWOT is also suited for investigating a product, market, organization, or business venture. Additionally, investigations that entail comparing financial aspects to other companies or markets, such as analyzing one small business or cost in relation to the competition, can benefit from this type of analysis. If an investigator is conducting a search on an individual, it provides analysis into life aspects and characteristics of the person. This method can also be used to conduct a risk assessment that details what an organization can and cannot do, as well as alert the examiner to potential threats and opportunities.
Commonly used by law enforcement and private investigators to develop information on a subject, the CARA method analyzes:
This type of analysis can be used to gain an understanding of an individual rather than a company.
Electronic evidence can change with usage and be altered by improper or purposeful mishandling and storage. Electronic evidence such as social media pages and blog posts can be deliberately removed or altered. Examiners should never assume that a website or post that was available one day will be there the next. Capturing information as it is found is essential because the subjects of an investigation often delete websites and social media profiles. Web pages can be preserved by selecting print screen and pasting the screen capture into a document. When possible, examiners should capture the time, date, time zone, or any other information that can prove when or where data was captured. Not doing so could lead to timeline inconsistencies and contradict alibis when used as evidence and could result in evidence being dismissed due to inaccuracies. It could also affect the examiner’s credibility and negatively impact the case if brought to trial.
When using public and paid-access databases to conduct research, it is important to determine the age of the information. If the date that the information was aggregated is not listed, examiners should look for other sources of information that do include dates. Examiners must recognize that there are often delays in the reporting and dissemination of information from the sources used by these types of databases.
Some state or local databases might only compile information from certain cities or counties. Examiners who do not find the information they are looking for on a particular site might believe that the information does not exist or that the subject does not have an arrest record when in fact the jurisdiction in question is not included on that site or database. For this reason, it’s important to gain an understanding of exactly which jurisdictions a database covers and what type of information it provides. Determining how long the website or database retains information is also important. Some only retain information for a certain period of time (e.g., five, ten, or twenty years). Furthermore, many databases archive their records after a set number of years to allow faster searches on current information. In such cases, the examiners should search the archived database for information, try another source, or hire a service to conduct a manual record search at the local level. Examiners should avoid the assumption that a lack of records means that an incident did not occur when in fact the database simply might not have the records the examiners need.
Most websites and databases have disclaimers and disclosure statements that users should thoroughly review. Some public and paid databases contain disclosure statements informing users that the subject is notified when someone searches for their information. One such example is when credit header or certain background information is accessed online. The person to whom the information belongs is usually notified when searches pertaining to credit information are conducted with permission by an employer, but notifications can also be enacted when searching other databases for basic information. This could have a significant impact on an investigation. Disclosure practices vary from company to company and across various jurisdictions. It is crucial that examiners review all disclaimers as they will often indicate when the database was last updated or caution that information is not always current or accurate. As such, all information found online should be corroborated for accuracy and all disclaimers should be read thoroughly. Another important legal aspect to consider regarding public and private databases is the dissemination clause-if one exists. Finally, there can be legal ramifications for disseminating third-party information to attorneys or courts, or for using information compiled from certain sources. Sometimes permission is required before disclosing information. Therefore, it is important to read all legal notices and consult an attorney if unsure how to proceed.
Again, our thanks go out to all for making this May event one of our most informative and successful ever!