Almost everyone, including my mother, has a social media profile. Even if you do not have a Facebook account, you just might have a profile on there that you knew nothing about. The rise of social media has assisted investigators, like those at FAI International, tremendously. Locating and profiling targets in an investigation has become tremendously easier than in years past because of social media. Here are a few examples of where we have used social media to aid in investigations we have conducted.
Two cases we have conducted immediately come to mind when I mention relationship diagrams. One in the non-profit industry, and another in the automotive industry. In the non-profit example, we uncovered a relationship that the wife of one of the board members had with the ex-husband of one of our suspects. In the automotive example, the relationship diagram “blew up” the case and led us to a whole series of suspects.
In the non-profit example, our suspect had set up a series of fraudulent businesses that were invoicing the non-profit for work performed under federal contracts. As part of our due diligence in the investigation we conducted background checks on the board members in addition to contractors, vendors, participants and others that had conducted business with the organization. Both the suspect and the wife of one of the board members shared the same last name. While not uncommon, the community that the non-profit is located in is rather small. We dug a little deeper and found that the wife was a cousin of the ex-husband of our suspect.
In conducting our interviews, the board member confirmed that his wife was in fact a cousin of the ex-husband of the suspect. However, his wife did not have a close relationship with that part of her family and was not familiar with the suspect. Other interviews with the suspect, ex-husband and others did confirm this. While an interesting piece of information, it ended up not being relevant to the investigation directly.
The automotive example became a spider web of relationships due to our social media investigation. From our initial research of employees at the dealership we uncovered “players” in the fraud across multiple States. What was initially thought was a “skimming” operation, we uncovered a multi-State drug transportation ring that allowed us to engage the involvement of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).
One of our primary suspects would attend the regional automotive auction in another State. He would receive a signal from one of the auction employees as to which vehicle contained illegal narcotics. Once he had the signal, our suspect knew which vehicle(s) to bid on. The vehicles were then transported to the dealership State and the narcotics unloaded. From there they were distributed through a network based in yet another State.
How did Social Media uncover this? The relationship diagram allowed us to pinpoint targets. We knew our suspect traveled to the automotive auction. We simply reviewed his “friends” list on Facebook to find employees at the auction. We then traveled to the auction and viewed the interaction between the suspect and the auction employee. It really was that quick and simple. Our surveillance at the dealership uncovered the distribution network and we started identifying the players from the employees that were involved social media profiles and friends lists. By the time the FBI was engaged, the case was wrapped up in a pretty little bow for them.
Missing People & Assets
According to the National Runaway Safeline, between 1.6 and 2.8 million teenagers run away each year in the United States. To me, that is an amazing number. In a study conducted by Edudemic 95% of teenagers use the Internet with 81% using social media. I don’t know about you, but I have a tough time trying to get my kids to put the phone down whether it is for dinner, homework or just trying to have a normal conversation with them.
Social media has been a tremendous benefit in locating missing children, and people. For one, it helps get the word out to a large group of viewers that may already have “feet on the street” and may have the opportunity to see the child in real time, versus sitting at home in front of a television news cast. Plus, missing teenagers often cannot stay away from social media for very long. They eventually pop up with a tagged location with a photo of some sort. Social media allows them to connect with their friends. Even if they change their name/identity, they often still try to connect with their friends, which takes us back to the relationship diagram example. In the case we are discussing, this is exactly what happened.
While social media has been very helpful in missing people cases, it does not always work. If someone truly does not want to be found, they may take the measures for that to happen. If someone is missing because of the actions of another (example, kidnapping), the actions taken by this person may not allow for social media to aid effectively in this type of investigation.
We are occasionally engaged by attorneys to locate “missing” assets in bankruptcy or divorce cases. One particular case sticks in my mind because it was very simple to locate the asset, and I managed to get a great vacation out of it.
Seems our suspect had a large, luxury yacht that miraculously disappeared during a bankruptcy case. Our suspect was very “full” of himself and loved to post social media photos of himself taking expensive vacations and hanging out with celebrities. Although the suspect stated he knew nothing about the yacht, his social media profile told us otherwise.
The suspect was brilliant enough to have plenty of photos of the yacht on his Facebook and Instagram pages. He was also kind enough to tell us, through location tagging, that he had made a few trips to the Outer Banks along the Carolina coast. He even “liked” the page of one particular marina out there.
A quick 5-and-a-half-hour flight and two-and-a-half-hour drive took us directly to the boat. We were able to provide photographic evidence backed up by the photos the suspect had posted on social media. We alerted the attorney/client and they were able to engage legal proceedings to recover the asset. In the meantime, because I did not know how long it would take to locate this asset, I enjoyed a 3-day vacation along the Outer Banks. It was wonderful.
I conclude with an example Cynthia Heatherington from the Heatherington Group uses in her presentations. She uses a social media profile of an individual that cites he is an employee of the FBI in Washington, DC. Through additional social media searches, she is able to pin-point his home address, where his wife works, where his kids go to school, where he grabs drinks after work, what car he drives, and on and on and on. If someone that is employed in the number one intelligence agency in the World can be so careless with his information, those of us with little to no experience are extremely vulnerable. If there is a lesson to be learned, it is be careful with what information you put out there. Someone is watching and it is not always the good guys.