October 6, 2020
By Melissa Sweeney
A few years ago while working in the operations department of Crum & Forster, I received an internal HR email listing a job posting for an Investigative Analyst within the Special Investigations Unit. One of the essential qualifications was being adept at finding people and information online. Inquisitive by nature and with great success in mining the internet, I was intrigued and encouraged by others to post for the position. I am so glad I did, as the past few years of being an Investigative Analyst have been nothing short of incredible. I encourage everyone to explore giving a chance to someone like me who might have limited experience but a passion and persistence to uncover information. Investigative Analysts have a lot to offer SIU teams that want to enhance their desk-based web presence and social media investigations.
When the Facebook graph search was recently disabled, many in the investigation field were left scrambling for answers, solutions and new tools to utilize. While some may have panicked, many analysts took to the Internet to share ideas and thoughts about how to move forward. One poster said investigations were never just about tools and methods, but more importantly, about using search logic and applying the developed skills to achieve the desired results quickly and efficiently. It is evident how quickly things change and how everyone needs to learn to adapt. All of these are valuable traits of prospective Investigative Analyst candidates. To effectively leverage the web-based tools and techniques of today and stay up-to-date with those of tomorrow, having analysts as a core component of a SIU team is be a tremendous asset.
Effective analysts need to be provided time to research and network. Web-based tools and techniques are highly fluid. Social media portals need to balance functionality and searchability with privacy. The ability for people to locate other people with similar interests is a great asset, but at a cost of some privacy. Companies try to balance this on a daily basis, and it impacts how and what can be found on a subject as search queries must be restricted to mining only information that is publicly accessible. Just as a “deep dive” is conducted into web resources and social media to develop background information on people, the same can be done for discovering new search tools and techniques. SIU investigators rely heavily on a network of contacts they have developed over the years. Similarly, analysts must build their own network to share ideas with, and this could often include people they have not yet met in person, but have just connected with online while discussing investigation strategies or other related content. SIU investigators’ workloads often include substantial field activity which may limit their ability to conduct online research. Despite the growth of remote computing via smartphone, it is still far more efficient to have skilled desk-based analysts conduct the web mining to help investigators be as best prepared as possible and allow them to focus more on their field investigations and specialties.
There are many tools and tricks to help in every investigation, some are social media related while others are not. One non-social media tool is the website BRBPublications. They have compiled a free publicly accessible database of state public records. It is a great addition to incorporate into the SIU workflow. Often an investigator might find valuable documents from other court records such as depositions relating to prior incidents that could be beneficial when used in an investigation.
When searching social media websites, rather than typical website links and tricks, consider utilizing an emulator to expand your tool sets. Some analysts may have had experience using various types of emulators in the past; they are most commonly used to play video games on desktops or mobile devices. Emulators for investigative purposes are able to replicate a mobile device, allowing for different methods of obtaining information and finding people. Emulators can be easily downloaded onto a desktop computer and run as an application on Android or iOS operating systems. There are different price points for some emulator systems depending on functionality. Emulators allow utilization of certain applications in the mobile environment which can expand search functionality. People are often challenging to find due to their use of aliases, incomplete names, nicknames or user/gamer profile names. As an example, a search for an individual by mining through their family and friends online was unsuccessful. Mining claim file documents and routine database searches identified associated phone numbers. These SUMMER 2020 | SIU TODAY 19numbers were added to the contact list of an emulator and time was allowed for the contact information to sync to the apps already installed on the emulator. Fairly quickly, an Instagram profile populated that was tied to one of the phone numbers. The name of this individual was different from the subject of the investigation. After digging through the new-found profile, it was possible confirm that this was in fact the subject using an alias. This find made a substantial impact in mitigating the claim exposure.
Investigative Analysts are a necessary addition to any SIU team. Special Investigation Units can no longer function by having their SIU investigators as a “jack of all trades” in conducting their own background research. Just as some have specialization in arson, medical fraud or vehicle theft, analysts are needed to provide specialization to conduct web-based research, social media and background investigation and analytics. An experienced analyst will quickly demonstrate an ability to develop web-based information and uncover evidence that will not only enhance investments in field investigation and surveillance, but also will lead to favorable claim outcomes, uncover application misrepresentation and prove fraud. Having SIU Investigative Analysts as part of a SIU team has made a positive impact at my company, Crum & Forster. They can do the same for your organization.
Melissa Sweeney ([email protected]) is an Investigative Analyst for Crum & Forster®, which provides specialty and standard commercial lines insurance products through admitted and surplus line insurance companies. Crum & Forster is a registered trademark of United States Fire Insurance Company. Melissa specializes in social media and background desktop investigations. She is currently pursuing her Masters Degree in Criminal Justice at ASU and is a Board member for the NJSIA.