We have found that the best way to investigate any situation is to use a combination of old-school techniques and the wonderful world of the internet. And even though many situations require actual footwork like canvassing and interviews, nothing will reveal more about a subject’s life than what they post on social media. Take a look at the case studies featured below from the article “Sleuthing Social Sites” by Hal Humphreys of Pursuit Magazine.
The Criminal Choir Boy – Humphreys, lead investigator of [FIND] Investigations, was hired to investigate a man involved a high-stakes lawsuit. His family painted the picture of a choir boy (literally) and a good, straight-edged kid who had never used drugs…and the neighbors would probably have corroborated that story. Not to mention, investigators who knock on doors are sometimes seen as outsiders and suspicious.
However, the man’s social media accounts told a much different story. Humphreys spoke of his online presence, noting that “Photos and comments about the subject painted a complete different picture of his personality and habits. The mythological choir boy image didn’t stand up well against a photograph of the youth proudly puffing a blunt.”
Humphreys also identified potential witnesses, interests, activities, and other social media profiles depicting his illegal lifestyle choices.
Skip Tracing Via Twitter – Humphreys had been hired to locate a young woman who had left the scene of a motor vehicle accident. Attorneys and the sheriff’s office gave up trying to contact her after numerous unreturned phone calls and subpoena services at her last known address.
Databases identified that she had still been reporting her father’s address (even though the sheriff’s office didn’t find her there).
Humphreys took to the internet and found the 20-something-year-old’s social media accounts and developed that she took a liking to posting her whereabouts and travel plans on Twitter. She had traveled to Cozumel, Isla Mujeres, and Los Angeles. Luckily, her poor decision making and lack of judgment led her to post her actual physical address. The client served the subpoena at her address in California two days after.
Saving the Client on Travel Expenses – Here at ICU, we are huge supporters of saving our clients money whenever possible. And we’ve learned, just like Humphreys, that performing your due diligence before getting out in the field is imperative; because we all know, time is money!
Humphreys wrote, “One case promised to take us to exotic, sunny locales to perform clandestine shenanigans for fun and profit. Unfortunately, we were able to pull together enough information using databases, law enforcement sources, and a healthy dose of Facebook revelations to convince our client not to do business with this subject.”
Investigators have a multitude of valuable tools that cater to each individual situation. We just so happen to hold ourselves to the standard that every single investigation needs to be properly prepared according to its circumstances. New technology should not be replacing sending investigators out in the field, but it surely should supplement the efforts.
Part of a private investigator’s job is aiding legal teams in criminal defense cases, and in this case, we want to specifically point out how we can help your team with white collar criminal defense cases. White collar crime refers to financially motivated, nonviolent crime committed by business and government professionals. Take a look at the list below:
- Vetting Expert Witnesses – Private investigators can aid the defense in proving, or ultimately disproving, the credibility of an expert witness, which is key in a white collar crime case. Plenty of “expert witnesses” have been discredited after the discovery of their false professional and academic backgrounds.
- Vetting the Defendant – There is no better way to prepare than to get ahead of the game. Prosecutors do their research and due diligence on defendants, so why shouldn’t we? Private investigators thrive on gathering intelligence and facts. Who better to cover all angles and discover indiscretions of the defendant than a professional?
- Vetting Key Cooperators – Prosecutors often rely on the role of government cooperators and witnesses to sway their case. Questioning and discovering that these witnesses/cooperators are not as reliable as they claim to be opens up a world in which you are now able to question the character and credibility of said cooperator, which may sway the jury in your direction.
- Vetting the Jury – No one will really know how jurors will react to the situation in front of them. However, knowing the jurors’ views and backgrounds is a valuable asset to have. Determining critical details about each juror may help you make more informed decisions and help dismiss jurors if need be.
- Interviewing – Interviewing as many parties as possible, including all types of witnesses, is crucial to supporting your case. Private investigators are seasoned interviewers and can help you mold pertinent information into your case.
- Document Review – White collar criminal defense usually comes along with an overwhelming paper trail. Private investigators can sift through information and target specific key points to highlight in your case.
- Gathering Information/Facts – In an article written by Brian Willingham of Diligentia Group, he writes, “An attorney once told me that lawyers go to law school to learn about the law and that private investigators are trained to obtain facts. A private investigator can find difficult-to-find facts, witnesses or information to help support the defense while lawyers concentrate on the legal aspects of the case.”
- A Second Look & Different Perspective – A fresh set of eyes and a different point of view can be the most critical weapon in your legal arsenal. Attorneys and private investigators think much differently!
If you’re wondering if scheduling surveillance during the summer months is worth the effort this time of year, the answer is ABSOLUTELY YES…more than ever!
The summer months bring endless activity and the ability of claimants to perform physical acts that their doctors, and certainly their attorneys, never thought would be possible according to their claims.
We refer back to an article by Jonathan Tilove reported in Claims Journal a few years back about a New Orleans private investigator, Mark Avery, who coined the term “Mardi Gras Syndrome.”
According to Avery, “Mardi Gras Syndrome” is characterized by “an excessive urge to drink heavily, a desire to attend numerous outdoor events such as parades, carrying people on their shoulders, running, jumping, twisting and lunging for beads, standing for extended periods of time, etc.”
“Mardi Gras Syndrome” reaches its peak in the tri-state area during the hot, summer months. The string of holidays packed into this four month span, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day weekends, among countless, random weekends that people decide to vacation, are prime stomping grounds for our surveillance investigators to catch fraudulent claims. Utilizing our Internet Profile Reports to monitor social media accounts also provides us with countless leads.
Parades, celebrations, and the amount of drinking festivities that surround these holidays and scorching, summer weekends will without a doubt produce the results you desire.
Some examples of these imperative slip-ups include:
- Preparations for vacations, camping trips, etc.
- Putting children on shoulders
- Heavy packing
- Carrying heavy coolers
- Walking/biking/jogging miles of boardwalk
- Towing excessive beach equipment (umbrellas, toys, chairs, overstuffed beach bags) down crowded beaches
- Lifting, carrying, and loading hefty luggage in/out of a vehicle and to/from home
- Excessive preparations for barbecues (grilling, cooking, loading ice/alcoholic beverages/coolers/etc.)
- Drinking to excess, causing slips, falls and “injuries,” doing drugs (which may help in proving the character of the individual).
The summer months also bring activity that has nothing to do with celebrating, but with summer preparation or renovations to claimants’ homes. Examples:
- Opening and maintaining pools and spas
- Fixing fences
- Lawn/shrub/tree trimming and care
- Power washing
- Maintaining recreational vehicles such as boats, wave runners, jet skis, ATVs
Furthermore, we know that claimants are not the only people taking time to go on vacation. So are you! Schedule surveillance before your vacation, relax, and we’ll have your results by the time you get back!
There is no better time to witness and document insurance fraud at its worst. Let’s also not forget that there will be plenty of cover for investigators. With the amount of tourists and people trying to document the activities going on around them, taking video/pictures is a common occurrence, and in turn will not raise suspicion.
30-year-old Shareem Taylor of Essex County was arrested last month for orchestrating a Craigslist scam helping New Jersey Residents illegally register their vehicles in other states to pay lower insurance premiums.
Taylor used the name “Brandon” in his Craigslist post where he offered assistance with obtaining out-of-state registrations, as well as insurance policies for a fee. According to the Office of the Attorney General, the Craigslist ad also read, “I can lower your instate [sic] insurance by up to 50 percent” and “I’ve been doing this for 6 years I have over 600 customers.”
A sting operation ultimately brought Taylor down after an undercover detective from the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor responded to the ad. The detective then received titling documents and license plates from South Dakota.
Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor charged Taylor with second-degree insurance fraud and second-degree conspiracy. Taylor has not made his $50,000 bail and is being held at Bergen County Jail. He is facing up to 10 years in state prison and a $150,000 fine if convicted.
How will we ever forget the famed ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? The challenge brought awareness and millions of dollars in donations to ALS research, also known as Lou Gherig’s Disease. The most entertaining videos were usually Ice Bucket Challenge fails, but some did more harm than good, especially for a California police officer with perhaps the biggest Ice Bucket Challenge fail of all: she was receiving disability benefits when she was caught on tape.
According to Insurance Journal, 39-year-old Jaime Robinson of Pasadena, California was seen in an online video, dumping a five gallon bucket of ice water over a co-worker’s head in July of 2014. The problem? Robinson was receiving disability benefits for a claim alleging she had a back injury.
Prosecutors found the video online and officially charged Robinson with four counts of insurance fraud, also alleging that she exaggerated her injuries to receive disability payments originally back in 2012.
Robinson has pleaded not guilty and could face over 6 years in jail if convicted.
According to Insurance Journal, man’s best friend costs the insurance industry a whopping $530 million per year, which accounts for over one-third of all homeowners insurance claims.
The average cost of dog bite claims is steadily increasing, according to the Insurance Information Institute and State Farm, even though the number of dog bite claims has decreased almost 5 percent last year.
According to an analysis conducted by the Insurance Information Institute, “the average cost per dog bite claim was up 15 percent to $32,072 in 2014, compared with $27,862 in 2013.” Factors contributing to the rising costs include settlement size, increasing costs of medical care, judgments, etc.
It must also be noted that Fido’s teeth aren’t the sole factor in rising costs; he also has a habit of knocking into kids, bike riders and senior citizens, causing falls.
And let’s also not forget that dogs typically have a love/hate relationship with the USPS (their workers’ compensation costs are over $3.7 billion, as dog bites are the most common on-the-job injury).
Most importantly, Victoria Stilwell of Animal Planet’s TV series, It’s Me or the Dog, stresses that, “All dogs have the potential to bite, but for most, biting is a last resort. If time is taken to raise, teach and socialize a dog correctly, the likelihood of a bite incident occurring is extremely low. Confident dogs have less need to use aggressive behavior.”
Here’s a look at the top 10 states with the highest number of dog bite claims in 2014 (and their average cost):
California: 1,867 claims, $33,649 average cost per claim.
Ohio: 1,009 claims, $21,983 average cost per claim.
New York: 910 claims, $56,628 average cost per claim.
Illinois: 872 claims, $34,894 average cost per claim.
Pennsylvania: 861 claims, $26,211 average cost per claim.
Michigan: 693 claims, $38,302 average cost per claim.
Texas: 621 claims, $16,205 average cost per claim.
Indiana: 481 claims, $21,287 average cost per claim.
Georgia: 388 claims, $31,497 average cost per claim.
Wisconsin: 388 claims, $26,873 average cost per claim.
Moral of this story? If pets are raised in a healthy environment, we will save ourselves from costly litigation against our neighbors or the mailman!