Social Media Investigations…What can they find?

Electronically Stored Information (ESI)… Use an Expert to Protect the Evidence
June 1, 2017
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Social Media Investigations…What can they find?

Ever since its inception, social media has been changing not only the lives of users, but the private investigation landscape with the massive amount of information that can be gathered from various platforms. While there have been privacy and security issues, reported constantly, regarding the use of social media, most people don’t heed these warnings and are still careless about what they put on their social media accounts, completely unaware that anything they post online is public and can be used not only in an investigation, but may show up as evidence in court as well.

Law enforcement routinely uses social media to gather evidence and build cases. Because of the wealth of personal information online, social media investigations can be used to ascertain someone’s character, check for illegal or inappropriate behavior, locate someone, or prove (or disprove) an alibi.  And, for the most part, this information is just sitting there waiting to be captured.

  • Over 81% of the adult US population is on some form of social media
  • The average social media user has 7 accounts
  • 79% of all American adults are on Facebook.
  • 60% of adults on the Internet have an Instagram account.

Why is this important?

We live in a time where oversharing in social media is the norm, with users seemingly completely unaware that they are compromising themselves by putting out a host of personal information for public consumption.

Job offers have been retracted after an applicant has failed a social media investigation, as recruiters have been known to research and investigate social media accounts during the screening process. Drunken posts, profanity, compromising photographs, and even spelling or grammatical errors can put off a diligent recruiter.

In personal injury cases, there have been times when the extent of an injury has been exaggerated in order to demand more money. The same thing can be said for fraudulent insurance claims. Social media has been used as an effective tool to collect evidence that contradicts what a claimant has been saying. For example, a person claiming to be a victim of a slip-and-fall incident can incriminate himself by posting a photo or video online of him doing strenuous physical activities.  Claimants have even been known to brag about the possibility of a fraudulent windfall on these very public forums.

In family law, social media is used to document activity that can prove that a person is unfit to be a parent, addicted to porn, or is having an extramarital affair. This kind of documentation can then be used as proof and leverage in a child custody battle or divorce settlement proceedings.

Another advantage of social media investigations is that its geo-location tools and check-in features allow investigators to locate a missing person based on real-time and historical check-ins made on that missing person’s social media profile.

What does a social media investigation entail?

A social media investigation is all about harnessing the information that is readily available online. Though many businesses and legal professionals attempt to conduct social media investigations and handle social media evidence on their own, working with a digital forensic firm with experienced social media professionals has distinct advantages:

  • Additional Investigation – In-depth background investigations can be conducted which complement a social media search of needed subjects and witnesses.
  • Collection – All social media evidence is collected in a defensible manner by a neutral third party, and all crucial data is preserved.
  • Authentication – Ensure that dates, metadata, and other needed digital evidence are captured and maintained.
  • Search – Content is indexed and searches for one or even hundreds of terms can be conducted across multiple sites for multiple subjects.
  • Production – Data can be tagged, sorted, and exported quickly to any common document review platforms.

The methods and tools used capture and index publicly available information from social media network platforms, any publicly available web postings, or the protected content of any cooperating witnesses whose credentials have been explicitly and legally shared with the client. It is important not to use any pretexting, subterfuge, or otherwise unethical means to gain access to protected material so that the evidence will hold up in court, if necessary.

When and where are social media investigations used?

As we’ve said, social media is a rich source of information for just about any investigation. If your goals include gathering information about someone’s movements, associates, or character, social media investigations are a great fit for the following case types:

  • Employment checks
  • Custody cases
  • Divorce and adultery cases
  • Locating missing persons
  • Insurance fraud
  • Online dating and chat room checks
  • Gathering evidence for court cases

Surprising fact about social media

No one really bothers to read the fine print. Who has time to read the fine print and legalese contained in the terms and conditions that one has to accept before creating a social media account? A study shows that it will take at least 54 billion hours for a person to read the privacy policy of all the websites that a person visits annually. This is enough of a compelling reason as to why a lot of people have become careless when it comes to safeguarding their privacy online. These websites aren’t exactly making it easy for us to understand the implications of posting and privacy.

Though some people have learned to keep their private lives private, many, many more are news junkies, selfie addicts, and over-sharers who continue to thoughtlessly post about their private lives, activities, and online purchases.  And, these folks make it easy for recruiters, insurance companies, law firms, private investigation agencies, and law enforcement to continue to harness the power of social media in order to collect evidence or solve a crime.

About Prudential Associates

Prudential Associates was founded by former Army Intelligence Officer Robert Miller in 1972, who began serving the local legal community as an investigative, surveillance, and intelligence resource.

Prudential Associates has expanded its service footprint geographically and added over 70 extremely valuable staff members and experts; our consulting and service operations have taken place in thousands of locations on nearly every continent. To date we have achieved recognition as the premier resource for clients in sectors such as: television and movie production; maritime services and shipping; large event/concert planning & security; pharmaceutical production; shipping and logistics; human capital management; and, perhaps most notably, in the legal service industry, given our highly distinguished investigative, surveillance, and digital forensics expertise.

Our in-house computer and cell phone forensics lab rivals or exceeds the capabilities of over 90% of the law enforcement labs in the United States, as well as over 99% of those overseas.

For a greater insight into our experience, expertise, and operational history, please see our Corporate Resume.

Contact us today to discuss a social media investigation and your digital forensic needs. Get in touch with one of our experts now by visiting www.prudentialassociates.com.