When it comes to investigating potential fraud, modern social media platforms can be a tremendously useful resource. The reason for this is simple: a lot of us are active on social media these days—and we tend to share more than less. At the end of Q1 2020, Facebook reported 1.73 billion daily active users and 2.6 billion monthly active users, with around half of all social media site visits in the United States going to Facebook. Add Instagram’s 500-million daily active users—not to mention the 500 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute!—and you’re left with a lot of potential digital evidence.
When it comes to mining social media for potential evidence, content can broadly be divided into two categories:
- Incriminating content that subjects inadvertently upload themselves: People are so used to sharing their activities on social media, that they’ll occasionally share something that incriminates them, or contradicts their legal claim, without thinking. For example, an insurance fraudster who claimed that a vehicle accident had left her severely debilitated was outed when investigators found photos of her snowboarding and scuba-diving on her social media accounts.
- Incriminating content uploaded by third parties: Just because someone isn’t very active on social media—or their privacy settings don’t allow outsiders to see much on their accounts—doesn’t mean that you can’t use social media to find useful evidence. In the case of a major car crash, for instance, it’s very possible that a bystander uploaded footage of the accident to Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube. One great example is a 2015 case, during which a man claimed that he’d wrecked his $60,000 Corvette while driving on the Interstate. Unfortunately for him, investigators found YouTube footage of the sportscar being crashed into a barrier during a drag-racing event.
Advice for Using Social Media During a Fraud Investigation
Of course, near-constant content creation has a major downside: because of the sheer amount of social media content out there, finding that crucial piece of evidence isn’t always easy. For this reason, social media investigation has become its own specialized field, and in order to use it effectively, you have to be systematic in your approach.
With that in mind, here are five tactics to use when collecting social media content as evidence during a fraud investigation:
- Consider all the platforms: When it comes to looking for online evidence, Facebook and Instagram tend to be the most useful platforms, but there are many others worth considering. In fact, there are around 200 widely-used social media sites at the moment, so if you’re limiting your investigation to the top two, or three, you could be missing out on crucial evidence. Just consider the December 2019 case, during which a claim of serious physical injury was proved false with posts of a 10-mile run and a 20-mile bike ride on the fitness-oriented social media platform Strava.
- Use tools to find online profiles: A simple Google search remains a good way of finding a particular individual’s online profiles, but other excellent tools also exist. Search tools like Pipl, Peoplefinders, PeekYou, and Classmates can all be used to identify social media profiles. If you have an image and would like to see where it appears online, TinEye is another great tool.
- Always obtain evidence ethically and legally: It’s important to stay on the right side of the law. While law enforcement might sometimes be able to create fake social media profiles to investigate suspects, law firms and fraud investigators don’t have that same freedom. And even API tools that were once very useful for collecting social media evidence are now creating severe preservation challenges thanks to privacy concerns. So, when collecting social media evidence, focus only on content that you can view and capture legally—and use a browser-based evidence tool to collect it.
- Consider someone’s social connections: While an individual being investigated might be clever enough to utilize strict social media privacy settings and refrain from posting incriminating content, they probably won’t be able to keep all their activities hidden. As mentioned earlier, a bystander might upload an incriminating video to YouTube. Similarly, someone’s friends, family, roommates, team mates, or colleagues might also post useful images and information. Because of this, it’s worth exploring the accounts of people in an individual’s social circle, as well as any pages belonging to an employer, association, sports team, etc.
- Make sure evidence is defensible: Collecting incriminating evidence is only half the battle—legal teams also need to be able to convince other parties of the information’s authenticity. While taking a simple screenshot might seem like a quick and easy way of collecting evidence, it’s all too easy for the person under investigation (or their legal counsel) to question the quality of that content. Instead, investigators should opt for a capture method that furnishes evidence with a hash value that authenticates data and collects all the associated metadata of a social media post.
Would you like to learn more? Download our white paper, Social Media and Fraud Investigations: Using Social Media to Prove Fraudulent Insurance Claims and Liability Suits.