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The Emerging Importance of Cellular Data Analysis

More and more investigators, adjusters, and carriers are having cellular data records retrieved and analyzed by a competent expert.

September 13, 2013 Photo

Having handled fraud claims for many years, I have developed an appreciation for the records routinely requested by each carrier through its respective SIU investigator. As such, I have been able to recommend pertinent documentation be provided either before or after an examination under oath has been conducted. Not surprisingly, one of the most requested records is the cell phone billing record. These records are helpful in that they can establish evidence of cellular phone usage, but they are limited in terms of the information available. Recently, however, a new trend has been evolving that utilizes a more exhaustive cellular records request: the request for communication data records.

Communication data records (CDRs) include specific data that is generated by the use of a cellular phone. That data is kept for various periods of time by each cell provider. In addition to providing each phone number called and received for the given period of time, CDRs identify originating and terminating cell towers, the longitude and latitude coordinates pertinent to each call, and a tower sector for each call.

I promise not to delve further into the technicalities of the generation and collection of CDRs by the various cell providers; while this can be very interesting, it does get complicated, and to do it justice would require more space than is permitted in this article. Rather, the key here is that the SIU investigator and carrier be cognizant of two points: (1) that such data exists and (2) that when such data is examined by the proper expert through the process of cellular data analysis, the historic geographical movement of the phone will be revealed for the specific period reflected in the records.

It is fairly obvious how important the geographical footprint of an insured’s cellphone can be to a given claims investigation. Cellular data analysis may be instrumental in establishing the location of the insured’s phone and, likewise, the location of the insured at and around the time of any loss.

The historical footprint also is not limited to the date of loss. For instance, if records are requested covering an extended time period, cellular data analysis may reveal an insured’s pattern of movement. It also may reveal a deviation in such pattern or in an insured’s behavior. Did he deviate from a known pattern on the date of loss? Did she strangely stop using the phone at or around the time of loss, and, if so, was it to avoid detection? Did he visit loss or vehicle recovery sites prior to the loss? Such information could be essential to any claims determination.

Moreover, cellular data analysis is not limited in application to property loss claims, as it can certainly be useful in other types of claims and suits. For instance, cellular data analysis can be used to establish the location of claimants/plaintiffs and whether they were in proximity of an accident site at a given point in time. In some instances, the analysis can establish phone usage by claimants/plaintiffs at the time of the accident itself. Cellular data analysis also can be used to establish a defense of “frolic and detour” in a workers’ compensation claim involving an issue of course and scope.

Given the potential benefits, I have found that more and more investigators, adjusters, and carriers are making the effort to have CDRs retrieved from cellular phone service providers and analyzed by a competent expert. For those who have not had experience with either obtaining cellular data records or having it analyzed, it is a relatively simple and painless process.

From the investigator and/or carrier’s standpoint, all that is required is timely action and a properly worded authorization signed by the insured or party. The shortest timeframe that some well-known cellphone service providers retain their CDRs is six months, so a carrier must be proactive in order to timely retrieve the records. Because the authorization itself is not sufficient to compel a provider to turn over its CDRs, it will generally be necessary to retain an attorney to present a petition in state or federal court to obtain a court order that compels production. Once presented with this, cellphone service providers normally produce the requested records within two-to-four weeks. The records then must be analyzed, which most often is done in a matter of hours.

The carrier can streamline the entire process by contacting a cellular data analysis company that provides both records collection and analysis services. In that way, the carrier need only contact the company and provide it with the necessary information to have an authorization drafted, issued, and executed. These companies routinely have law firms that they use in various states that are familiar with the petition process. This makes the entire process both efficient and cost effective.

The fight against fraudulent claims requires the utility of all weapons reasonably at the disposal of the carrier. As cellular data analysis is generally inexpensive and easy to employ, with benefits that can be dispositive of a claim, its use should be considered as a standard investigative tool in appropriate fraud claims.

The author would like to acknowledge Bill McGirk, CTF, owner and president of Cellular Solutions LLC, for his contributions on the technical side of the subject matter.   

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About The Authors
Scott Stephan

Scott Stephan is an attorney with Wayman, Irvin & McAuley LLC. He has been a CLM and Insurance Fraud Committee member since 2012 and can be reached at (412) 566-2970,  sstephan@waymanlaw.com

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