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Social Media Discovery Is an Effective Anti-Fraud Weapon, But Only Professionals Should Wield It

January 10, 2019 Photo

Insurance fraud is a widespread issue in the U.S., and the people committing it are increasingly creative. They are also adept at providing “evidence” of accidents, injuries, or thefts that are either staged or grossly exaggerated.

These scams cost businesses and consumers billions of dollars every year; the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud says fraud steals an estimated $80 billion a year across all lines of insurance.

What many of these fraudsters do not know is that the information they tweet, snap, or otherwise post to social media is discoverable, and insurance carriers and attorneys can use that information to detect and fight fraudulent claims. This type of discovery involves crawling, capturing, and searching available content on the social media pages of the claimant, his friends, and even family members.

It is important to note that investigators with digital forensic experience and credentials should handle this type of discovery to ensure the correct tools are used, that proper procedures and best practices have been followed, that the evidence is preserved, and that it is all done in a forensically sound and defensible manner. They should also have experience testifying in court, which can be a huge benefit should the need arise.

While not all social media discovery tools, techniques, and technologies are created equal, here is what the process should look like (be sure to ask your social media discovery vendor about its specific process).

Forensics experts should first collect and index data from all available and potentially relevant social media streams, including any linked content and websites. Trained forensic investigators will also be able to work through any outside application programming interfaces (APIs) or webmail connectors, as well as direct navigation. Their tools allow them to aggregate data from the various sources in real time, including all related metadata, which is the data about the data that is not usually visible to the untrained eye.

Any content from social media pages must be public for investigators to search and pull the data; investigators are not ethically allowed to “friend” or follow a claimant. Additionally, investigators can search through the data of linked relatives or friends, which can provide valuable information. For example, someone may claim he severely injured his back while on the job, but a family member’s page may show a video of him doing backflips off a boat just one week after making the claim.

To authenticate the social media data, a simple screenshot will not suffice, as many people use graphic programs and there is no way to prove in court that an image has not been altered. Instead, as items and files are gathered, they should be authenticated and a hash value should be assigned. A hash value is a unique number generated by a forensic tool that ensures the data has not been altered. As the files are stored and exported, the hash values are constantly verified and maintained. Throughout the social media discovery process, your investigative team should log all work and provide detailed reports.

Once the social media information has been collected, it can be mined and analyzed for relevant information or for trails to new information to pursue. It is important for your team to include private investigators as well as forensics professionals, allowing the data to be analyzed from multiple angles to find the proverbial “smoking gun.” If the collected data also needs to be reviewed by attorneys, then your forensic investigation team should be able to easily load it into any requested legal-review platform so it can be searched, sorted, tagged, and exported consistent with standard e-Discovery or investigative workflow.

Having performed social media discovery for years, here are a few of my favorite real-life examples.

The Achilles Tendon Injury

A college-aged young woman working as a lifeguard claimed that she was experiencing pain and suffering after an on-the-job Achilles tendon injury and was, therefore, unable to enjoy life or move around. When the forensic investigation team searched her social media accounts, they found links to her personal blog where she posted photos of exotic trips she had taken—shortly after making her claims—to Bali and Australia, visually demonstrating her being active and even climbing waterfalls. GPS coordinates had been embedded in the photos, which allowed investigators to map out where she had traveled, and the metadata allowed them to detail the dates and times the photos were taken.

The Birth Injury Claim

Parents of a child who had been injured during birth had filed a medical malpractice claim stating that their son, now in third grade, had never been mobile or athletic. The claims professional suspected that the child was not as permanently injured as the parents were claiming. A forensic investigative team found that the son was leading a healthy life and was very athletic—attending baseball and football camps and running the 30-yard dash as fast as an eighth grader.

The Shut-In Guy

A man claimed that his previous job had been so stressful that it gave him post-traumatic stress disorder. Because of this, he said he could not work or leave the house. His social media presence told the forensic team another story. He was a member of a Facebook group for local Uber drivers, where he frequently posted about his activities and gave advice to other drivers regarding the best areas and times to work. Investigators also found that, because he was working for Uber, he had side revenue that he hadn’t reported.

Social media discovery is a relatively new and incredibly valuable tool for insurance companies to leverage, but it takes a team of certified forensic examiners, private investigators, and e-Discovery professionals to get the admissible evidence you will be looking for. When hiring outside vendors to handle the discovery, verify that they have experience finding, analyzing, and validating social media evidence, and are able to speak to it in court.

About The Authors
Jason Park

Jason Park is senior vice president of digital forensic services at BIA.  jpark@biaprotect.com

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