Be your own Sleuth – But don’t cross the line

“The truth. It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and must therefore be treated with great caution.” – J.K. Rowling

Thanks to the Internet, there are thousands of informational resources available that if you are so inclined allow you to handle some of your own pre-investigative sleuthing.  For example, a simple Google search on your subject may provide invaluable information regarding said subject’s employment status, hobbies, or sports-related activities.  Checking someone’s Facebook or other social media sites typically reveals a slew of relevant information.  There is a caveat though; you need to make sure you are conducting these investigations in an ethical manner.  No false friending claimant’s on his or her social media sites.  A good rule of thumb is that if information is available to the general public then it is fair game.  If the information is not available to the general public at large and you have to come up with some sort of different way to garner the information than most likely you are stepping on the slippery slope of invading someone’s privacy.  At Ethos we have compiled a long laundry list of viable search engines that can provide a plethora of information on the subject you are researching.  (For a complete list of useful investigative web sites, feel free to send an email to info@ethosrisk.com) Again we caution you to not push the boundaries, but rather conduct all of your research in a professional and ethical manner. My first boss once told me to do everything in the investigative process with the notion that at some point you will be in front of a judge explaining your actions. Great work advice, and probably great life advice.  To reiterate, if you are doing everything in an ethical manner then you have nothing to worry about when searching on the Internet.  One final note on this topic, in my opinion it’s always best to let professionals handle things that they are subject matter experts in.  It’s certainly reasonable to poke around the Internet here and there on a claimant or maybe even someone you know, but don’t get too carried away.  Let the experts do what they do best.  I understand that even though you are not a licensed private investigator that you did stay at a Holiday Inn, but that answer may not cut it in a court of law.

So what do you need for such a search?  If you have a subject’s date of birth or Social Security number, you could almost write his or her autobiography.  In most instances, even a subject’s full name can be enough information to initiate a thorough background investigation.  Obviously, the more information you have on your subject, the better chance there is of obtaining relevant background information.

Those being said, proceed with caution.

There are privacy issues involved when retrieving certain types of information.  According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you cannot conduct a credit check on a subject without their signed consent.  Similarly, it is illegal to obtain medical records without a signed release form.  There are information brokers out there who imply that banking and investment data is publicly available.  It’s not.  Such information can only be obtained with a signed consent form from the account holder or with a legal subpoena.

Privacy has to be at the forefront when conducting any database or background investigation.  Many states have adopted much stronger penalties for violation of privacy laws.  In fact, the individual requesting the information can be prosecuted for ordering the illegally obtained data.  As the public becomes more and more concerned with privacy issues, it is imperative that investigators conduct all their actions in a legal and ethical manner.  Investigators violating these laws are just providing more fodder for the staunch privacy advocates, thus making it more difficult to obtain legitimate information, which is so beneficial in the investigation of fraudulent claims.  Much more on legalities later in this booklet but I think you get the overall message, proceed with caution and err on the side of being conservative.

Truly, this is a slippery slope. Our best advice? Tread cautiously.

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