Ethos Blog

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I have a friend named Kris. Kris spent most of his professional life as a DJ—the radio kind, not the ecstasy-riddled rave kind. Years ago, Kris was offered two passes to an exclusive Prince concert. Kris accepted and invited a blind date with a penchant for partying like it was 1999. Upon arrival at the event, Kris was immediately mistaken for Kenny G. (That’s much funnier if you know Kris.) He and his companion were ushered to a V.I.P. area where they enjoyed dinner, drinks, and the show. After, Kris, a.k.a. Kenny G, was invited to meet Prince. He feigned illness and fled the scene. I have another friend named Danny. Coincidentally, Danny worked with Kris at a local television station in the early 90s. That fact has zero relevance to this blog, but I thought it made for an interesting aside. Regardless, Danny transitioned from advertising account rep to claims manager. He worked for a national insurance company that was looking for someone to manage high-profile claims and field the subsequent angry and, at times, aggressive communications from claimants. So Danny accepted his role and occasionally updated me with especially interesting assignments. In one instance, Danny had a file involving a doctor who claimed he could no longer drive due to anxiety. As such, he could not get to work and could not continue his practice. Danny enlisted a risk mitigation company that promptly obtained a week’s worth of video of the claimant driving around town. One problem. The investigator filmed the claimant’s brother who just happened to be staying with the claimant during the surveillance period. Unfortunately,... read more

Schedules: Recognize and Capitalize

My wife Jen is a math teacher. She is also an avid runner. On weekdays during the school year, she wakes up at 4:15 a.m. (As do I, thanks to our freakishly loud alarm clock. Then it takes me an hour to go back to sleep—on a good day. But that’s another story.) So my wife is up and the sun has yet to rise. Jen grabs a quick breakfast, heads to the gym, jogs five or six miles on the treadmill, drives home, inadvertently wakes me up as she takes her shower, and then dresses and leaves for work. Jen does sleep in before her “long” run on Saturday, waiting until 6:00 a.m. before our clock’s WOOP, WOOP, WOOP jolts us into consciousness.   (Again, it takes me an hour to fall back asleep. Again, that’s another story.) On Sundays, my wife and I walk our dogs before she hits the trail. She then comes home, showers, and goes grocery shopping. That’s her schedule. Week in. Week out. That’s what Jen does. I mention all this not so you’ll pity my sleep deprivation—although a kind word would be nice—but to alert you. My wife is stickler for schedules. And she’s not alone. I belong to a gym. I train at the same time on the same days. Every week I see the same faces. So does Jen. She sees them from the treadmill. She sees them at the grocery store. One or two of those faces may belong to your claimants. As a communications associate at Ethos Risk Services, I review about 20 reports every day. Some are... read more

Swing for the fences with pre-surveillance scouting

If you run in certain circles, the start of Major League Baseball season brings the inevitable re-telling of romantic tales honoring both diamond heroism and failure. Whether from the lips of legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully or your own father, you’ll never escape the stories that begin with “I remember when.” My favorite involves the New York Yankees. In 2001, the Bronx Bombers selected shortstop Bronson Sardinha with pick No. 34 in the draft. Sardinha, whose full name, Bronson Kiheimahanaomauiakeo Sardinha, would stump the brightest of spelling bee contestants, ended his career with a not-so whopping nine major league at-bats. He is perhaps best known for reaching the Final Four of the 2007 Minor Moniker Madness tournament, a “contest” where entries advanced based on who had a better name. (Yes, I’m shaking my head as well.) Anyway, I especially enjoyed Sardinha’s flop for one reason. Four picks later, the loveable New York Mets drafted David Wright, a seven-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove Award winner who holds franchise records for most career runs batted in, doubles, total bases, runs scored, etc. As a Mets fan, I remain eternally grateful to the Yanks for this flub. Still, I can’t help but wonder what might have been if George Steinbrenner’s Evil Empire had better scouting.  (No disrespect, Yankees fans. I admire and envy your record 27 World Series championships. And yes, that hurt to type.) In the risk mitigation realm, scouting is a vital element. We at Ethos Risk Services refer to it as due diligence and offer several services under that heading. As a quality control professional, one tremendously effective... read more

Ethical Objectivity

As an educator prior to my transition into the risk mitigation field, an emphasis on ethical standards has never been far removed from my professional protocol. When updating with friends and family, I was surprised to sometimes encounter a different response than I had upon becoming a teacher. Assuredness of my ethical piety, and that of all educators—who, after all, never went out at night or made mistakes in their youth—was replaced with some questionable looks. Though much of these instances involved those who were unfamiliar with risk mitigation, there were some consistent sentiments upon delineating the nature of the industry in which I now worked: “That’s kinda messed up isn’t it? Spying on people and waiting for them to make a ‘mistake’, one that is going to lose them money… Do you ever feel bad about what you do?” However, I was quickly able to speak to the contrary. Even my short exposure in this field has allowed me to understand that there are few things more ethically and morally sound than what I do at Ethos Risk Services. A system that allows for compensation and security in moments of injury, disaster, and all forms of tragedy is a remarkable one in the scope of our historical development. However utopic this may seem upon a cursory glance, anyone within the risk mitigation industry is all too aware of the propensity people can have towards corruption, exploitation, and theft in the guise of those for whom this system was established. Our business is rendered from this inherent dichotomy, and requires a scrupulous attention to ethical analysis. While working with... read more

Quality Attracts Quality

I’m a journalist at heart. Always have been. As a kid in New Jersey, I started my own sports publication. The content featured baseball standings and stories based on Mets games I’d seen on TV. I subsequently worked for our town’s twice-weekly newspaper, earned a journalism degree, and bounced around as a sports editor and freelance writer before transitioning into the risk mitigation industry. Immediately, I noticed a number of similarities between the fields: legalities involved with obtaining photographic/video documentation, information gathering practices, hyper-attentiveness to detail, etc. I also found a significant—and welcome—difference. Newspapers traditionally operate on a seniority-based employment system. Sometimes labeled “the old boy network,” hiring and promotion were limited to who you knew and what you did 20 years ago rather than actual talent. This archaic practice, along with an admitted shift in information dissemination trends, caused print outlets to lose a myriad of skilled young writers to the new media. On the flip side, the first risk mitigation company for which I first worked prided itself on hiring bright young minds and complementing them with a crew of seasoned veterans. The business boomed. Both profits and morale were high. Eventually, though, a larger corporation, we’ll call it Incompetence, Inc., bought us. The culture changed quickly. Some of those bright young minds departed to start their own business ventures. Incompetence, Inc., implemented its own version of “the old boy network” to replace them. Without detailing the comedy of errors that followed—and trust me, it was comedic—the once-promising enterprise was absorbed. Its identity, eradicated. Game over. However, the sun did rise again, and with it came Ethos... read more

Brand Protection Requires Action

As a service provider, we are often asked to define brand protection and the most important aspects of a good brand protection program. A quick online search yielded the following well-meaning, textbook definition from the Cambridge Business English Dictionary: Brand protection: the act of preventing someone from illegally making and selling a product using a brand name owned by another company: Incredibly, not only does the Miriam-Webster Online Dictionary provide no definition, there is not a dedicated Wikipedia page on the subject. For those with experience in this industry, this is not surprising. The reason is that protecting a brand can only be defined by the individual brand owner and the company’s priorities, philosophies, and business strategies. While almost every company has some sort of brand protection department, division, or personnel, the initiatives, goals, and objectives can vary greatly. This can often be true from industry to industry; however, it also occurs with great frequency from one competitor to another within the same group. For example, one automobile company may place a strong emphasis and dedicate the majority of its resources to protecting its trademark names, logos, and trade dress via its intellectual property counsel and legal staff. Conversely, the automobile manufacturer down the street might be focused strictly on the manufacture and distribution of counterfeit parts and accessories. Aside from the varying and wide-ranging views on what to protect, most companies also employ distinctly different strategies to combat what they determine to be potentially damaging to their brand. The approaches can implement numerous methodologies including, but not limited to, legal remedies (both civil and criminal), additional patent, trademark... read more

Fact or Fiction: Busting Myths Ethos Style

Fact or Fiction: Only lousy investigators get burned (caught) by claimants. Answer: False. The quarterback sneak is clearly football’s most basic play. Snap the ball. Plow forward. End of story. Right? Wrong. In reality, the sneak features a multi-layered plan of attack dependent on a flawless center-quarterback exchange, a significant line surge amidst a world of 350-pound behemoths, and the ball carrier’s ability to remain patient for that critical nanosecond before plunging ahead. If any one of these elements fails, it could mean the difference between winning and losing. Along those lines, to the casual observer the surveillance business may seem blandly straightforward. Investigator sits in car with camera. Investigator films claimant with said camera. End of story. Right? Wrong. Just like the quarterback sneak, a successful surveillance depends on multiple factors, some of which are beyond the investigator’s control. In reality, the only investigators who never get caught are those who don’t show up. While that may seem like a sweeping statement, folks, that’s a fact. Check out these scenarios. · The head of the neighborhood watch notices an unusual vehicle in the community and calls the police. Despite the investigator notifying law enforcement in advance, patrol cars arrive with their lights flashing and sirens blaring. The claimant looks out his window, understandably, and watches the scene. While he may be unaware of the exact circumstances, that claimant will at least become cognizant of the investigator’s vehicle. Worse, in many instances the local officer will make known the fact that an investigator was on the street. This can sometimes be avoided by taking the police around the corner... read more

The importance of the investigative report

Having worked in the risk mitigation industry for over a decade for various companies, I’ve seen my share of investigative reports. In performing quality control that involves reviewing investigative reports, I can safely say that the quality of these reports can range from stellar to…….well, horrible. Regardless of the type of investigation, the final report that your investigative vendor presents at the conclusion of an assignment is a direct reflection of the quality of the work they performed for you. Was the report well written, with proper grammar and punctuation or did it contain numerous misspelled words and poor grammar?  Did the report contain all necessary information or did you have to contact your investigative vendor with additional questions?  Was the report accurate or was it riddled with factual errors? If you can’t rely on an investigative firm to consistently provide you with professional reports, then there are likely other areas where they are also falling short. For example, if you receive a poorly written recorded statement report that reads like it was written by a third grader, you have to wonder how the investigator presented himself (or herself) when taking the statement on behalf of your company. Did he/she dress professionally or did they show up in a t-shirt and jeans?  Did the investigator have a professional demeanor or did they poorly misrepresent themselves, and in turn their client? You may never know the answers to these questions, but a well-crafted report would likely go a long way toward easing such concerns. Certainly, if your vendor is consistently getting great video for you on surveillance assignments, you may... read more

The truth about Drone surveillance cameras

One of our clients recently called me and asked if we offered drone surveillance. I laughed at first thinking the client was joking, but she was dead serious.  She told me that a few surveillance vendors had recently sent her marketing emails touting their drone surveillance cameras. She thought it sounded really cool and was interested in trying one. I explained to her that a drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) typically used by military or law enforcement agencies. Most drones have cameras affixed to them to document the areas over which they’re flying. The military drones are very sophisticated and extremely expensive. There are also drones for recreational users. These are made of plastic, utilize a handheld remote control, and can be bought at Toys R Us or hobby stores–something fun for a child’s birthday present perhaps, but not designed for surveillance purposes. I was attending  a conference last year where a private investigative company had one of these cheap, plastic drones equipped with a pinhole camera. A young man was demonstrating this drone to a crowd of enthusiastic onlookers when, about 2 minutes into flight, the drone careened into another vendor’s booth and plunged to the ground. Everyone got a good laugh with the exception of the investigative vendor. At the time, I thought this was merely a marketing gimmick gone awry. Surely the investigative industry would not be delving into drone surveillance anytime soon. Apparently I was wrong. And so are those using these drones. In application, utilizing “real” drones for non-military or law enforcement purposes is seriously flawed for many reasons. First, as demonstrated by... read more

Do unto others, and use your inside voice

I was recently sitting in the O’Hare airport in Chicago when a pre-recorded message came over the speaker system. What sounded like a kind woman stated, “Please remember to cover your mouth when coughing and when sneezing.” I immediately laughed and thought to myself, Are these things that people really need to be reminded of? Are there hordes of humanity strolling around the airport hacking and sneezing on unsuspecting bystanders? The soothing lady continued, asking everyone “to please wash your hands after going to the bathroom to avoid spreading germs.” Are you kidding me? People actually need to be reminded to wash their hands after using the facilities? I have been to dozens of airports, but this was the first time I ever heard a recording recommending that people do what every kindergartner is taught from day one of school. As I thought about this, it dawned on me that there must be a reason for these recordings. Then came the light bulb. People–grown adults–are not covering their mouths when coughing or sneezing and not washing their hands after going to the bathroom. I quickly busted out my anti-bacterial gel, washed my hands, and fled from the airport like I was in the movie “Contagion.” Approximately 15 minutes later, I was taken aback again on my train ride into the city when another recorded voice came over the speaker system. This time it was a male voice, and he sounded much harsher. “Please be mindful of other passengers on the train when talking on your cellular phones.” In other words, “Hey moron, nobody is interested in your phone conversation... read more

Improvise and Thrive

So the Little League World Series is in full swing. And once again, I’m hooked. As someone who’s spent half his professional life as a sportswriter, I thoroughly enjoy this event. Truly, it brings back great memories. During my days with a scorebook and reporter’s pad, I loved covering youth sports. For starters, Little League parents had not yet blossomed into self-appointed experts and therefore voiced less complaints—or at least voiced said complaints at lower decibel levels—than their high school peers. More than that, though, seeing those light bulb moments unfold was magical. You cannot help but smile when a No. 9 hitter digs in, keeps his eye on the ball, and WHACK—delivers a single up the middle. Those kids on ESPN are clearly more accomplished than most of the youngsters I wrote about. Their skill-sets are amazing, especially for this age. The big mind-boggler, though, is their ability to read, analyze, and react. Not only do they have a solid handle on traditional game situation decisions, their ability to improvise based on opposing personnel and organic developments is stellar. That same quality is vital in fighting fraud. My first job in this industry was in background verifications. During week one, they handed me a list of questions to ask a job candidate’s former employer. One question involved whether the employee left voluntarily or was fired.  The next queried whether said employee would be rehired if his/her position was open. On my first call, the employer told me our subject had been terminated. However, he noted that said subject would be rehired if there was a vacancy. I asked... read more

The 360-Degree Approach To Fighting Fraud

When every physical and mental resource is focused, one’s power to solve a problem multiplies tremendously.”  – Norman Vincent Peale    In order to significantly impact fraud, it is essential to formulate a solid, comprehensive approach. After all, you don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. If you’re smart, you bring a bigger gun and maybe a hand grenade. When it comes to fighting fraud, we really need all the weapons we can gather. I have an approach called the 360-Degree Fraud Program. Personally, I think it makes sense to attack fraud in three segments: 1) Fraud Prevention – preventing fraud before it even happens. 2) Fraud Detection – identifying fraud in an efficient manner. 3) Fraud Defense – fighting fraud once you have the proper evidence. These three components are critical to eliminating, or at the least, significantly reducing fraud. Quite frankly, without addressing all three of these areas you are limiting your ability to successfully combat fraud. All three facets of this approach need to be solid in order to come full circle—full circle as in 360 degrees. As we have already learned, fraud costs the insurance industry billions of dollars each year and it is simply not good enough to combat fraud without taking this three-pronged approach. The adage that you are only as strong as your weakest link certainly applies in this fight. This is how the 360-Degree Fraud Program works: Phase 1 – Fraud Prevention – Identifying potential fraud before it happens can save insurance companies millions of dollars. Dare I say, with a Dr. Evil voice, “Even billions of dollars.” Industry studies... read more

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... read more

Got Fraud?

In order to submit a fraud referral it’s important to have good understanding of what fraud truly is. In some cases you may have a claimant abusing the system, but this does not necessarily mean they are committing fraud.  Fraud is commonly understood as dishonesty calculated for an advantage.  Merriam-Webster dictionary defines fraud as, the crime of using dishonest methods to take something valuable from another person.  Fraud may also be made by an omission or purposeful failure to state material facts, which nondisclosure makes other statements misleading. As it relates to insurance fraud there are various elements that need to be proven for a successful fraud conviction. An easy way to determine if you have a case that meets the criteria for fraud is to think of the milk campaign, Got Milk?  You have probably seen these commercials or television ads where celebrities or athletes have a milk mustache and the tag line is, Got Milk?  So think of Got Milk, when dealing with fraud except use the below defined acronym for milk to see if you have the 4 elements that are generally required for a successful fraud prosecution.  Let’s take a look at the acronym and how it’s used to identify potential fraud: M –         Material misrepresentation I –           Intent to deceive L –           Loss – a loss or damages occurred as a result of the fraudulent activity K –          Knowledge.  The subject had knowledge that their statements or actions were untrue. Let’s look at each one of these a little more in-depth. Material Misrepresentation – A material misrepresentation is deliberately hiding or falsifying a... read more

Seasonal Surveillance…What a Feeling

When people ask what I do for a living, I explain that I work in risk mitigation. More often than not, I’m met with a quizzical look followed by the question, “So you’re an attorney?” To avoid an extended narrative detailing the industry ins and outs, I generally choose the most entertaining element of the job. “No, not an attorney,” I say.  “We investigate stuff like fraud.” Most people are very interested when I mention words like fraud and surveillance, especially when I hit them with my favorite investigative stories.  As a communications associate at Ethos, and serving in the same capacity with other companies for a decade or so, I’ve reviewed thousands of investigative reports. I’ve seen dancers with back injuries, construction workers with bum shoulders, and even a dancer working construction. Okay, I never saw that. Unless you count “Flashdance.” Unlike that perky steel town girl, our claimants have far less noble goals than attending an esteemed dance academy.   Which brings me to the gist of this blog. With the weather warming nationwide, fraudulent claimants are ripe for the picking. I can say with 100-percent certainty that spring and summer surveillance reaps many rewards for our clients.  For whatever reason, when the sun shines brightly across crystal blue skies, claimants get careless. Landscaping, beach volleyball, boat outings, 5K runs, softball games…I’ve read it all. Truly, warm weather surveillance is one of the few locks in an unpredictable industry. Don’t assume infallibility, however. That doesn’t exist. However, the odds at this time of year are certainly in your favor. And trust me. When you receive that DVD or video link with an hour-plus of damaging video, you’ll be singing “What a Feeling” all the... read more

Serpico, the wise king, and the BP oil spill

One of my favorite movies growing up was “Serpico.” Starring Al Pacino, it’s a true life story about a New York police officer, Frank Serpico, who went undercover to expose corruption in the police force. Serpico was an honest cop trying to do the right thing, but he was harassed and threatened by his peers. The struggle led to infighting within the police force and problems in his personal relationships. In one compelling scene, Serpico tells a fable he calls “The Wise King.” It’s a story about a king beloved by his people. In the middle of the kingdom there was a well from which everyone drank. One night, a witch poisoned the well. The next day, everybody drank from the well except the king. The people, aside from the king, went crazy, committing crimes and creating chaos. Observing this behavior, the king approached his subjects and reprimanded them. He demanded they change their behavior. The citizens who once loved the king became irate and accused him of acting crazy. They came together and made a pact to kill the king. Clearly, in their minds, he had gone mad. The king feared for his life. Later that night, he drank from the well and immediately went insane. Upon seeing the crazed king the next day, all the people rejoiced because their beloved king had regained his reason. This scene hit me like a ton of bricks when I was a kid. It may have had something to do with my decision to become a fraud investigator. Well, either that or Magnum P.I.’s lifestyle. In any event, “The Wise King”... read more

There is no such thing as a free lunch

I was speaking with one of our clients recently. He mentioned that he received an email from an investigative company that was offering surveillance services for free if they failed to obtain results.

In the advertisement, results equated to obtaining videotape documentation of the claimant.

Tongue firmly planted in cheek, said client asked me if Ethos could make him the same proposal. He laughed, of course, fully aware of the slippery slope involved here.

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AICPA SOC LogoExpert Service ProviderEthos Risk Services | T: 866-783-0525 | F: 866-695-9645 | email: info@ethosrisk.com | P.O. Box 55246 | St. Petersburg, Florida 33732 | www.ethosrisk.com