By the end of this year, the world will have produced and consumed 1 billion terabytes of data, according to Finances Online. Daily, we create about 1.1 trillion megabytes. If those numbers give you a headache to visualize, the bottom line is that there is a lot of data out there to comb through when conducting an investigation into a person or a company, locating and identifying witnesses for a legal case, or finding crucial information that could change the entire course of a legal proceeding or investment decision. Those numbers don’t even include the offline data – e.g. the personal identifiable information (PII) of people in the form of physical records in the corner of a locked, or unlocked, room.
Although we want to cast a broad net, the “devil may be in the details” and investigators must prioritize where to search first. Along with the ‘where,’ the ‘how’ is also important. Below are some of the most overlooked tools when conducting open-source research.
No. 1: Google it
Google is often referred to an investigator’s secret weapon and seems like the obvious first place to look for information, but there are many ways to go beyond what the average user knows. Searching beyond the first page of results is a must, as subjects may have employed search engine optimization (SEO) in an effort to suppress adverse information. You can also google uncommon key words instead of full phrases to help narrow down a search. Also, remember to use the search filters Google provides at the top of the search page (content types and time ranges). Bonus tip: the internet’s web pages archive: Wayback Machine. Utilizing a link to a current webpage, this tool allows you to see past versions of the same source.
No. 2: The six degrees of social media
Even though an individual may privatize their social media accounts, their friends and associates who maintain public accounts could have pertinent information on their profiles about the target individual. Often times, a general search by someone’s known username can reveal posts, images and videos that others have tagged them within. Additionally, other social media platforms like Reddit can give you a sense of public opinion about an event or individual.
No. 3: Court records
Many counties have information regarding civil and criminal cases, including case copies, on their county court websites. While online sources are not always comprehensive, this information can be freely available to the public to search. Learning about an individual’s litigation history can help inform your litigation strategy and identify information that may impact an individual’s credibility.
No. 4: Google it again…on a map
Visually seeing the place that is the underlying subject matter of an investigation can give you a sense of spatial relationships, cut down on travel time to physically visit a place in person, and show the relationship between properties and assets. Google Maps provides detailed information about surrounding areas, physical locations of a business matching what they are purporting and potential witnesses to reach out to.
No. 5: Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests
FOIA requests, requests submitted to any federal agency asking for agency records on any topic, can give you access to documents from public agencies all the way to the Executive Branch and may turn up relevant information for an investigation. You don’t really know until you look for it and ask for it. Bonus tip: It takes time to get responses. Be patient with requests and upfront with clients about turnaround times. Also be very specific with your request to get the best response.
For an investigator, there is no such thing as TMI. Overlooking these investigative tools may give you a myopic understanding of a situation when what you need is a full 360-degree view. At Gryphon, our diverse global teams bring deep expertise and a range of perspectives to their work in complex due diligence, internal investigations, cutting-edge data mining and analytics, litigation support and global strategic and political risk advisory. Reach out today to learn more.