Fake online and Yelp reviews

As consumers turn more frequently to online reviews to make buying decisions, the role that the sources of these reviews takes on becomes more important. Industry leader Yelp has started taking some steps to prevent these reviews, but it is a moving target for the business model.

Fake or exaggerated reviews can misrepresent the true nature of the business or product either for good or bad. In some cases a competitor or disgruntled customer can post fictitious negative reviews driving down the perceived quality of the company. This causes actual damage to the firm and can be a cause for legal action. A qualified investigation can discover the source of the reviews and provide intel for a lawsuit or other legal action.


On the business side, companies can pay PR firms to post multiple fake positive reviews to boost their companies reputation. Firms such as Glowing Reviews represent that they will post multiple reviews in support of a client company. This business model has come under fire from site hosting the comments. Vehicle data site Edmunds.com recently filed suit against fake review writers claiming that they defraud visitors and violate their terms and conditions.

“The lawsuit was filed in Texas on Tuesday. Among other things, the lawsuit accuses them of fraud and breach of the Edmunds.com membership agreement. Online reviews have become a major factor in consumer decision-making, with businesses failing on negative ratings. Reputation management and public relations firms have popped up to help businesses improve their online identities.”


Insurance claims investigations and settlement

Casualty insurers are facing a more difficult claims settlement environment as the number of claims with questionable factors is increasing. The National Insurance Crime Bureau is reporting that 2012 saw an increase of 26% in questionable claims. “Suspicious theft/loss (not vehicle)” had the highest increase in volume to 10,680 in 2012 from 7,152 reached in 2011. In 2012, the top five states generating the most questionable claims were: California (21,935), Florida (10,693), Texas (10,368), New York (9,059) and Maryland (4,296).

Our property title search report analysis has seen an increase in the percentage of subject properties with liens, judgments, or other distress factors. This may be leading to insureds creating claims or inflating legitimate claims. We are also discovering that properties with claims submitted are turning out to be not the parcel actually insured on the policy, once the legal description is identified.

In more favorable news, a court in New Jersey ruled that an insured is not entitled to reimbursement for fees paid to a public adjuster to negotiate a more favorable claims outcome.  The insured moved to recover attorneys fees and the public adjuster fees, but the court denied the request.  “Perley-Halladay’s motion for summary judgment is denied, and its motion for attorney’s fees and costs is denied.”

In the video which follows there are some suggestions on defending settlements from frivolous claims from private adjusters.


Is it possible to get back 100% of assets for fraud victims?

Recovery losses in a fraudulent investment case is not a hopeless endeavor. If you are a victim of any type of fraud, or have a valid judgement against a debtor, do not give up on getting back the funds which belong to you. The key to successful recovery is exploiting all available resources.

Do not take the position that your scenario is a “collection” matter. Collection implies that the money belongs to the fraudster and that the efforts are to beg it back or get a debt paid. The mantra of asset recovery is to begin with the belief that the money belongs to the victim/creditor. It is a matter of taking it back aggressively, but legally.

Money does not evaporate. It is spent, invested, hidden or squandered. But it is not erased. Following the flow of funds to wherever they went is the open door to unlimited resources for recovery. Think it can’t happen? In one of the largest ponzi schemes in the past decade, victims in the $1.2 billion Scott Rothstein fraud may see a return of 100% of their assets due to the extraordinary efforts of the receiver in that case.

This and other successful asset recovery missions is achieved with the following 4 point approach:

  • Flow of funds – clawback
  • Third party liability
  • Co-conspirators
  • Aggressive negotiations

In the Global Bullion Exchange fraud case, the victims asset recovery team is going after the firms former bank, Wachovia, for not overseeing the fraud accounts properly. “Either they knew what was going on or they weren’t monitoring the accounts the way they should have been,” said the victims attorney.

These are both excellent examples of high level asset recovery methods using all available resources.

Watch the video below and hear more details of how this is approached.


Top 5 corporate fraud prevention and discovery methods

Employee embezzlement can happen at the intersection between trust and reasonable security. People who are valuable parts of an enterprise need to have sufficient latitude to take action and get things done. The CEO or owner cannot do everything personally, so key people are entrusted with important roles including managing money and critical information within the firm.

Reasonable internal controls help protect the company from exposure to loss due to errors or fraud, but the need for personnel to be able to freely perform their duties allows the possibility for problems to occur. One common loss control method is to limit the amount an individual employee can authorize for payment. This can be circumvented as in the recent case at UPS, where an employee authorized multiple payments each for less than his $5000 limit. The employee and his vendor accomplice was able to steal $1.2 million until the fraud was discovered. In this case it appears the fraud was only caught when an outsider from a bank noticed unusual activity. This is a reminder to companies to use more than one method for preventing fraud or loss. For example, in addition to having a transaction limit, payments and invoices can be randomly reviewed.  Fraud cases almost always reveal that internal policies are used by the criminal to mask the scheme.

Coincidentally, there was another fraud scheme in Atlanta for about the same amount. An employee at the prestigious Woodruff Arts Center set up a dummy company and billed the non-profit for $1.4 million in fraudulent services. According to the center, they only have 13 vendors in total. Why are these types for frauds able to be committed?

It is a combination of trust and circumstances. Good corporate integrity should not change over time. If controls are in place, they should not change based on an employees tenure. Of course certain executives may be given more latitude as they prove their trust over time. However every transaction and payment should still be subject to audit. Especially those done under a trusted and less scrutinized initial process.

The video below will list 5 reasons why an employee crosses the line of integrity, and 5 ways to prevent fraud.


Corporate fraud investigations

Corporate fraud is a hot area of investigations in 2013. From embezzlement to corporate due diligence, the activity level is high. The Economist magazine presents an article talking about some of those areas. “One big source of work is the growing complexity of business regulation. Multinationals can never be sure that some employee, somewhere has not violated America’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or some other anti-bribery law.” One investigator described how the job sometimes goes: “Part of the job will continue to be “tracking down the disgruntled former secretary or book-keeper who knows where the bodies are buried, and knowing how to coax information from them.”

Here are a couple of videos on areas of corporate investigations:



Criminal background checks

The definition and perception of what goes into a criminal background check varies. For a private investigator it is important to serve the needs of a client by doing a thorough search so that he or she receives the complete information that they need. Be aware that within the investigative industry we have the knowledge that a one click “FBI Background Check” does not exist, and it might be necessary to describe the methods to discover the criminal history of a subject.

The video below describes the basic mechanics that a client might want to know about including starting with a “chain of residence.”


AFX Search, Palm Beach FL private investigator.

Surveillance for divorce and infidelity cases

Private investigators are often called upon to document cheating in a relationship. Whether in a divorce case or checking on a relationship partner it is important that the investigator go beyond simply observing that the subject is having an affair. Collecting supporting information and pursuing the related activity is even more valuable to the client.

In most cases the client already knows that the subject is having an affair. Finding out the extent of all hidden activities is really what the investigation should be about. The real value of a professional investigator is digging deeper to find all the risks the subject is creating for the client, and helping them out of jeopardy.

The following video describes some of the elements a professional investigator should consider when operating a cheating case.


Importance of verifying timing devices in a private investigation.

Investigations of people or events span many locations and time periods. When a private investigator works a case, his observations and efforts connect the movements and surroundings of the subject. To provide relative timelines the dates and time of each event is reported. It is critical to synchronize the timing of devices used to record these events.

Most of the time the clocks built into different devices are not exactly in sync, which can have consequences when the results are used later. The credibility of the accuracy of the report is at risk when they appear to be in conflict, even by a few minutes. The following video describes some scenarios where a private investigator can run into, and how to ensure exact results.


E-discovery of voice and phone records

Discussion on ESI typically will focus of e-discovery of data such as letters, emails, financial records, and scanned documents. An extraordinary opportunity for discovery of potentially valuable information from voice and audio recordings is frequently overlooked. The exchange of information in voice or audio format has migrated almost exclusively to software based platforms. Because of this, files containing audio and voice are created in regular FAT or NTFS formats, even if only for a temporary mechanism to transport the audio to its destination. Many IT managers are unaware that these audio files exist.  A skilled e-discovery expert can use this knowledge to develop intel from a case.

A simple example can be demonstrated by understanding the modern phone and voice mail systems. When a call comes into a corporate enterprise phone system, the routing and call management is handled by computer. Most firms now have raw data lines running into the organization handling all types of bandwidth volume. In many cases the data allowance is shared between data and voice, with the company handling the setup of phone numbers and call flow. One or more phone servers are set up to manage this phone traffic in the same way a file server manages data traffic. As the call is routed to the selected extension or DID number, the phone server routes the connection to the appropriate wall jack as programmed in the system. The server maintains records of how the calls were routed, transferred, or terminated. This data by itself may prove valuable.

Where it gets more interesting is when a voice mail or message is created. If the call is routed to voice mail  the message is stored as an audio file on the server in much the same way as any other data file on a PC. It may be in a distinct .WAV or .MP4 file or part of a zipped archive containing multiple audio records. The sound file will often contain the date, time, caller ID, length, and selected extension within the metadata. What makes this mechanism even better for an investigator is that the records are often more durable than expected. When a system user deletes a voice mail message the process does not vacate the audio. Instead the system simply removes the registration of that sound file from being indexed by the users voice mail account. This is why many phone systems have the ability to recover deleted messages. Eventually the system may overwrite the sound files if the space is needed for more records but most enterprise systems have plenty of storage capacity. Even older voice messages which would have been overwritten can be discovered. At regular intervals the phone server is backed up to tape in the same way that date file servers are. The backed up version of a phone server would have a snapshot of the audio files as they existed on that date. Since backup tapes are usually not immediately reused and are stored in inventory there may be up to a years worth of old audio files stored somewhere if the investigator is diligent.

Many phone systems also allow for users to use the system to transmit voice messages internally to each other using their phone extensions. These messages are stored the same way and may contain candid communications which are perceived to be less documented than email. Most users believe that when an audio voice message is “deleted” by hitting a button on the phone set that it is gone forever. For this reason there may be information on audio which is more sensitive than that in written or email format.

This knowledge can be applied to voice and audio files created on many platforms.

  • Virtual IVR systems (OneBox, RingCentral, 8×8, etc.) – Cloud based systems record the audio off-site, so careful crafting of discovery will be needed to obtain these records.
  • VOIP – Businesses are migrating from copper wires at a high rate. Over 80% of new business lines installed use VOIP services such as Skype, Vonage or Ooma for some communications. The voice files for these can be accessed by a user login, or recovered from the provider.
  • GoToWebinar – Webinars, podcasts, or other presentations may contain information on training policies, what information was distributed to employees, and what opinions are held by a company. Each presentation creates an audio file. Employees and executives are more outspoken when conducting internal meetings and presentations. Conference call platforms also create an audio file.
  • Voice memos; enterprise and mobile – Executive users may use their mobile device to record memos, ideas, and notices to be transcribed later. These are captured when the device is synced.
  • Auto-attendants – Telephony has gone from a proprietary hardware system to software based IVR. We have all heard the ubiquitous notice “This call may be monitored for quality assurance.” Incoming calls to some departments such as billing or customer service might create an audio record of the entire call. Even older hardware such as Dialogic cards store audio messages on disk.

When examining available audio, consider three additional additions to the investigation:

  1. Background audio – be attentive to sounds in the background of audio files for additional details. Was the caller in a vehicle? Are there other parties present? Did another call ring in to the call waiting?
  2. Meta data – Be sure to extract any meta date from audio files as well as data files. Sound files need to have more robust meta info since there is no space for text on the visible file as in an email or PDF file.
  3. Old greeting messages – A person may have various versions of greeting messages for their extension. Some attempts at recording the message may have been interrupted by a co-worker talking to them, or some other interruption. The “deleted” recording may contain background info.

The opponent is expecting discovery of written materials and electronic records. Worded documents are created with more diligence with the expectation that the record is durable. Individuals are less cautious in verbal communications, even when the discussion is by phone or electronically. The durability of audio communications may not be visible to the eye. The value to an investigator is created by the capitalizing on the subject not expecting voice comms to be archived. If the legal team ensures that audio files are part of the ESI discovery, and there is an expert investigative resource to extract all of the files from servers, backup tapes, and other electronic media.