When most people hear the words ‘private investigator’ they often picture a person in a trench coat, with dark sunglasses, holding a magnifying glass or a long-lensed camera. This is far from the modern day reality of private investigations – no one uses long lensed cameras anymore!
Another common misconception is that the powers held by private investigators are often confused for those of law enforcement. The reality is, everything available to private investigators is legally accessible for any regular person to find. The true skill of a private investigator lies in their ability to search through everything available to them to pinpoint the right information. It is all about knowing where to look.
The same can be said for online investigations and specifically Social Media searches. There is no dark web or high-tech software that grants users special powers to hack a social media profile. It would be illegal to do so. The information available online to private investigators is, again, the same as what is available to everybody else. Sometimes it just takes a bit of nous and persistence to find it.
In the management of a personal injury claim or its litigation process, knowing the real time activities of a claimant is critical to making informed decisions. Beyond their independent value, social media searches are hugely beneficial support tools in traditional covert surveillance investigations and factual investigations.
It is against the terms and conditions of many social media platforms to create fake accounts. This includes impersonating others and using photos of other people. All information that investigators gather must be done so legally, including any online information.
In addition to obeying the law, it is vital that all investigations are conducted ethically and with integrity. This means – no pre-texts! Contacting the subject of an investigation with false information or circumstances designed to manipulate them into exposing themselves is not permissible. It can create problems, including information being declared inadmissible as evidence if the matter is proceeds to litigation.
If an investigator visits a subject’s Facebook profile page often enough, the investigator’s own profile may become listed in the ‘People you may know’ section of the subject’s profile. This may alert the subject to the fact they are being investigated, which could result in a complaint or information being misrepresented by the subject.
When tasked with searching for an individual with a very common name, isolating the correct profile can be very challenging, especially without knowing what the person looks like. In these instances, try searching for a person using their email address, or even phone number, instead of their name.
As people become more tech-savvy and security conscious, it becomes more difficult for private investigators to find people online. Something as simple as a person using a nickname for an account or setting a profile to ‘unsearchable’ can hinder an investigation. One way to overcome this is to conduct preliminary searches into a close contact of the subject, e.g. a spouse or relative. By checking this contact’s ‘Friends List’, ‘likes’, ‘comments’, ‘tagged photos’, etc, the subject can sometimes be found.
Anyone can do a quick Google search or scroll through a Facebook page, but understanding the ever-evolving intricacies of comprehensive online searches is a highly specialised skill. With nearly 4 billion people using social media, social media searches are an extremely powerful investigative tool…for those who knew where to look 😉
Litigation Support Manager