Investigating Executives & White Collar Crime

Investigating Executives & White Collar Crime

Don’t let executive misconduct ruin your corporation…

When it comes to running a business, the executives who are the visionaries and decision-makers that shape a company should always remain above reproach. White collar crimes have the potential to pull a business up from the root with devastating consequences. Unfortunately, Americans know from media coverage and social media that there’s few things we are more attracted to than stories about high-ranking officials and the misconduct that negatively impacts their businesses—both in profits and in public relations.

Many will be familiar with the recent news of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ high-profile divorce following allegations of infidelity, in which his ex-wife became the richest individual in history by virtue of divorce proceedings. The fallout from executive misconduct can leave a trail of legal fees, government sanctions, violations, and public relations-related crises that can devastate a company from the top down.

Thought to be coined in 1932, the phrase “white collar crime” now refers to a spectrum of frauds and other crimes committed by high-ranking executives and officials. The most common characteristics of white collar crime contain aspects of deceit, concealment, or violation of company policies and/or state and federal law. The motive is financial, with executives skimming off the top of a company’s profits for their own use. These crimes are sometimes thought of as “victimless crimes,” with no regard to how the fallout from a fraud or scheme can impact the company, and therefore the families of its employees. The types of fraud include, but are not limited to:

  • Bank fraud
  • Blackmail
  • Bribery
  • Cellular phone fraud
  • Computer fraud
  • Counterfeiting
  • Credit card fraud
  • Currency scheme
  • Environmental schemes
  • Extortion
  • Forgery
  • Health Care Fraud
  • Insider trading
  • Insurance fraud
  • Investment schemes
  • Kickbacks
  • Larceny/theft
  • Money laundering
  • Racketeering
  • Securities fraud
  • Tax evasion
  • Telemarketing fraud
  • Welfare fraud
  • Weights and measures

Corporate fraud and white collar crime of this nature remain one of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s top priorities when it comes to identifying and indicating perpetrators. While involvement by government agencies may seem like the end of the line, there are ways companies can get out in front of executive misconduct by hiring a private investigator to investigate these matters.

Private investigators have a unique reputation as slick operators who fly under the radar, but they are invaluable professionals to companies in the throes of a corporate crisis because they are independent and objective. Objectivity is the priority when dealing with executive misconduct and white collar crime, as any allegations or evidence presented against the executive must be presented by an individual with no stake in the outcome of the investigation. Private investigators are independently contacted by a business or corporation to investigate the alleged executive misconduct, and can gather evidence and collect witness statements without the air of bias. Because private investigators are independent contractors, there is no fear of reprisal on behalf of coworkers and other employees at the company. This leaves no lead discounted or ignored. They can investigate employees at all levels, and determine how (if at all) the executive is receiving assistance in their fraud from subordinates. One of the most attractive qualities in a private investigator is that their objectivity makes them crucial witnesses in any legal proceedings that may result from the investigation.

Businesses and corporations should never be beholden to CEOs, presidents, and other high-ranking executives who behave badly. Executive misconduct and corruption are like aggressive weeds that must be pulled from the root in order for businesses to flourish. When it comes to rooting out bad leadership, consider hiring a private investigator to navigate a tricky investigative path that can end in quality operations and peace of mind for businesses large and small.

If you have a corporate crisis like executive misconduct, we can help. Call Lauth Investigations International, a family-owned-and-operated investigative firm with over 30 years of providing successful solutions to clients in Indianapolis and throughout the nation. Call 317-951-1100 for a free consultation, or to learn more about our services, please visit our website.

Phishers Want Your Direct-Deposit

Phishers Want Your Direct-Deposit

money lockedThe invention of direct-deposit payments in electronic banking have likely saved companies millions of dollars over the years in labor hours, materials, and fees that previously caused problems for companies. However, in an age where your paycheck is sent automatically to your checking account, phishers are seeking to exploit this automation for personal gain.

The Internal Revenue Service has reported an upswing in various types of fraud that directly target a company’s payroll. While the ruses come in many forms, one of the most popular is phishing emails disguised as legitimate correspondence from an employee or upper management. It’s always an instruction to alter payroll information so that funds would be rerouted to the scammer’s bank account. Once the deed is done, the money is withdrawn and the company is responsible to replace the missing funds. While the FTC and the IRS are constantly reevaluating their strategies for containing these types of fraud, this particular scheme is hard to detect and often goes unreported. The email can outsmart security measures set down by the company or within a company’s email server, and scammers take amounts that can just be written off as unfortunate missteps on behalf of personnel.

Frauds such as these have gone through an evolution as security technology becomes more sophisticated and what we know about internet culture continues to grow. Internet frauds used to be about volume and inattention to detail—thus the birth of phishers, who sent emails rife with spelling and grammar mistakes out to mile-long email lists, casting a wide net throughout the web. Education about fraud has forced scammers to be more cautious. Today, companies who have seen this scam in its newest form remark that these phishing emails look so authentic that there may not be a question in their mind before obliging their request. Security measures that have risen from the nucleus of electronic banking combat wire fraud every day in the United States. Large sums in wire transfers now throw up giant red flags. Phishers and scammers are getting more bang for their buck by taking smaller amounts with more frequency, lurking below the radar. This does not require sophisticated hacking skills. Just the ability to open a Gmail account. Phishers make the account look cosmetically convincing, then throw out the lure. One of the most targeted entities is non-profit organizations, because of the benevolent nature of their business. The idea of someone ripping off a charity or relief organization is horrifying, but the simplicity of scams like this make the opportunity too lucrative to pass up.

It’s frightening how simple the fraud is to pull off, but there is recourse for businesses who are vulnerable to such a scam. One of the non-profits who fell prey to this scam was KVC Health Systems, an agency for child welfare in Kansas City. Their IT director, Erik Nyberg, says it starts with comprehensive education on company procedures, “The CEO is never going to email you out of the blue and ask you for any deposit changes. And if you have any sliver of a doubt, call the person who is making the request.” He goes on to discourage executives and upper management employees from using their personal email accounts to send staff correspondence, and to set email filters that will catch suspicious incoming messages. Social media managers are also cautioned against posting any company information to their pages that could serve to bolster a phisher’s credibility.

If your business has been the target of this wire fraud scam, you are encouraged to report them to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s IC3 tip line.

Investigating Non-Compete Violations

Investigating Non-Compete Violations

non-compete violationWhen growing a business, executives and owners have to go the extra mile when it comes to protecting trade secrets. In the pursuit of their company’s business, a common practice for corporations of all sizes is implementing non-compete clauses in their employees’ contracts. This ensures, should an employee leave the company for any reason, they cannot utilize trade secrets for the purpose of building a similar business of their own. It’s in a business owner’s best interest to be preemptive in protecting themselves from client poaching, theft of company secrets, and possibly even slander when it comes to current and former employees who violate their non-compete agreements.

Though they go by several names and the laws concerning them vary state to state, non-compete agreements are generally a legally-binding contract between an employer and an employee, whereupon acceptance of a job offer by a company, an individual agrees during their employment and following their termination they will not enter into any competing business for a predetermined period of time. Whether it’s working for a company’s top competitor, or striking out in their own business, non-compete agreements protect trade secrets, sensitive company information, and prevent competing businesses from poaching successful employees with promises of a handsome pay-raise in exchange for the expertise they might have gleaned from their time at their previous position. This kind of information can range from client bases to business operations to future products and services. The duration of the non-compete agreement following an employee’s termination have to be well within reason, as no employer can permanently preclude a former employee from any line of work.

Not every company experiences difficulties by virtue of a former employee violating their non-compete agreement, and some companies do not see the need for non-compete agreements at all, but the consequences of trade secrets being used to steal a company’s business can have devastating effects, ending in the worst possible circumstances with a business closing and an owner in debt. Even if a company is able to quash a non-compete violation in court, the cost to the company in legal fees can be astronomical, especially for smaller businesses. That’s why it’s important for owners and executives to be preemptive and proactive when it comes to potential violators. Luckily, a private investigator can help at all stages of a non-compete violation investigation.

Human resource employees are the salt of the earth, and can have a great influence on how a company develops based on the individuals they select for their workforce. However, human resource employees are not lie detectors, and do not always have access to legitimate, comprehensive background screening tools. Background screenings and checks are among the most common service associated with private investigators. If there is something suspect in a candidate’s past, licensed private investigators have the tools and experience to find it out. Private investigators can pull a candidate’s criminal history, financial history, and interview persons in their lives who can speak to character and work ethic. They can also spot patterns in a person’s work history or lifestyle that could be high-risk factors in a hypothetical non-compete violation—things like transience, long periods between positions, or financial destitution.

Some malingering employees can’t wait to be terminated before violating their non-compete agreements. It’s not uncommon for these individuals to exploit trade secrets for their businesses own gain while on company time and dime. While on a business trip, an individual might use company per diem to buy drinks for a person who could be a potential investor in their new business. Employees might use company supplies to supplement their project, such as printers, fax machines, computers, and other equipment. Private investigators can conduct diligent investigations within a company’s workforce to root out the source of the theft. Private investigators can interview witnesses, including upper management and other staff, review vital documents like bank records, and conduct surveillance of the company’s operations as needed to expose the perpetrator. Their objectivity makes them an ideal candidate to conduct such an investigation because they do not have a stake in the outcome.

There are many circumstances under which a business owner might come to suspect a former employee has violated their non-compete agreement. Word might have traveled through business circles that a similar business is starting up. Employees might start disappearing in clusters. Clients may suddenly decide to sever business ties in favor of a new contender in the competition. Whatever transpires, one thing is certain—documenting and exposing this exploitation is imperative, because the consequences can be costly. Retaining a qualified private investigator who specializes in corporate crises is crucial to resolving non-compete violations quickly, before the exponential costs begin to erode profits. Private investigators can perform surveillance on suspected former employees to document their movements, record with whom they met, and collect evidence such as pictures of a brick and mortar establishment, marketing materials, vital documents, and filings with the Secretary of State. Private investigators can send undercover operatives to infiltrate a workforce to get information the business privy only to employees. They can also enlist the aid of a confidential informant—an individual already within the company to provide information. This requires quality interviewing skills and developing a natural rapport with potential witnesses, both important qualities in a qualified investigator.

When non-compete violations are at their ugliest, not only do violators seek to siphon off their former employer’s business by exploiting trade secrets and knowledge of their operations, but they can also play dirty by exposing this information publicly. Another method involves deliberately spreading lies about the competition in order to drive business towards the former employee’s company. That’s known as slander and it’s legally actionable. Documenting the perpetuation of these lies and proving they are in fact false are crucial in these cases. Diligent fact-finding is the cornerstone of any private investigator’s expertise. Private investigators can conduct cyber investigations to track down the users behind profiles that post false negative reviews, follow rumors back to their roots, and forensically track how information left the competition and made its way into the former employee’s business nucleus. They can implement many of the strategies aforementioned: surveillance, interviewing witnesses, documenting evidence. Slander cases tend to have a divisive they-said, they-said narrative, which is where a private investigator’s objectivity becomes invaluable once more. Private investigators have no stake in the solution of an investigation. Their independence coupled with their expertise and resume make them spectacular witnesses in any subsequent litigation.

When a company has a non-compete agreement in place, it’s important that executives and owners are proactive when performing a risk assessment on a potential employee. It’s important that a healthy company culture fosters good comradery, honesty, and a policy of “if you see something, say something.” Building a case against a former employee who violated their agreement can be time consuming at the expense of company resources. Dealing with the fallout from litigation can bring a reliable business to its knees. Private investigators can assist in all phases of any non-compete agreement violation, and retaining their services will go a long way towards a body of objective evidence and testimony that can resolve a company’s crisis.

If you have suspicions that a current or former employee has violated their non-compete agreement, contact Lauth Investigations International today for a free consultation on how we can help you! Call 317-955-1100 or find us online at www.lauthinvestigations.com. 

Carie McMichael is the Media and Communication Specialist for Lauth Investigations International. She regularly writes on investigations, missing person, and other topics in the criminal justice system. 

Catfish: Romance Scams in 2019

Catfish: Romance Scams in 2019

romance scams
Those who met their current significant other in an age before the internet often have a difficult time understanding courtship rituals in the year 2019. Even Gen-Xers who are navigating the single-scape are having trouble adjusting to the way social media and dating apps have changed the way relationships are formed in the United States. The internet has done wonderful things for the world of dating. It reignites old flames who haven’t seen one another since high school. It connects the dots between persons across the country. It brings together people from different walks of life for a far more interesting relationship. However, the anonymity of the internet and the potential to be whoever you want to be has fostered one of the most devastating types of scams that exist in the modern world: romance scams perpetrated by “catfish”.

If you follow internet culture, you’re likely aware of a television program called Catfish: The TV Show. The series is a continuation of creator Nev Schulman’s 2010 documentary simply called Catfish. The film followed Schulman’s journey through his own romance scam, in which he met a woman online named Megan through the internet. Megan claimed to be many things: a singer, songwriter, recording artist, photographer, rancher, and part of an equally-talented family. Through their online communications, Megan led Schulman to believe that her life was very picturesque, but tragically, she has cancer. After several attempts to finally meet Megan fall apart, Schulman and his production team make the trip to finally meet her and begin to realize along the way she may not be truthful about her identity. At the end of the film, Schulman and his team realize that there was never really a Megan. “Megan” was actually a middle-aged woman, Angela, who used the internet as a way of connecting with others in her insular life. The online identity of “Megan” was not entirely fiction—Angela did have a daughter named Megan, who was a photographer, and she used that piece of personal information to craft a persona that endeared her to men and garnered their attention on the internet.

Schulman’s story is unfortunately a common thread in today’s dating world. In 2011, a year or so after the documentary first premiered, studies showed that males between the ages of 40-49 and females between the ages of 50-59, made up the largest age groups effected by romance scams or “catfishing,” 28% and 35% respectively. In most confidence tricks, frauds, or scams, the goal is simply to rob an individual of their finances for personal gain. Catfish scams are particularly ugly, because it’s not just about money. A catfish’s target is often a trusting person, a benevolent person who might experience low self-esteem, and is often isolated from others for a myriad of reasons. That person makes a real emotional investment in the catfish with the intention and belief that they will spend the rest of their lives with that person when they finally meet.

“Catfish” is an appropriate name for this particular type of scammer, according to Special Agent Christine Beining, a seasoned financial fraud agent in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Houston Division. Even as recently as 2017, she says, romance scams were on the rise. According to the FBI’s website, in 2016, almost 15,000 complaints which fell under the umbrella of romance or confidence frauds were reported, which is 2,500 more than 2015. Beining characterizes a catfish in search of their next victim as throwing a fishing line, “The internet makes this type of crime easy because you can pretend to be anybody you want to be. You can be anywhere in the world and victimize people. The perpetrators will reach out to a lot of people on various networking sites to find somebody who may be a good target. Then they use what the victims have on their profile pages and try to work those relationships and see which ones develop.” She offers the example of a Texas woman who ended up sending a cumulative $2 million to a man she met over the internet who “said all the right things.” This catfish targeted the woman’s strong Christian faith, and capitalized on it to pull her into his web of deception. When scammers are using social media maliciously, how are we supposed to protect ourselves in a digital age?

One of the country’s best fraud watchdogs, the Better Business Bureau, conducted a study last year on the current climate of catfishing and other forms of romance scams. While there are some discrepancies among experts as to what defines a romance scam, four consistent stages of a scam emerge:

Contacting the victims

Like Christine Beining said, scammers use the internet as a fishing line, and create dozens of fake profiles online with stolen pictures and manufactured personas in the hopes of netting a handful of victims. They hope to form an instant connection with that person, usually though an alleged common interest based on information mined from the victim’s page or profile. A potential victim loves to ski? Suddenly that catfish also loves to ski, even if they’ve never been. After a short period of time, the catfish will often encourage the victim to move the conversation somewhere else, like texting or another instant-messaging platform. This way, if their profiles are flagged by the social media platform as a scam, they will still be able to contact victims already in the net.

Grooming behavior

Like any predator, catfish depend on grooming behavior to make the victim emotionally dependent on them. They learn about the victim’s life—their hopes, their dreams, their traumas, their family drama. This stage varies in length, but it can often go on for months as catfish attempt to build an impenetrable wall of trust around themselves and the victim. Endearing themselves so allows them to have credibility in the victim’s eyes when those around them might arch an eyebrow. In a further effort to telegraph their integrity, scammers might also send gifts to their victim as one of the hallmarks of a “real relationship.” This is the stage where scammers begin to test the limits of the victim. They ask for small favors, such as small cash amounts to buy groceries or pay the phone bill so their communication may continue. It’s also the stage where catfish begin to further isolate their victims from their friends and family so the fraud can continue unhindered.

The sting

This is where the predator’s bites out of a victim’s income become exponentially larger. In any romance scam, one of the most common plot points in the catfish’s narrative is an “emergency,” likely with themselves or a close member of their family for which they need a cash sum. It can be anything from hospital bills to a plane ticket. If the victim is always willing to send money, there’s no way to predict when the fraud will conclude. This is also where victims can find themselves in real danger. Victims who are not simply bilked out of their savings can easily get mixed up in things such as money laundering or larger scale frauds as an oblivious participant. In the most severe cases, victims get on a plane to meet the catfish and meet a violent fate at the hands of a person they thought was their sweetheart.

The fraud continues

Exposing a catfish does not mean the nightmare is over. There has been an increase in brazen catfish continuing the fraud after being unmasked, this time disguised as a good Samaritan who just wants to help the victim get their money back. They can take the form of a law enforcement officer or a private investigator. The original persona might also reach back out sheepishly—admitting that they had been caught, but what originally began as a con to get their money has now become true love. It’s not uncommon for victims to allow the fraud to continue, having acknowledged the catfish’s honesty.

If you’ve been the victim of a catfish or romance scam, contact a private investigator today to learn how they can help you expose the culprit. A private investigator’s skill set and lack of any bureaucratic ladder will allow the case to move swiftly and efficiently, as time can be of the essence when chasing a scammer, who can quickly pack up their tent and move on to another social media platform before law enforcement pins them down. Private investigators also have no jurisdictional restrictions within their cases, which is particularly crucial to exposing scammers who are operating outside of the United States. They can also empower you with crucial knowledge to prevent the cycle of fraud from continuing. While it may sound callous to some, the best rule of thumb is to never send money to an individual you have never met in real life. After all, the internet is not a substitution for face-to-face interactions. If you’ve connected with someone over the internet, and the chemistry is there, a genuine person will not have the resistance and excuses that catfish often do when the jig is up.

Carie McMichael is the Media and Communication Specialist for Lauth Investigations International. For more information, please visit our website