Surveillance capitalism has multiplied the number of eyes on us at all times. Ubiquity of security cameras, traffic cameras, and cell phones with cameras have made it possible for law enforcement to track a suspect’s movements for entire city blocks. And that’s not counting the omnipresent eye of social media, where photo and geo tags can assist law enforcement and private investigators with locating suspects, witnesses, and collect information about a location without having to leave the comfort of their offices in what is now called a “geosocial investigation.”
Before the age of geo-data on social media, employees who called off work on Friday to enjoy a three-day weekend in Atlantic City had no fears of being discovered on Monday by a nosy employer who checked their social media. When social media was in its formative years, a private investigator would be lucky to be scraping the social media of a subject who was indiscriminate about what they chose to post on their Myspace page. Nowadays, employees have to be more cautious regarding posts about their out-of-work activities than ever, with many employees maintaining two Facebook pages—a work Facebook populated by posts that would not offend the most fastidious human resource employee, and a personal Facebook where employees reveal themselves, warts and all, with no regard for who might see the pages. Now, the new reality of surveillance capitalism has changed the world of third-party investigations forever with the assistance of geosocial investigations.
Geosocial investigations are a subset of social media investigations, where the focus of the research centers around a place, rather than a single individual. After all, if you fraudulently submit an FMLA claim that prevents you from working, you’d be very careful not to post any pictures of yourself enjoying vigorous activities, like yard work or hiking. However, if you’re in a group of individuals—all with smartphones and social media profiles of their own—it’s nearly impossible to prevent all pictures of yourself from seeing the light of the internet. This newfound culture of hypervigilance and surveillance may sound like it’s harder for law enforcement and private investigators to squeeze blood from the stone of social media, but where individuals might be protective of their own information online, their friends and relatives may not.
Deriving information on a subject from the social media profiles of their friends and family is a major tenant of geosocial investigations. Exposure online is not limited to pictures. Social media widgets that allow users to check in at specific locations, or add geotags to the photos they post, are also exposing malingering employees during internal investigations. Law enforcement can use this technology to search for social media posts geotagged at the time of an auto-accident in order to locate witnesses. By the same token, they can use it to identify people who are posting in restricted areas where civilians are not allowed. The effect of this technology allows a private investigator to “crowdsource” the information, saving themselves hours of tracking down witnesses and interviewing them.
Geo-social investigations are just one consequence of the world’s newfound surveillance capitalism. As the technology continues to mature and become more sophisticated, social media will continue to expose criminals and malingerers. Employers will see a rise in the exposure of employees abusing FMLA claims. Former employees violating non-compete agreements will be exposed before they have a chance to get a new business venture off the ground. Law enforcement and private investigators will be able to crowdsource investigations with the use of geo-social data.
Carie McMichael is the Media and Communications Specialist for Lauth Investigations International. For more information please visit our website.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with meeting someone online; more and more people are meeting that way each year. However, it’s important to know how to vet someone you have met online—it’s not as easy as with people you meet in person. Read these quick tips about how to know who you meet online.
1. Authenticate Their Social Media Profiles
The first-step when you meet someone online should be to authenticate their social media profiles. Essentially, you should be looking to confirm that the person you have met is the person depicted in the profile, and that the person depicted in the profile is a real person.
Start by combing over the social media profile where you met the individual. For instance, if you met them on Facebook, check to see how many friends they have. Someone with very few friends may just be new to Facebook, but often times its a red-flag that the owner of the profile could be suspicious. See how many photos they have posted to the account. Users with only one photo, a graphic instead of a photo, or no photo at all may have something to hide. If they do have photos of themselves, compare the photos to make sure that they are the same person from photo to photo. Check to see if they post to their timeline often, but more importantly, check to see if other people are posting on their timeline. Signs of a two-way conversation or other engagement with users can be an indication that the person is, in fact, real.
Try to find other social media platforms that the individual is using. Compare the profiles and come to a conclusion about whether or not the person is a fake. Once you have determined the user is a real person, use information gleaned from their social media profiles about the safest way to proceed.
When it comes to social media profiles, you are looking for substance. If there is a lack of substance or the profile seems otherwise shady—stay away.
Remember, successfully authenticating their social media accounts is only the first-step. You may have confirmed that they are who they say they are, but, like with any other stranger, it is still important to get the know them before giving them your trust.
2. Ask The Right Questions
Getting to know someone is hard, right? Knowing what to ask is important when meeting people in general, but especially so when meeting people online.
The traditional 5 W’s (who, what, where, when, and why) go a long way towards vetting someone you meet online:
Who are they? Not just their name, but ask them who are they as a person. What drives them? What to do they do? For a living, for fun, on Sunday afternoons, anything—personal questions are a good way to find out if a person is genuine. Where are they from? Do they live far away from their family and friends, or are they well integrated into their community? When did they move to the area? Why?
Asking smart questions, and paying close attention to their answers, can be extremely helpful when trying to understand if a given individual is genuine. Be intensely aware of any inconsistencies in their answers. Find clever ways to ask the same question with different phrasing—see if they are consistent and confident when talking about themselves during your conversations.
3. Choose the Safer Apps
One of the best ways to ensure safety while using social media online is to make sure that you are using the safer social media platforms. There are no social media outlets that are inherently unsafe, but there are certain features on some platforms that make them more attractive to wrongdoers.
Be aware of the privacy and security features of each social media platform you use. Anonymous messaging apps like Kik, among others, are a popular social media platform for predators. A good rule of thumb to follow: if the level of user anonymity is high on a particular social platform, it is more likely that individuals interested in remaining anonymous will use the platform.
Ever thought of talking to someone using FaceTime instead of messengers or phone calls? FaceTime allows you to see who you are talking to, confirm that they match their online profiles, and gives you the ability to read their facial expressions during your conversations. FaceTime, as a conversational app, lets the user interact with others more like they do in the real world. Try asking the person you have met online if they would like to use FaceTime, Skype, or another video streaming app instead of using messengers or phone calls.
4. Try Meeting People Who Live Locally
In an increasingly global society, physical geography plays a smaller and smaller role in the people we meet and interact with. There is nothing wrong with that, but it does make it harder to know if the people we are talking to are who they say they are. It is much easier when the person you’ve met online lives locally. Check to see if they like community gathering places, restaurants, and events in your area. See if they have photos taken locally—if they do, it’s more likely that they are real, and didn’t just pull the photos off of the internet.
Not only can it make vetting their social media easier, but it also gives you the option to meet-up in person at some point. This should be done safely, as we will discuss in tip number 5, but it is certainly one of the best tools to use when determining a given individual’s motives and whether their intentions are genuine or not.
5. Meet Somewhere Public and Bring a Friend
Most people already know that it is best to meet someone for the first time in a public place. Meeting up in a dark ally is bad—for obvious reasons. A public coffee house, restaurant, or otherwise busy establishment is a much better option. But still, there are a few things that you can do to make your meet even safer.
Consider bringing along a friend when you first meet someone. Ask them if they would be willing to bring a friend along as well—as a double date of sorts. If that isn’t an option, ask a friend if they would be willing to go with you early to the coffee shop or restaurant. Having a friend at a nearby table can make you feel more comfortable meeting a stranger. A friend can also monitor your exit from the establishment—as this is perhaps the most dangerous part of meeting someone in a public place. Once you have entered your vehicle and safely left, your friend’s job is done.
This may seem a bit extreme, and is not necessary in all situations, but it’s an easy and effective preventative measure. Bringing a friend along is a great idea—especially if you are meeting someone for the first time.
Aaron Snyder, Writer, Lauth Investigations Blog
Any experienced private investigator will tell you that social media has become one of the most powerful tools for things like locating missing people and digging up any necessary information. While hiring a professional will always net the best results, there are some actions that even a novice can use to get the ball rolling on a social media investigation before having to bring in an expert. Let’s take a look.
Start with Google. The easiest place to begin a social media search is through the popular search engine Google. A quick check may reveal links to all the different social networks your target is using, as well as other interactions and mentions on the web. If you’re not getting the results you’re looking for, try searching different variations of the name.
Check out Knowem. This nifty social search engine allows you to conduct an instant search of more than 500 different social networks. While it’s primary purpose is to locate brand information, it can also be used to search peoples’ names as well as usernames they may have on various social platforms.
Use Facebook’s “Find Friends” feature. A great place to start is by conducting a search on Facebook through the platform’s “Find Friends” feature. You can narrow your search by geographic location, schools attended, employers and more. Of course, the results you get will ultimately depend on the person’s privacy settings.
Try doing a reverse image search. There are several different platforms that allow you to upload or include a URL to a photo and conduct a reverse search. (A popular one is called TinEye.) If you have a photograph of the person you’re trying to locate, you may be able to uncover information this way.
Don’t forget Instagram. Many times people forget about other social media sites like Instagram. This photo sharing app allows you to conduct a search by username and just regular name. It might be a shot in the dark, but with over 300 million monthly active users, it’s worth a shot.
Of course, sometimes locating a person via the internet simply isn’t possible for a layperson, particularly if the target has taken conscious measures to ensure they aren’t found. If you’ve tried all of the suggestions above and are still coming up empty, you may want to consider enlisting the help of an experienced private investigator. Contact us today to learn how we can help you locate the person or persons you need to find.