My bewildered colleague, who wanted to observe a digital investigation, struggled to comprehend my focus on the Facebook profile of a seemingly unimportant woman. I found her by reversing the phone number of a current tenant living where the subject allegedly resided. However, no obvious links between the two individuals existed: major age gap, different last names, and no shared email addresses or phone numbers. Due to the age and immigration status of the subject, little could be discovered via the use of online databases. Upon my fourth visit to the woman’s Facebook profile, my colleague, exasperated by what he felt to be a waste of time, protested by saying, “This woman is nothing more than a tenant, with no relevance to the case.” They wandered off, apparently bored by my methods. Twenty minutes later, I determined, and then confirmed, the woman to be the mother of the subject, and the foundation upon which I built my entire investigation.
Whether you’re an anti-money laundering specialist, a private investigator, or in law enforcement, investigating insurance claims or tracking terrorists, the staples of investigative methodology, critical thinking, and strategic intelligence remain the same. All cases begin with an unreliable piece of the puzzle. Maybe it’s a referral from an insurance company, a report filed online, or a call placed by a frantic member of the public. The initial data given to you must remain suspect until its credibility is confirmed. No data, no matter how reliable the source, can be assumed as gospel truth until it has been vetted, cross-examined, and proven to be true.