An Investigator's Checklist of Vital Information Sources

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Re-published with permission from White-Collar Crime Fighter,

The bedrock of any effective fraud investigation is a search pattern that covers the essential steps for information gathering...documentation of the fraud and calculation of the loss—to both the client and to a court of law.

Where to Start

With most cases, we investigators must start with the information that is readily available and then develop clues and evidence as more and more information is discovered. Through the investigative and discovery process—including interviews of witnesses and tracking the all-important paper trail of the crime—we frequently find that the evidence eventually narrows down the list of suspects or points to a particular individual. To achieve this goal efficiently, the following steps should be followed as closely as possible...

  1. Examine in-house sources. The main ones include...
    • Personnel files. Employee files will usually give dates of hire and identifying information such as date of birth, Social Security Number, telephone numbers, names of relatives and related parties, as well as the best individual to contact (look at the "In case of Emergency, notify" section of their job application).
    • Company records, notes and statements. Employment memoranda, performance evaluations and records of complaints often reveal a pattern of prior problems and issues within the company, and a history of the work activities of suspects.
    • Prior audit and investigative files. Many times, investigators find that the employer has investigated the suspects for other issues or crimes and the findings are in their personnel files.
    • Expense accounts. These documents often provide useful travel history and information, clues to spending habits and leads to suspects' banking and financial services institutions (through the cashing of checks).
    • Financial disclosure statements. Some employment positions, particularly elected ones, require full financial disclosure of assets and business relationships.
  2. Review public record resources. Experienced fraud investigators typically sift through...
    • Voter registration records. This will verify a suspect's legal name, date of birth, home address, Social Security Number and often unlisted telephone numbers. These files often include names and addresses of registered family members and relatives as well.
    • Marriage licenses. These documents provide married and maiden names, as well as verification of other identifying information listed above.
    • Uniform Commercial Code. When money is borrowed, the lender files this document to secure his interest in the collateral of the borrower. The lender may also have a loan application and financial statement of the person borrowing money, which may produce further financial leads.
    • Litigation history. All litigation records--both criminal and civil--are public and can be reviewed at any local court record center. These records usually contain valuable detailed information about a suspect's prior legal troubles, as well as a great deal of personal and financial information about the suspect.
    • Real estate records. These county records document the sales and purchase of properties as well as liens and mortgages and the parties to these transactions.
    • Professional associations and licensing boards. These agencies license, regulate and offer professional certification and a forum for complaints and grievances about members of their profession, sport or industry.
    • The Internet. Today, many people can be located on the World Wide Web. A suspect's real name as well as his "screen" or code name is usually easy to find. New software can monitor a suspect's on-line activities and document specific Internet use.
    • Corporate and business identity information. The Secretary of State's office in every state capital files and maintains the computer records of incorporation for the entire state.
    • National property/tax records. To trace assets, transfers and trusts, this is your best resource.
    • Newspapers and periodicals. Almost anything published today can be found on a computer and researched by name, subject or source.
  3. Outside records—requiring subpoena. Once you have obtained all available internal records and publicly accessible information, it's time to reach out for those records that can be obtained by a subpoena or interrogatory. For example...
    • Telephone records. Obtain these records for the individual's residence, business, cell phone and hotel stays. These records represent the best source for identifying the people the suspect does business with...and where. (Cell phone records are especially valuable because they record local and long-distance calls, both incoming and outgoing.)
    • Bank statements. These records document money coming in, going out and being transferred to and from a suspect's account, wherever it may be.
    • Travel records. Travel agencies, airlines, and U.S. Customs keep excellent records of domestic and foreign travel history--often pointing to new places to investigate. Another source for this information is your subject's passport. Require suspects to bring their passports to interviews.
    • Records from hotels, car rental agencies and other businesses that require a credit card to do business. Almost everyone has at least one credit card, making them an excellent source of financial and travel information.

Last But Not Least: Interview Knowledgeable Parties

Once all of the available records are accumulated, the final step in most white-collar crime investigations is to interview people with knowledge of the facts and circumstances of the case.

Why save this step for last? Because the more information you have before you interview someone, the more likely you are to know what questions to ask and what knowledge the interviewee has.

Also--by the time you get to this point, you should have a pretty good idea who the target of the investigation is, and who may have worked with him or her. Typical interviewee candidates include...

  • Current and former employees and associates.
  • Former spouse and family members.
  • Enemies. Examine litigation records and find people who have sued or been sued by your suspect. They often know where the real dirt is.

Reminder: Before you accuse, charge or arrest someone for a crime you believe he or she committed, be sure you have exhausted all of the potential avenues for investigation. Far too often, I have seen a client rush into an accusation without having the facts. A thorough professional investigation almost always prevents mistaken accusations and other serious legal problems.

White-Collar Crime Fighter source: Edmund J. Pankau, a nationally renowned author, CPP, CLI, DABFE (Diplomate, American Board Forensic Examiners), President of Pankau Consulting, a Houston-based international security consulting agency.

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