In conducting investigations online the use of social media is an invaluable tool. I doubt that any investigator would disagree with me that these days a suspect’s online profiles are a virtual dumpster. You may be thinking, “A dumpster? What’s so great about a smelly dumpster?”. Early in my career a dumpster was pure gold. Before the Internet was “a thing” people would throw away everything including their paper phone bills, store receipts, typewritten letters, etc. As long as the trash was in the public domain and being discarded it could be used as evidence, or just simply intelligence. All this could be obtained without a warrant.
Now enter the digital age where things that would have ended up in the trash now remains online indefinitely. There is a treasure trove of intelligence that people freely toss into plain sight like their day old garbage. Some of these seemingly innocuous details are assets, personal associations, business relationships, and employment.
You may think that just because your online profile is set to private or limited that there isn’t much that can be found. This is a false sense of security. When most privacy minded people set up their online profiles, they make it so only their “friends” or “connections” can see their most private details. This is especially true on popular social hubs such as Facebook and Linkedin. I too have my profiles set to “private”. However, I am aware of the flaw in this method of false privacy and am always vigilant.
Someone with deception in mind can gain entry to your online profile data the same way a criminal gains entry into a building. An inside man (or woman). Now you may not think of your business colleague or your Aunt Sally as an inside man, but they very well could be. When I investigate someone online, very rarely do I come at them head on. The head-on method not only offers less opportunity, it lets the suspect see you coming. Rather then expose yourself, it is better to connect with Aunt Sally or a co-worker, thus taking the Lateral Approach. You see more often than not, being a “friend of a friend” on a social network allows you to see more information on your original target without actually being connected to them. Being friends with the suspect’s Aunt Sally may now allow you to see their full friends list or connections, posts, contact info and employment. If their profile is still locked down, then there is always the option of sending a friend request to the suspect now that you have a connection in common. This connection makes you less of an unknown to that person. After all, if Aunt Sally knows you how bad could you really be?
I would highly recommend prior to conducting any online investigation that you not only hide your IP address by using a proxy service, but that you also have examiner or undercover accounts created on all popular social networks.
Keep following those virtual breadcrumbs. ~ Hi-Tech P.I.