Social media has become an essential research tool for private investigators, but caution is paramount when it comes to identifying people through online profiles, says Jim Downs, managing director of private investigative firm MKD International Inc.
“Social media searches should be treated as an investigative tool only and cannot be totally relied on,” says Downs. For example, he explains, investigators have to be cautious when relying on social media sites for identification purposes, as various users can go by the same name, or even a fictitious name.
Still, Downs says MKD International uses tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, and says researching information on these sites has proven to be an effective way to locate and identify people through their public online profiles.
“Even the smallest piece of information obtained from these social media sites could be especially useful in an insurance or fraud-related investigation, particularly as an investigative tool to aid in surveillance on a particular person,” he says.
“As an example, if a person of interest has an open Facebook profile and he or she has posted a picture of him/herself, MKD will be able to access the photograph and supply it to the surveillance investigator. The surveillance investigator will then use this photo to positively identify the person of interest while conducting surveillance,” adds Downs.
Not only do private investigative firms capitalize on social media outlets as investigative tools, he explains, but law enforcement also frequently uses social media as demonstrated in the recent Tim Bosma and Boston bombing investigations.
In compliance with privacy policies, Downs says the company has used social media to search for a person’s name, date of birth, location, schools attended, places of employment, possible relatives and friends, photographs, alias names, places the person may frequent, and even likes, dislikes and hobbies that can assist in developing a profile on a subject.
“On rare occasions, even an admission of a committed act is disclosed,” he adds.