Knowledge and Insights

Using Social Media as an Investigative Tool

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Traditionally, social media was known as a web-based platform that allowed users to create, share or exchange information through virtual communities and networks. Today, the number and types of social media, and the people using them, continue to rise. It has been found, however, that employees often present a very different persona on social media than they do in their corporate work place. Despite legitimate privacy or employment concerns, many people communicate openly and regularly through various social media forums, revealing intimate details about their lives or places of business that can be critical to a work place investigation or litigation, including those stemming from employee dishonesty, conflicts of interest and vendor fraud allegations.

When a work place investigation or litigation commences and target employees are identified, document retention and related e-discovery processes ensue. Each investigative target’s hard drive will likely be imaged and analyzed, along with corporate emails, texts and instant messages. However, since employees are becoming more careful about their internal communications, especially on corporate devices, traditional e-discovery techniques may be less probative today than they once were.

As a result, properly performed social media analytics can add clarity to an investigator’s leads as well as context to an attorney’s legal strategy, especially during settlement negotiations. Expanding your investigative scope to include social media research to identify previously unknown relationships and potentially relevant social media commentary can help inform the employer and make the overall investigative process more productive.

In one case, a social media investigation was performed on a trusted employee suspected of establishing a fictitious vendor in his employer’s vendor master file, in furtherance of a scheme to bill the employer for services never rendered. The investigation revealed a long-standing relationship between the suspect employee and the purported owner of the fictitious vendor, ultimately uncovering a multi-million-dollar embezzlement spanning almost a decade.

In another instance, our focused social media inquisitions proved useful to the board of trustees of a large condominium association in connection with their investigation into allegations of improper cash disbursements, upon receipt of substantial insurance proceeds from severe hurricane damage and related flooding claims.

As the public’s tendency for sharing connections and posting comments and information on social media continues to rise, the use of social media as an investigative tool can unveil important insights about an employee and may entitle the employer to an affirmative defense should wrongful termination claims be brought in the future.

Mercadien’s Forensic & Litigation Support Services Group has years of experience providing efficient and discreet fraud investigation and financial forensic services to all types of clients. Contact me at or 609-689-2319 to learn if our sound methodologies and cost-effective strategies can help you or your business handle a difficult situation.