Suspicious about an applicant’s veracity, but can’t quite figure out why?
Trying to decide whether to assign a case to a private investigator?
Questioning whether your hunch can justify the costs of hiring your favorite gumshoe?
Consider saving lots of money by performing your own 15-minute background check…for free! Internet searches are quickly becoming an easy, effective, and inexpensive (not to mention…FUN!) way of researching an applicant’s background and verifying their credibility.
She’s Doing What?
The wealth of information readily available on the internet first became clear to me last year while defending the orthopedic/psych case of “Jill,” 1 Jill had happily collected TD for over a year and seemed likely to continue on this course for a long while. Jill had provided a local cell phone number in her contact information, but almost immediately retracted the number—stating it was a “mistake”—and replaced it with what she described as her “real” number.
Huh? “Real” phone number? As opposed to what…a “fake” one? This seemed suspect, but what did it mean?
Shortly after the phone number interaction, a psychiatric report made mention of the fact that Jill had “long ago” worked as an “escort.” 2 Interesting! This quickly led to speculation that the “mistake” phone number was really a “work” number. Rather than hire a private investigator to stake out Jill’s apartment, we plugged the “mistake” number into various web sites advertising adult companionship. Within minutes we struck gold! At Craigslist.org’s now infamous “adult services” page, Jill’s cell phone number was listed as the number to call for various unchaste activities…all available for a price! Jill was indeed supplementing her temporary disability checks! Confirming Jill’s connection to these ads required no expensive investigation: her postings also included revealing pictures of her face…among other things…that she regularly updated.
Armed with the fruits of a 15-minute amateur background check demonstrated (a) an undeclared income stream, (b) likely tax evasion (a source of non-industrial stress?), and (c) an ability to run and manage a thriving business while simultaneously misrepresenting to physicians and the claims adjuster that she was totally incapacitated. Not surprisingly, the workers’ compensation matter was quickly and economically resolved!
Spies Like Us
Ready to do a little “snooping” on your own? Select a couple of your favorite search engines (I personally prefer Google.com and Bing.com), and plug in any relevant identifying information: names, addresses, phone numbers—these readily available tidbits are your keys to an applicant’s past and current activities.
Consider scouting around in…
- Phone Directories:
Got a phone number (like Jill’s!) that your applicant uses? Interested in knowing whether that number is associated with a different name, an alternative address, and/or is linked to a business? Type it in and push “search”!
- Facebook:Facebook is a global social networking website on which users can add friends and send them messages. Millions of folks regularly post updates and detailed “personal profiles”—often with pictures—detailing their activities. Applicant is TTD and claims he/she can’t even perform light duty? A Facebook posting describing a recent camping trip, cross-country drive, dance class, etc., may be just what you need to get that TD terminated and a problem file resolved (not to mention a fraud referral picked-up by the local District Attorney!).I recently located a Facebook page that was operated by the deceased spouse of a beneficiary/claimant. A review of that page quickly demonstrated that the decedent was a bit of a “player” and far from truthful (information that was both highly relevant and helpful in resolving the case).
Facebook accounts have a default privacy setting that will allow people to access a poster’s page, even if the poster and viewer/investigator are not linked as “friends.” If, on the other hand, the applicant’s webpage security setting requires that you obtain permission to obtain access, consider obtaining an Order Compelling applicant to allow access to his/her webpage, as well as any/all history of the page. Consider also requesting that the order mandate that applicant not update or alter the page in any way pending the investigation.
- Local Newspapers:
California has hundreds of newspapers and most are local (very) papers. 3 Many of these newspapers permit free access and a wonderful “archives” search engine. Interested in reading an article about your claimant’s recent arrest or golf tournament win? The local paper’s police blotter and sports page often provide fascinating—and free—reading for the gumshoe-on-a-budget like you!
- There’s No Place Like Home:
An applicant’s home address is a valuable piece of information to search online. Is or was the home recently listed for sale? Recently sold? Being prepared for sale? Is a business name associated with that address?
- Order In The Court:
Has your claimant been naughty? Find out by searching the local “Court Clerk” and “Court Index,” a search that usually costs little to nothing.
- Take a Drive Through the Neighborhood:
What does applicant’s residence look like? Is there a lot of activity? Would it be a good place to assign an investigator to watch, or would your P.I.-for-hire stick out like a sore thumb? All of these questions can easily be answered—for free—using Google’s “Street View.” Google.com says, “We like to think of Street View as being the last zoom layer on the map— when you’ve zoomed all the way in you find yourself virtually standing on the street.” 4 Alternatively, run your applicant’s name on www.zabasearch.com or www.pipl.com (self described as “the most comprehensive people search on the web”) for similar maps and related information about your subject.
Admit it…you’re just dying to snoop around!
Donald R. Barthel is a founding partner of Bradford & Barthel, LLP, as well as B&B’s Rating & File Consultation Services. Mr. Barthel is an acknowledged expert regarding the AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment and the 2005 PDRS. Much of his time is dedicated to teaching these topics to adjusters, human resource directors, employer representatives, attorneys, and physicians throughout California and the United States. Have a PDRS or AMA Guides question? Call Don Barthel at (916) 996-1263 or email him at email@example.com.
1 Name changed to protect the guilty!
2 This did not mean that she was impersonating a more expensive version of the Ford Motor Company’s compact vehicle.
3 For a statewide list that includes daily, non-daily, and even “alternative” newspapers, go to http://newslink.org/CAnews.html.
4 http://maps.google.com/help/maps/streetview/using-street-view.html, November 30, 2009
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