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The consummate investigator.

Today's sleuth gleans more evidence from bytes than backroads.

THE COMPUTER, along with the information that it brings to our fingertips, is one of the greatest investigative tools developed in the twentieth century. Through the wonders of microchip technology, we can now search a multitude of databases and analyze many information items relevant to our investigations.

While the computer itself does not conduct investigations, it narrows the parameters of the search and focuses the investigation far faster than any means previously available. Technology enables investigators to network with other resources and agencies across the globe and provides an instantaneous transmission of data.

The most useful databases cover law enforcement, intelligence, industry, public record resources, credit bureaus, media, and scientific and technical information.

Law enforcement and intelligence. For many years, law enforcement agencies have collected criminal history information and other statistics that help identify criminals, determine their whereabouts, and provide intelligence on members involved in criminal acts, such as organized crime, theft rings, and serial killers. In recent years, new databases have been able to provide financial and modus operandi information to help law enforcement officers identify patterns of crimes in the hope of recognizing acts perpetrated nationwide by serial criminals.

National Crime Information Center (NCIC). The NCIC was developed as a tool for local law enforcement agencies to access criminal history information nationwide. The FBI organized, built, and maintains this database and collects criminal arrest, conviction, and intelligence information on wanted suspects, both in the United States and abroad.

The FBI also maintains the National Stolen Property Index, which includes stolen government and military property, and the National Fraudulent Index.

International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol). Interpol is a network of national central police bureaus in more than 155 member countries that share information with each other to assist law enforcement agencies in the detection and deterrence of international crime. Each bureau is an agency of that member country's government and serves as the liaison between that law enforcement agency and the Interpol network.

The types of crimes and investigations on which Interpol can provide information include the location of suspects, fugitives, and witnesses; criminal history checks; prevention of terrorism; stolen artwork; weapons, motor vehicle, and license plate traces; and driver's license checks.

El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC). EPIC is a proprietary database of U.S. Customs to assist the agency in documenting the foreign travel of individuals reentering the United States from a foreign port. The database is helpful in identifying parties who make frequent trips outside the United States and has led to the identification and arrest of thousands of people involved in theft, smuggling, and drug trafficking.

Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). FinCEN was developed as a division of the U.S. Department of the Treasury to provide public record information, financial analysis, and other computerized data on drug dealers and other high-dollar money laundering white-collar criminals. The database is maintained by the treasury department and used by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies and regulatory agencies to determine the financial activities of these individuals and locate assets in cases where white-collar criminals are suspected of financial fraud.

Some of the items searched through FinCEN include the following:

* Cash transaction reports (CTRs). CTRs provide information on individuals conducting financial transactions of $10,000 or more. Initially required of banks and financial institutions, this reporting requirement is now required of title companies, auto dealers, and others receiving cash funds in excess of $10,000.

* Real property. FinCEN searches the databases of public record providers to identify both tax assessment and real property ownership for individuals under investigation and their related parties. Investigations indicate that the majority of white-collar criminals hide real property in their spouses maiden name.

Where investigators once had to search real property ownership by township or county records, computerized resources have combined this information so that searches can be conducted by state, region, or almost nationally to identify real property ownership or taxation and ownership on a much larger scale.

* Publications. Using communication databases, FinCEN searches for newspaper, magazine, and other publication records of target individuals and their related companies to identify their location and activities. These searches often uncover a new business location and financial activities of white-collar criminals by reporting their stock transactions, purchases, sales, or other business activities reported by local and national publications.

* Intelligence. FinCEN collates the information of many databases to search for patterns of financial criminals that help identify new targets and provide clues to their current activities. By combining information on foreign travel, registration of new business entities, location of cash transactions and large financial purchases, the analysis can identify parties not discovered through traditional investigative means and trace the source of their funds back to illegal enterprises.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA maintains records reflecting the chain of ownership of all civil aircraft in the United States. These records include documents on the manufacture, sale, transfer, inspection, and modification of aircraft including the bill of sale, contracts, mortgages, and liens. The FAA also maintains records on pilots, aircraft mechanics, flight engineers, and other individuals that it certifies in flight safety positions.

Social Security Administration. This agency, which is within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, maintains the original applications for social security numbers to include date of birth, place of birth, sex, race, and parents' names and address at the time of application.

The first three digits of a social security number indicate its area of issuance. This is one of the best tools to determine where a person grew up and often gives another place to investigate for assets by identifying the area that many people return to or where their parents have lived and died.

U.S. Coast Guard. This agency maintains the names of merchant mariners on U.S. vessels and any investigative records pertaining to them. The Coast Guard also provides records on documented U.S. vessels, which includes most boats registered in this country that weigh more than 40 tons. When searching for a yacht, the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Inspection Office should be high on your list.

Industry. Outside of law enforcement, many industries create their own intelligence databases to help spot emerging trends and individuals who cause frequent financial losses.

Many of the nation's leading insurance companies contribute claim information to computer bureaus that collate and merge the information to identify frequent claimants and locations of claims.

One way insurers identify crime rings is by determining the existence of frequent or multiple claims at a single location. This search pattern defeats the use of multiple names and the use of third parties in claims fraud by identifying and examining frequent claims' addresses to determine the true owner or users of the address and comparing them against claim files.

Public record resources. Every city, county, state, and federal jurisdiction maintains records of the activities of their agencies and the people who act within their system. These public records are the largest database of information in the United States. This database provides information on literally everyone in the United States, far exceeding criminal records, which only include one out of five individuals.

The public records provide a history of the personal, business, litigation, and financial activities of citizens and noncitizens alike, who must register their deeds and activities through these public records systems.

The public record system maintains records in the following fields:

Personal identification and location. Records, such as voter registration and marriage and driver's license registrations, can often provide the full legal name, current and prior address, date of birth, and social security number of individuals who file for these documents. These records are easily obtainable through county or state agencies. They provide the fastest and most cost-effective means available of locating individuals or identifying their current or former addresses.

Business affiliations. Records of the Secretary of State Corporate Division, County Assumed Name Filings, and Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) provide the names of people registering business entities and the identity of businesses registered by individuals or other companies. The records reveal the name and address of financial institutions and other creditors that conducted financial transactions with a party obtaining credit or financing. UCC records also provide a documentation of collateral for loans that identify and locate the existence of those assets.

Litigation. The databases of people involved in lawsuits, both criminal and civil, provide valuable information to the investigator seeking former associates, witnesses, or third parties with knowledge of the activities of investigation targets.

These records provide a detailed list of the people who have personal, business, and financial grudges against a subject under investigation. This database is extensive, as almost every individual in the country is either a plaintiff, defendant, or witness in civil case litigation sometime in his or her lifetime.

The types of cases that encompass civil litigation include actions for divorce, nonpayment of debt, breach of contract, loan default, injury claims, and disputes over real or imagined wrongs.

Both the civil and criminal records of lawsuits in litigation are public records, available to any interested party. Every investigator should become familiar with the criminal and civil courthouses and the records they contain because these files often provide detailed information that is invaluable in researching the background of their subjects.

Asset ownership. To own or control property in this country, the purchaser of the property must fill out a long list of documents that provide a clear trail for the financial investigator. From the purchase of the property, often conducted at a title company, to the payment of taxes through the county tax assessor and the filing of the real property deed at the county recorder's office, each step provides the investigator with a document that details the date, parties, and financial parameters of the transaction conducted.

The tax assessor and the county recorder records are now computerized in many states and can quickly be accessed through a database that will provide the identification of counties in which the party owns or pays taxes on property. This resource provides the investigator with the location to obtain the documents and records that detail the property transaction's full history.

Another record often overlooked by financial investigators is the county probate record, the document source that details the assets and liabilities of parties through the distribution of their estate. In cases where inheritance is an issue in establishing someone's true net worth, the probate records are often the best resource to determine the extent of assets and liabilities of a person at the time of his or her death and the partitioning of the estate to the heirs.

Where investigators frequently spent hours poring over huge handwritten volumes in courthouses, public information resellers like Prentice Hall On-Line have made a new industry of computerizing and collating these public record transactions.

Credit bureaus. Once an industry of mom-and-pop collection agencies, today's credit bureaus are dominated by three giant superbureaus that collect credit transactions and financial data on almost every person in America.

The big three bureaus, TRW, TransUnion, and Equifax, have grown by acquiring the networks of small local agencies and merging them into a national network. The information that the credit bureaus have comes from local and national businesses, government agencies, insurance companies, and financial institutions.

All three big credit bureaus have information on millions of people, but each has an area of the country in which it has greater information coverage than its competitors. In the western states, TRW has the greatest coverage, with TransUnion having the most complete data in the central states, and Equifax covering the eastern seaboard. Often, an investigator is wise to access all three of these databases to make sure that he or she acquires the most current information on a person.

Credit bureaus issue or sell a variety of reports that provide information outside of the typical credit status information--reports that do not fall under the guidelines of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and do not require a release of information authorization or generate a credit inquiry notification informing the credit subject of the investigator's request for information.

The types of reports provided by most credit reporting agencies include a social security trace, which is a search conducted to determine any name and address used by individuals that are recorded under a specific social security number. This search provides the various names and addresses reported to that social security number on credit applications and inquiries anywhere in the credit bureau system. This search is the most cost-effective electronic means of locating individuals. It has a hit rate of more than 90 percent to a past or current address and aliases used by the subject.

An atlas search provides a computer-generated printout of the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of homes or businesses surrounding the subject's location.

A number of new databases are now coming on-line that enhance this information by matching addresses to telephone numbers.

Credit bureaus are now acquiring additional databases that contain information such as tax assessment records, postal change of addresses, and addresses reported to various government agencies that are sold by the government to these credit bureaus.

Communications and media.

The power of the written word has grown tremendously in the last ten years through the advent of the computer. The mass of information reported in newspapers and periodicals is now instantly available and can be accessed by name or subject by city, region, national, or international means.

World-class con artists can no longer outrun their past and stay ahead of their reputation by outrunning the word-of-mouth trail they leave in their wake. In almost every jurisdiction, the local media has a tremendous resource of information that can enhance the investigator's capability dramatically.

As more of these regional data collectors merge their information into national resellers like Prentice Hall On-line, DIALOG, and LEXIS/NEXIS, the ease and cost of searching for information and assets will improve. A brief list of some of the companies offering on-line materials is as follows:

DataTimes Corporation, Oklahoma City, OK (800/642-2525). DataTimes is a major periodical and business information database with a great deal of information. It provides information both nationally and internationally. It also provides access to the Dow Jones News Retrieval Service.

Information Access Company, Foster City, CA (800/227-8431). Information Access provides Magazine Index, a database of more than 370,000 major American and Canadian magazines dating from 1979 to the present. Newssearch, the same firm, is a database that includes more than 400 magazines, 700 law journals and newspapers, 1,500 trade journals, and five major newspapers. This database maintains files that go back into the 1970s. Both Magazine Index and Newssearch can be accessed through a subscription from a vendor like DIALOG.

Mead Data Central, Inc., Dayton, OH (800/227-4908). This company offers a database on major newspapers, legal, government, and other publications online. Its two most widely used databases are LEXIS, a large, full-text legal database containing cases from federal and state courts, and NEXIS, a full-text database of general, business, and financial news and information from more than 150 newspapers, with data dating from 1975 to the present.

NewsNet, Inc., Bryn Mawr, PA (215/527-8030). NewsNet is a database that maintains files through major newspapers, government publications, and magazines that is broken down by sources and subjects. The topics include advertising, automotive, marketing, public relations, real estate, and social sciences.

Standard and Poor's, New York, NY (212/208-8622). This company provides information about 36,000 corporations and 340,000 key executives, with more than 74,000 profile biographies. Its databases also provide background and financial information on banks, savings and loans, and other financial institutions.

VU/TEXT Information Services, Inc., Philadelphia, PA (800/323-2940). VU/TEXT is a database that contains information from more than 500 publications that help locate articles on individuals and businesses throughout the United States.

Scientific databases. The advancement of scientific information and learning has been so rapid in recent years that it is only through the use of computers that scientists could keep up with the tremendous growth of knowledge available. This burst of knowledge has been electronically collated, processed, and stored and is now for sale for information resellers, such as DIALOG, and Mead Data Central, companies that offer hundreds of technical information menus, easily accessible by subject, circumstances, or party being researched.

DIALOG, Palo Alto, CA (800/334-2564). Offering more than 560 databases, this company maintains more than 80 million records concerning directory, business, and financial data. Its records maintain information on many scientific and technical fields, as well as providing access to major communication and directory service databases.

Dun & Bradstreet Information Services, Parsippany, NJ (800/234-DUNS). This company provides on-line information regarding the financial history of corporations. The only caveat is that most of the information is self-reported except for corporate and UCC records. The company also provides microfiche containing listings that show business identities through assumed name corporate records available nationwide.

Metronet, Lombard, IL (800/927-2238). This is an on-line system maintained by Metromail Corporation. Metronet provides on-line access to national consumer and change-of-address databases for address verification, telephone look up, and neighbor look up.

Scorpio, Washington, D.C. (202/707-5700). This research service, which is accessed through the Congressional Research Service, contains numerous databases that provide abstracts of important government information. It includes the Library of Congress Computerized Catalog, which contains all books written in English since 1978. The Bibliographic Citation File of selected citations to journal articles from 1976 to present, of interest to Congress, can also be helpful.

The Congressional Status Files maintain information searched by subject or by bill number to determine the status of any bill. The National Referral Center Master File is a database consisting of records of 14,500 trade organizations and professional societies and lobbies. The Securities Information Center is a database operated by Itel Corporation under contract with the SEC to collate records regarding bad securities and other financial records relating to the banking and brokerage business.

Databases offered in these fields include agricultural, biographical, chemical, legal, medical, and technical, to mention just a few of the more than 500 fields of knowledge offered to subscribers. These databases draw their information from professional and technical journals, professional papers, graduate theses, and government studies related to specific fields. Through these databases, the on-line investigator can quickly accumulate the technical knowledge necessary to investigate a case successfully.

Edmund J. Pankau, CPP, CLI (Certified Legal Investigator), CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner), is chief executive officer of Intertect, Inc., in Houston, Texas. He is a member of the ASIS Standing Committee on Insurance Fraud and regent of the National Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. This article is excerpted from his upcoming book, Make $100,000 a Year (and More) as a Private Investigator.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:computer technology in law enforcement and intelligence
Author:Pankau, Edmund J.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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