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Skip Tracing: Social Media Tools and Tricks

At PACES 2016 (the PSACO Annual Conference and Educational Seminar), the focus was on skip tracing. The conference, a skip tracing symposium called The Art of Skip Tracing, covered everything from the basics to advanced skip tracing tips.

JJ Goulbourne, the deputy sheriff of Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office, presented “Tracking Persons to be Located/Served and Conducting Investigations: Use of Social Media”. Goulbourne gave an in-depth look at social media and its value as an investigative tool. He provided impressive statistics and information that is powerful for online skip tracing.

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  • 1-hour course
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  • Basic and advanced social media investigations
  • Gathering information for court presentations
  • Tools and resources

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Social media is a valuable investigative tool when seeking evidence or information about individuals or cases including missing persons, wanted persons, gang participation and recruitment, and crimes perpetrated online such as cyberbullying or identity theft.

A vast amount of information about criminal activities is available online through videos, photos, and texts posted by criminal and witnesses.

The History of Social Media

  • 1999 - “Friends Reunited” was the first online social network
  • 2006 - Twitter launched, Facebook opens to the public, Google has more than 25 Billion pages
  • 2009 - ¼ of the world population is on the Internet
  • 2011 - 200 Million FB users, 65 Million Tweets each day, 2 Billion daily visits to YouTube

Social login preference is relevant as well. A social login preference means you are logging into an app or website from another app. The top three social login preferences are Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.

Creating a social media investigation policy

Goulbourne says it’s absolutely non-negotiable that all business owners create a social media policy. You need to outline

5 Things to focus on:

  1. Scope of the policy (states why you will be using social media - for an investigation)
  2. For official use only
  3. It is not for personal use
  4. Legal issues (look at the legal ramifications of this, address First Amendment rights)
  5. If you have any other related policies in your company, make them apply to this policy as well

When you are using social media for an investigation, do not use your personal account. Under discovery rules, they will subpoena the entire account and all of that data will become public record. He also urges you not to conduct a search on your desktop and suggests having an isolated computer on its own network that you use for investigations, especially if you’re going to go into the deep dark web. Always use a fake account and an alias.

The success of social media as an investigative tool

Social media investigations are used more and more criminal investigations. Information on Myspace, Orkut, and Facebook have been found to be useful in locating subjects.

86% of law enforcement agencies in the United States use social media when conducting investigations.

“Social networking sites are virtual communities. These communities along with the tools, tricks, and techniques to prevent, track, and solve crimes,” Goulbourne said. “Too often, investigators, researchers, and analysts overlook or underutilize this valuable resource.”

Current Trends and How They Help With Social Media Investigations

Mobile technology is a big trend right now, which opens up a great opportunity in live streaming and geo-tagged posts.

Modern smartphones embed GPS coordinates in each photo they take. This information is stored as metadata and is embedded in the photo files themselves. All you have to do is view the file’s properties to look for it. Metadata isn’t just limited to GPS. It can also pull timestamps, user, profile and post id, and a whole list of data points.

Which Platforms Should You Focus On?

Each site requires different techniques, but Goulbourne recommends focusing on the top 5 most popular social media sites:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • YouTube
  • Pinterest

The population of Facebook is greater than the United States and Europe combined. There are over 350 million images and 190 million status updates daily. Instagram is a mobile photo sharing site. Chrome has an Instagram plugin that functions as a search tool.

5 Tools for Social Media Skip Tracing

1. Google reverse image search

You can upload a photo or drop an image URL to Google reverse image search and shows you a list of results of that exact photo and similar photos with links to the sites where the images were posted, including social media profiles.

2. Spokeo

Spokeo can search 60 of the top social media sites to determine whether a particular email address or person is linked to a social media profile utilizing an email address. It doesn’t always work, and according to Goulbourne it rarely does. But when it does, he assures, it’s a gold mine.

3. Knowem

For people who use different profile names and pseudonym, Knowem will track down those profiles. Knowem works better than Spokeo, according to Goulbourne.

4. Google Alerts

You have a target. You type in your target by name or profile name. List the social media sites that you want the alert to let you know about it. If they create one of those profiles, it will send you an email alert.

5. Google Cache

Google cache is a great tool for trying to locate data that was previously posted on a website or a social media site (even if the posts were deleted or removed).

Want More On This Topic?

Looking for more details, tools, tips, and tricks for social media skip tracing? Register for JJ Goulbourne’s upcoming “Computer Investigations and Use of Social Media” webinar. You can also register for other relevant upcoming webinars, including Joseph Jones’ “Social Media Skip Tracing: Everything the Modern Process Server Needs to Know” webinar by visiting ServeNowEDU.

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