It’s one of the tried and true ways investigators have to explain their work. “Connecting the dots.”

What we usually mean is that in a sea of data, we can find the relevant material and put it in the right context by showing how it relates to other facts.

You sometimes end up with a compelling narrative in chronological order of someone’s life or business dealings, all plucked from billions of possible public records and interviews.

The problem is that in many dynamic investigations, people keep moving and doing different things. The dots are in motion.

A perfect illustration hit me last week when I looked at the painting above by Sophie Taeuber-Arp, a brilliant painter, sculptor and designer who died far too young in 1943. The painting from 1934 is called “Equilibrium,” but its equilibrium looks like it lasted for less than a second. If you look at the picture, the green ball on the right and the figure on top are not held up by anything. The rest of the figures look precarious.

Lots of investigations present a “snapshot” of what we find, but things are often about to change, as in this picture.

Ten years ago we wrote about the arrest of an employee of New York’s Catholic Archdiocese Background Checks for All. Anita Collins had been charged with embezzling funds from the church. After our article, she pleaded guilty to taking $1 million in 450 small payments to herself over many years. She was sentenced to as many as nine years in prison.

What made the case interesting for us is that Collins had been hired just before a new policy took effect, requiring background checks on all employees. A background check would have turned up previous problems she had with handling money.

Later on, when the church went back and required checks on employees there from before the policy’s start date, they required checks only for longtime people who dealt with children. Collins was exempt.

Where the dots are in motion in this kind of situation is simple: An employee could come aboard with minor responsibility and then work his way up to the point where he handles a lot of cash. But, his time with the company usually counts as some kind of quasi-investigation. [“But they’ve been with us for years!” is what bosses usually say when presented with evidence of employee theft.]  In reality, the more senior an employee, the more important a background check is, whatever the due diligence equilibrium used to be. People are always on the move, like the shapes in the painting. For really important employees, companies could consider periodic reviews to catch drunk driving, domestic violence, or financial stress taking place after hiring.

Other examples of connected dots in motion:

  • Databases have time lags and need to be checked repeatedly. We once needed evidence that a particular person was living in a particular apartment. When we started the case in February, nothing showed up for him. Then we looked again in April and there he was, having associated his cell phone with the apartment back in February. The time lag between recording the data and selling it to the database was two months. February’s “equilibrium” was different from April’s.
  • Social media, or course, is always being refreshed. If the case is active, keep monitoring it. People sometimes (carelessly) ask friends to call them on a cell phone you didn’t know about the month before. They give away vacation spots and the names of trusted friends. Very useful!
  • Asset searches. The minute the subject may think you are looking at his company, get ready for him to form a new company. If you discover a new company and ask him about it, the money may be on the move again. Sure, it could be a case of fraudulent transfer, but you still have to keep track of where the funds are going and when.

Taeuber-Arp’s picture is exciting to me the way investigations are: Things never stay the same for long.

 

If you enjoyed this article, you may also want to look at our other blog, The Divorce Asset Hunter (divorceassethunter.com).

 

 

I was puzzled this week at the reaction to a bomb of a story by the Wall Street Journal. The paper’s rightfully cautious lawyers allowed it to go to press and declare that 131 federal judges had broken the law by hearing cases in which they or their families had a direct financial interest.

Photo: Uwe Kils, Creative Commons

Even though a bunch of judges admitted they had acted incorrectly, other than a couple of reports by The Hill and Esquire.com, the reaction was zero.[1]

The story and its aftermath yielded a couple of interesting lessons.

  1. If a story can’t be politicized these days, it goes away fast. The judges named in the story came from across the political spectrum. Obama appointees, Bush (both of them) appointees, Clinton appointees, Trump appointees. They should have recused themselves but didn’t. No political points to be scored here.
  1. As an investigator, the story was a wonderful illustration of the idea that the world is packed with information that nobody either looks at or analyzes. This story scratches the surface of what lies ahead as artificial intelligence (AI) both increases the amount of data we can search, and the speed with which we can analyze it. Imagine being able to see not just the part of the iceberg above the water, but the whole thing – right away.

JUST ASK FOR IT

In this case, the paper relied on a non-profit called The Free Law Project which put together the stock ownership data for the judges. How did the Free Law Project get this information, which judges are required by law to submit? They asked for it. That’s it. Now it’s a public database on their website.

There is a lot of other wonderful information that is there for the asking. Freedom of information requests at the federal and state government levels have given us all kinds of material over the years as we investigate.

Did someone really serve in the military? What did a charity say its mission was when it was established? What kind of things did a company import and declare to U.S. Customs? We’ve found it all by asking for it.

All sorts of other great information is there for the taking. We once linked two people using state-level lobbying records freely available on the government’s website. If your database doesn’t look at lobbying records, that should be the database’s problem, not yours.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

The brilliance of the Journal’s story wasn’t just the sea of data the Free Law Project gave them. It was the critical task of seeing what happens when you match one set of data with another. The second set, of course, was looking at cases all the judges had heard. When a party before the judge turned out to have been owned in part by the judge or the judge’s family (personally or in trust and known to the judge), that was where the law was broken.

One of the keys to a good investigation is how databases and other forms of information work together. I’ve written for years that we employ an “all windows open” approach. It’s no good running a search on Bloomberg and then checking it off your list as a source already consulted. If later in the investigation you find out in an interview or court record that your subject has a company you didn’t know about when the investigation started, you have to look at that company on Bloomberg again. [2] Think of it as having each information source in a separate open window on your computer. Don’t close all until the investigation is done.

It probably took the Journal a long time to do its analysis, but note that the story only handles cases between 2010 and 2018. Nearly three years of cases since then have been heard – thousands – and the “investigation” is far from complete.

THE FUTURE OF INVESTIGATION WITH ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

On a very basic level, the Journal used AI to parse all the data. Once parties and stockholdings are fed into a database, a computer can spit out conflicts in a second. Human beings need to carefully review the findings, but doing the entire job by hand would have taken years.

AI helps in processing time, but it also is helping to create searchable data sets that were never searchable before. I discussed this at length in a law review article a few years ago, Legal Jobs in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. Imagine being able to search in seconds the transcripts of every podcast or YouTube video on the internet.

That time is coming. More data, more analysis, more human hours to make sense of it. This Wall Street Journal story is just a taste of the future.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, which runs the federal judiciary, told journalists it was looking into the matter. Many cases may have to be retried. It’s a mess for the judiciary which will play out over weeks, months, years, probably.

[2] My book, The Art of Fact Investigation discusses this concept, and I’ve included it for years in my courses and lectures to lawyers around the country.

The longer you investigate people, the more bad behavior you will be able to talk about. But there is little I have encountered in my work that is more sickening than deed fraud – the subject of a recent case we had.

Philadelphia. Photo Credit: Creative Commons.

A form of identity theft that allows the crooks to take not just cash out of your bank account but your entire home, deed fraud is rampant and preys on the weak: A New York Grand Jury empaneled to investigate the issue said in 2018, “The victims of residential real estate fraud are largely from the most vulnerable segments of our society – the elderly, the financially disadvantaged, the medically infirm, the uneducated, and the unsophisticated.”

It turns your stomach. It’s been around a long time, but now in cities with rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, crooks appear to be moving in on older people in greater numbers.

What I found in my case is that there are people who do it repeatedly, but seldom face criminal charges. If someone catches them at it and sues to get the property back, they just don’t show up in court and move on to scam someone else.

New York, Philadelphia and Miami have charged a few people in recent years, but based on what we saw in our investigation, it’s a tiny portion of the cases out there.

The New York City Sheriff got 2,000 complaints of deed fraud in the four years up to 2014, with a combined fair market value of $112 million for the properties concerned. Multiply that by 2, 3 or 4 and then multiply that figure by a number of other cities, and you’ve got theft in the billions.

An FBI report on elder fraud from its Internet Crime Complaint Center said identity theft of all types cost $39 billion in just 2020.

The Basic Pattern

Front men identify a property that appears run down or is behind on its property taxes. Often these are homes in gentrifying neighborhoods, occupied by people who may have paid under $100,000 for them decades ago and are sitting on big capital gains but can’t afford the upkeep.

The front men either make a bogus claim that they will buy the home and satisfy the mortgage (in order to induce the owner to leave so they can put in tenants) or more commonly, they will just forge a deed and sell it to an LLC that is either theirs or connected to the people running the scam.

The new bogus owner then borrows money from the company of an associate, maybe to renovate or demolish the place with an eye to flipping it. Sometimes, the mortgage gets assigned to a reputable bank. The crooks bet that they can move fast and flip the place before the rightful owner can get to court and have the sale reversed. People thrown out of their own homes have turned to living on the streets.

What Can Be Done

The main problem appears to be the use of unreliable or plainly criminal notaries. All transfers of real property need to be notarized, but if a notary is happy to have a dodgy ID card put in front of him before attesting that the actual owner of the house appeared before him, the sale will go through in most every case.

The New York Grand Jury and the National Notary Association recommend that other states adopt California’s longstanding requirement that the seller provide a thumbprint as well as a signature. That could help catch perpetrators more easily. In several cases we saw in our investigation (and in one famous case in Philadelphia), the fraudsters are ex-convicts whose prints would be on file with the police.

Another helpful suggestion is to delete the signature image from on-line records of property transactions, so that crooks can’t practice imitating the signature of the rightful owner.

Perhaps the best hope is a pilot project being evaluated in New York to put the property registry on blockchain. This could help because each rightful owner of a property would have a private key and only use of that key would allow the land registry to transfer the property. At least that would prevent forgers from pulling a property out from under the owner without ever contacting them.

In the meantime, the New York Sheriff has good tips for anyone to follow for themselves or on behalf of elderly relatives who can’t:

  • Check your property’s deed at the registry at least once a year. This is often on line depending on your county. Make sure the county has the right mailing address for you.
  • If your county offers it, sign up for notification in the event anyone files anything relating to your property with the county clerk.
  • Contact the government if you stop receiving tax bills.
  • If the property is vacant, drive by or hire someone to do so to make sure it isn’t occupied.
  • If you don’t have title insurance, look into it.

It won’t stop all of the thievery out there but it’s like having a second lock on your door or a home alarm system. Whatever makes it harder for the criminals to steal from you is a good thing.

Any litigator tasking interviews of potential witnesses needs to know about the no-contact rule (ABA Model Rule 4.2)[1], which forbids talking to represented people on the other side of a case. This also goes for most current employees of the other side —  certainly any employee senior enough to make critical decisions or who was involved in the matter under dispute.

Ordinarily, the interviewing of former employees of the company on the other side is OK, but there are lots detailed issues that come up before deciding an interview is permissible.

Does your investigator know what those issues are? Even if he knows, will he care or just proceed as he would have anyway? The difference is important, because interview material improperly gathered could be ruled inadmissible and you could be sanctioned. You may be able to talk to the former employees, but you’re not allowed to get privileged or confidential information out of them. Your investigator should know what those concepts mean.

The topic of permissible ex-employee interviewing came up recently when Honeywell talked to a former employee of a company called ICM Controls and then retained him as a consultant to Honeywell. ICM had sued Honeywell for patent infringement, and Honeywell wanted to interview the former employee Andrew Nguyen, co-inventor of the patent in question (the other inventor is the current ICM president).[2]

ICM alleged that Nguyen may have disclosed privileged or confidential information he obtained as a result of his employment.  Honeywell responded that Nguyen had not worked for ICM for more than 20 years and that ICM had never disclosed him as a person with information relevant to its claims, “much less privileged or confidential information.”

Honeywell relied on a New York case, Muriel Siebert v. Intuit, 8 N.Y. 3d 506 (2007), which recognized that contacting an opponent’s former employee (even those privy to confidential or privileged information) may be appropriate as long as counsel operates within certain boundaries and takes measures to avoid disclosure of privileged or confidential information.

Those measures are all-important, and are why for years our firm has gone into interviews with a template agreed to by our clients. This includes how we represent ourselves and makes certain that we first tell the person we are interviewing that we do not want them to give us any privileged or confidential information. We also ask them whether or not they are represented by a lawyer. If they are, we terminate the call.

We posted about our procedures in Trial Ethics: A Template Can Save Your Life and I’ve been talking about the issue for years and have given CLE courses all over the country to state bars and the ABA. If your investigator can’t pass the simple test of flagging problems in the case we wrote about or the Honeywell matter, find yourself an investigator who can.

In the Honeywell case, Honeywell’s lawyer first made sure that Nguyen wasn’t working with ICM and wasn’t privy to privileged information, the court said. Continuing to use Ngyuen as a consultant “would entail some risk of straying into arguably privileged information,” the court warned, but that is a highly unusual fact pattern for most interviews with former employees.

The Honeywell case was a closer call than most, but in the end it affirmed that with careful precautions in place, former employees of opposing parties may be interviewed if they are unrepresented.

As long as you know the rules and follow them.

 

[1] In representing a client, a lawyer shall not communicate about the subject of the representation with a person the lawyer knows to be represented by another lawyer in the matter, unless the lawyer has the consent of the other lawyer or is authorized to do so by law or a court order.

[2] ICM Controls Corp. v. Honeywell International, U.S. District Court, N.D.N.Y. 5:12-cv-01766.

What conveys the truth more effectively?

A snapshot of a person’s values and accomplishments in the form of a quotation? Or a long essay about that person that will contain the short clip but surround it with other facts that could contradict or water down the single line (or build on the quote and infuse it with needed context)?

Photos: ShareAlike 2.0 Japan.

It’s a good question because you can make a case that at times, either answer is preferable. It might be nice to have both. That’s why in our memos, we have bullet-point highlights on top and then all the facts (usually in chronological order) in the body of the document.

How best to convey the essence of something is the subject in part of a marvelous show at New York’s International Center for Photography: a fascinating pairing by Richard Choi of video and still photos plucked from the 30 seconds or so of the video. Billed as “a meditation on the stream of life and its expression as a single image, between film and photography, between life and our memory of it,” it prompted in me all kinds of thoughts about fact investigation.

To know fully what someone’s life consisted of you would have to be there for the whole time, and that’s not practical. In abstracting a life to get the essence of it, you need to make editorial decisions about what to include and what to omit. Sometimes the gaps are there in testimony and documentation, and sometimes you have so much information that you are obliged to leave some out.

One of the pairings in the exhibition that struck me was a short film of a mother and her young daughter and son kneeling in prayer in what looks like a church or chapel. The photo shows them immobile and deep in prayer. But the video reveals that the little boy couldn’t stop fidgeting for most of the time, and the photo captured him at a rare single moment of rest.

The difference between a snapshot in time and a flow of information comes up in many walks of life. In accounting a balance sheet is a snapshot of the last second of the period, but profit and loss and cash flow are financial “movies” of the company’s life over the course of a quarter or year. To process a movie or a photo you think differently, and that certainly goes for reading financial records. Companies can clean up a balance sheet for the end of the year or the quarter, and then go back into debt on January 2, for instance. A “movie” of  a whole year can obscure a big change that happened in the business at one end of the period or another.

Another way the photo vs. movie issue comes up with investigators is when we do interviews. We have to boil down for the client the remarks most relevant to their inquiry. If possible it’s nice to provide clients with a transcript of a whole interview, but in many states lawyers and their agents are discouraged from recording telephone calls as a matter of ethics. In other states, it’s forbidden by law to record a phone call without telling the other person that a recording is under way. We wrote about this in Taping Phone Calls Is Not Worth the Risk.

But now, there exists the ability to transcribe automatically whole YouTube videos. I wrote about the revolution in investigation that this kind of computing power would bring in Legal Jobs In the Age of Artificial IntelligenceIf you can easily provide the context for the quote you pull out of a one-hour interview or video, it’s always good to do so.

Soon we may be able to transcribe automatically all YouTube videos in existence and then search the texts for what we need. But you can’t hand your client 15,000 hours of transcripts of every former employee of Company X talking about what it’s like to work there.

You will need to play editor, even if it’s a matter of giving selected clips of video. In some cases, a single 10-second statement will do the trick, and here “photo” will triumph over “movie.”

Some people just like privacy, but others form companies with a view to concealing any link between that company and themselves. If you are hiding assets from creditors, that’s a plus (for you, not the creditors).

Picking a company name can be more difficult than many think. A lot of the obvious company names are taken since you can’t have the same name as an existing company in your state. So people often follow rules that make it easier to pick a name quickly, a lot like the lazy way many choose passwords.

If you want to hide your company from an asset searcher’s prying eyes, don’t do the following.

  1. Don’t name your company after something guessable by those who know you. People name things after the street they grew up on, but ex-wives looking for assets often know what that street is called (and we ask that question in our divorce questionnaire). The same goes for a beloved summer camp attended in their youth or a favorite pet. Keep the sentimental out of your naming convention.
  2. Don’t pick an acronym of your children’s names and think we won’t see through that. ZKR Holdings could be anything, but if your kids are named Zach, Karen and Ryan, we will be onto you.
  3. Don’t name companies after things related to your hobby. An opera buff named all his companies after – yes – operas. He did this before his marriage began to disintegrate, but it was easy to find companies we didn’t know about by searching a list of the 200 most popular operas.
  4. Don’t group your names. If you name your first company after the street in Boston where you opened for business, using the street names all around there will make it easier to guess for new companies. Also, if we know your company is called Alpha Investments, don’t try for Alpha Investments II, III, IV etc. When we see that during an asset search, our eyes light up.
  5. Don’t name a company in a new state the same thing it was named in the old state, especially if everyone you’re hiding from knows the name of the one in the old state.

The hardest companies to find are those that followed these rules:

  1. They picked a name that could mean anything. If you are the owner of seven dry cleaners in northern Indiana, European Furniture Imports is a name we wouldn’t immediately link to you. Even better, Eusall Ltd. That could be anything.
  2. They paid someone to be the incorporator. It’s no good spending all this time on picking a sneaky name, and then putting yourself down as the incorporator or agent for service of process. Some states don’t list the name of the incorporator, but some do.
  3. When they paid someone to front for their company, they didn’t pay the same lawyer or agent who handles all of their other financial affairs. I once found a bunch of companies by going through the list of about 150 that a person’s lawyer had set up. We ruled out most of them, but a few turned out to belong to the person we were investigating.

For anyone who has ever tried to play pool, it quickly becomes obvious that the best way to get the ball in the pocket isn’t always the most direct.

If there’s another ball in the way or the angle doesn’t work, redirecting the ball off one of the cushions can be the best option. Even if you need to hit the ball without banking it, you may need to strike it on the side instead of straight on. In either case, you’re not looking at the goal but at the indirect means of reaching of the goal.

We’ve been writing for years about meta-thinking: how to look for the things that will get you the thing you want. Don’t google for the lawyer in New York, google for the body that licenses lawyers you’ll be able to look at their list (which isn’t fully indexed by Google). See our posts Meta Searching for Fake Royals and Surprise! Google is There to Make Money. There’s also my book, The Art of Fact Investigation.

I thought of indirect investigation yesterday when in group discussion of lawyers and accountants, we were asked to talk about the moment we knew we were good at our jobs.

Find a Lawyer in Liberia Without a Liberian Website. Go!

My moment came in my first job after law school when my new company asked me to find them a lawyer in Liberia. The country was largely destroyed after years of warfare and there was no workable phone system there.

I found them a lawyer in about an hour. Instead of looking in Liberia or anywhere in Africa, I found a former Liberian president living in the U.S. Midwest where he was teaching at a university.

In Liberia he had been a big shot, but here he was in the phonebook and picked up his home land line at lunchtime. Of course he knew lawyers in Liberia and informed me that they were all using cell phones from Ghana. He recommended two, gave me their numbers, and within two days we had hired one and paid him by wire. Our documents arrived by courier the next week. It sounds simple enough, but nobody else had thought of it.

And How Were You Spelling That?

Another example from the same company a few months later: They had done an interview with someone who recommended talking to a former employee with a very long Italian surname.

The interviewee didn’t’ know how to spell the name, which contained three vowels that, based on pronunciation, could have been a’s, e’s i’s or u’s. There were consonants that could have been single or double. It would have cost a fortune to run databases on all the permutations, which is why they hadn’t found him.

I decided to play around with the permutations in the Social Security Death Index (free), figuring that certain combinations would be rare and certain ones very common. I found the guy with the second-most common possible spelling and we reached him by phone immediately. This after months of fruitless googling.

Sometimes, the bank shot is the way to go.

Investigators are in the business of gathering evidence. Beyond gathering, there is the equally important job of analyzing. Good fact gatherers need to report on evidence but also where it comes from and how reliable it may be.

Evidence was my favorite law school course by far (so perhaps not surprising I work with evidence for a living). What I remember from about day one was my wonderful teacher and future colleague Peter Tillers reminding us that for something to be evidence, it doesn’t have to be very good evidence at all. Just a little bit of a nudge to push knowledge forward will be enough.

If someone says they saw something, that’s evidence. It could be rock solid, it could be garbage. In court, that’s for the finder of fact – jury or judge – to figure out. (Fed. Rules of Evidence 104(b):  “When the relevance of evidence depends on whether a fact exists, proof must be introduced sufficient to support a finding that the fact does exist. The court may admit the proposed evidence on the condition that the proof be introduced later.”)

When we do our due diligence work for investors, we never come out and say in a report, “this man is a liar” or “we doubt the reliability of her resume.” Instead, we present the evidence and let the reader decide.

A CFO says he has an advanced degree from Caltech. We can’t check that with Caltech without his permission, but we notice that databases never have a single address for him in California, despite the claimed degree and a few jobs before and after. Could the person really have the degree?

Of course. He could be a scrupulously private person who kept his Chicago cell phone the whole time, lived with family in Pasadena and never got any mail or deliveries in California while studying there. It’s up to our client to ask more questions, or maybe to let us interview a few professors to see if this guy was ever enrolled in their small and selective program. If so, did he graduate?

Evidence also comes from omissions – the hardest thing to program computers to spot. If someone has a 1.5 year gap between their M.A. and their first job, that could mean  a variety of things: Time taken to travel, time spent at a seminary but ultimately deciding not to enter the clergy (we’ve seen it), or the inability to get a job because of bad recommendations. Most commonly, it means leaving a first job off the resume because it wasn’t very interesting or impressive, and it was 20 years ago.

Where evidence comes from is something the rules care a lot about. Even non-lawyers tend to know about the concept of hearsay being excluded – something that the person testifying doesn’t have first-hand knowledge about. But anyone who has taken evidence knows there are many exceptions to the rule.

One is a recording made in an ordinarily conducted activity (Rule 803 (6)). Here is a list of passengers who took flight 5644 on Feb. 8 last year. As long as the airline says it’s a genuine list, you don’t need an eyewitness to say that the people on the list probably took the flight in order to admit the list. The theory is that the airline automatically produces these lists thousands of times a day. There’s not likely to be any special effort to include Mr. Jones on this list if he didn’t really fly.

Compare that to a Dun & Bradstreet report about a company. Who fills out the information about the size of the company’s payroll? It’s annual sales? Mr. Jones provides the numbers if he owns the company. That is not like an airline manifest. It’s much more open to manipulation. It’s evidence, but of a very different quality.

The same goes for a LinkedIn Profile. Indispensable if you want to know what someone wants you to think about their career trajectory. But you need to remember they can leave out anything they want. They can stretch a few dates to cover inconvenient periods of unemployment following a firing, and shove an honorary doctorate into educational qualifications that, at first glance, can look like they have a PhD. (We’ve seen all this too).

It’s all evidence, of course, but it’s up to us to help guide our clients through it so that after proper consideration, they can give it the weight they think it deserves.

 

Most of us in the business can remember clients who call us to say something like, “We’ve done some pretty serious Googling, so you probably won’t find anything.” We had a prospective client some years ago who said exactly those words, and I wrote them down at the time.

It got to the point that I decided to write a book, The Art of Fact Investigation, so that I could put down in writing — and in detail — why the most serious-minded Google search is never enough.

But I’ve noticed something else over the years about people who decide to do their own fact-finding. Some of them don’t take it seriously enough. That is, it sometimes gets assigned to junior personnel, and it’s not given the weight of being a full-time task.

If you’re a serious litigator, would you prepare for a major cross-examination or closing arguments while keeping an eye on a football game, maybe handling some email at the same time? If you’re a financial advisor, would you look over a prospective $2 million portfolio in these circumstances? If you’re a mediator, would you mediate with the TV on, or in between more important things to do?

Certainly not, yet a lot of people treat deep investigation this way. I blame Google.

Google is a marvelous tool, but so is the hammer. You can’t build a house with just a hammer, but you need a hammer to build a house. You need Google in any investigation, but you need more.

The easiest way to explain why is to consider the difference between what Google can find and what is on the deep web. Not the dark web, where criminals (but also whistleblowers) lurk. The dark web is a small part of the deep web, which is the part of the internet that Google won’t index: Password-protected stuff such as your bank account, but also plenty of free information that still requires a login.

You want to know how much George Jones paid for that house in Jefferson County? It won’t be on Google. It will be on the county’s website. You use Google to get the county’s website, and then you work on that website to see the information. You may need to pay for it, you may need to send someone to the recorder’s office to get the documents, or it may be free. But it’s not on Google.

The same is true of most litigation if you want to see who has sued Jones, professional licenses (if you want to see whether Jones has misbehaved as a doctor), securities filings, and social media.

Serious Googling is start. But if you stop there, you’re really not serious at all about doing a diligent search.

Listen to Philip Segal on The Investigation Game Podcast.

Check our other blog, The Divorce Asset Hunter.

In a partially hilarious, partially disturbing article this week in The Wall Street Journal, “Facebook Has No Sense of Humor,” the Editor in Chief of the satirical website The Babylon Bee related that two patently ridiculous “news” stories had recently been fact-checked by Snopes: The Onion’s “Shelling From Royal Caribbean’s M.S. ‘Allure’ Sinks Carnival Cruise Vessel That Crossed Into Disputed Waters” and the Babylon Bee’s “Ocasio-Cortez Appears on ‘The Price Is Right,’ Guesses Everything Is Free.”

They made me laugh, but then came the more troubling part. The Babylon Bee story headlined “Senator Hirono Demands ACB Be Weighed Against a Duck to See If She Is a Witch” was blocked by the robots at Facebook because the Monty-Python referenced line “we must burn her” appeared in the body of the article.

The real problem for me came after the Bee alerted Facebook to the supposed mistake made by its robots, which had generated a warning that the “incitement to violence” could bring further repercussions if repeated. The Bee appealed to Facebook, but to no avail.

We are the first to argue that robots aren’t really that smart – rather they are amoral and very quick at doing mindless drudgery – as we’ve argued in Artificial Intelligence: Good and Evil All at Once, Just Like its Creators.[i]

This blog doesn’t really give a toss about Facebook. It’s a useful investigatory tool as far as it goes, but if Facebook were to disappear tomorrow, no tears would be shed around here. That its robots weren’t overruled by people with good sense is the better reason not to trust Facebook’s human judges of propriety or morality.

So why should a good investigator have a sense of humor? The same reason, broadly that an investigator needs empathy, just as we said on our companion blog recently. Empathy lets you make better guesses about what someone may do next or may have done previously. Humor is useful because the people we look at also have senses of humor. It’s useful the way empathy is, for filtering purposes as above, and also because humor is a great way to put people you are interviewing at ease. Not always, but when warranted.

If you act like a machine, your results will be as good as a machine’s, but you will get them a lot more slowly than a machine would have.

Where is the value (and fun) in that?

[i] In a full law review article, I argue that artificial intelligence brings a lot of promising tools to investigators, but not because it can investigate for us. Rather, AI can comb through the mountains of new data being created hourly. Before long, we will be able to search transcripts of podcasts and YouTube videos, for example. [Legal Jobs in the Age of Artificial Intelligence: Moving from Today’s Limited Universe of Data Toward the Great Beyond. Savannah Law Review, Vol. 5, No.1 (2017).]