What we tell our client’s, particularly litigators, is that with these two elements, we can do more to ensure a complete internet profile investigation than searching by name and personal information alone, leaving products like Westlaw, LexisNexis or any number of automated “social media only” platforms in the dust.
Access to some of the larger social media platforms has become somewhat more limited in recent times, meaning that searches by name and demographic information might not always be enough to produce meaningful results or locate some of the more “hard to find” profiles. While we have technical ways around these issues, there is still nothing that compares to having an email address and cell phone number on the target in question.
Think of it this way, every app we have on our phones, every website we log into, every subscription service that we have is likely tied to our cell phone number and or our email address.
Searching each of these locations, many of which we don’t even know exist, by a person’s name or username would take countless hours (trust us, we have to do it the hard way sometimes too!). What is found are most often sites, apps and platforms that don’t even rank on Google, thus do not produce results during even the most in-depth Google queries. Using tools to scrape beneath the surface web with an email address or phone number, allows us to search hundreds of these platforms at one time, finding hidden gems of information contained on much smaller social networking sites, fitness websites/apps, hobby websites, user forums, resumes, specialty niche market forums and just about anywhere else you might need a username, email address or phone number to access. This often includes Android and Apple apps which are not traditionally searched during the course of an Internet Profile Investigation or social media investigation. Interestingly enough, these also tend to be the least secure locations for information, mostly due to how easy they are to sign up for and the belief that information contained in those profiles is unable to be located.
Just think about all of the random apps you have downloaded and tried over the years?
How many of those required a quick email address entry to get started? User forums, help forums and specialty hobby forums are much the same; in order to begin to post, you must enter an email address and verify it’s legitimacy before starting. We do this all the time and without consequence!
While these accounts can be as mundane as someone’s EBay profile or Etsy account, they may also help us find social media platforms that we may not otherwise find by name. Name and general demographic searches alone, the kind that automated platforms (Westlaw/LexisNexis and others) use always lack the capability to stay current with the latest trends or maximize usage of supplemental information. A trained investigator utilizing an email address and or cell phone number to search hundreds of smaller platforms through various tools negates the necessity to have a specific username ahead of time, but may ultimately lead to the discovery of additional usernames that can be repurposed to further an investigation. Smart litigators know what we know; some of the quick and easy searches that can be done in-house by a legal assistant are always just the very beginning of a real, full-scale internet profile investigation.
Having an email address and cell phone number at the onset of an investigation can also help save countless hours, help locate and identify additional Internet footprints that could lead to the discovery of new information or yet unknown user profiles; ultimately adding to the most complete and comprehensive Internet profile investigations available. These are the two key pieces of information any litigator should be asking for and providing to their intelligence company. Asking for such information during the discovery process, an EUO or during a deposition is absolutely a smart move; one that can help ensure that you have the most complete picture of someone’s background and internet footprint available.