The New Neighbourhood

In the past, most investigations included ‘neighbourhood inquires’ where neighbours were questioned regarding the subject’s activities and lifestyle.

We still do neighbourhood inquiries, but over the last three decades this has produced less and less information of value, to the point that we now consider this an extraordinarily expensive investigative process.

Neighbours rarely share derogatory information or observations about the subject, and fewer still, even know the subject as most urban neighbourhoods are too transient and social contact is minimal.

Today’s neighbourhood isn’t tied to geography, but rather by Internet connectivity. The advent of virtual media has created virtual neighbourhoods that the Investigator must be adept at navigating and interrogating.

This new neighbourhood may reveal inappropriate pictures, drug and alcohol abuse, bad-mouthing of employers, co-workers, clients, and organisations. It may reveal poor communication skills and much worse – much of which is found exclusively online.

Unfortunately, inexpert interrogation and navigation of this neighbourhood has caused issues.

The ubiquity of Internet search engines and a lack of training and guidelines may put the Investigator in contravention of some laws if the resulting information creates a record of personally identifying information that is subsequently mishandled. Possession of Internet search results may impose either declared or implied responsibilities regarding the handling of the data in some jurisdictions.

A casual and undisciplined approach to Internet and social media searching raises questions regarding the competence, handling, fairness, storage, and analysis of the data. The role of the Investigator doing the searching should be clear from the outset. The sources and methods employed should also be clear throughout the search process and its reporting.

Virtual Identities

The subjects of an investigation do not line-up to tell the Investigator all his or her screen names and their related email addresses.

The Investigator must find the screen names and related email addresses from what he already knows at the beginning of the Investigation to build an online profile of the subject.

The Investigator must also recognise that screen names are often used by more than one person or a screen name may be used maliciously.

As the old New Yorker cartoon said, “On the Internet, nobody knows you are a dog”.

Navigation & Interrogation

The unstructured nature of data available on the Internet, and its density, creates problems for the searcher.

Google may say it found three million hits, but it will only show one thousand. The results will change depending on which version of Google searched and whence it is searched.

When searching for information about a person or company, the Investigator shouldn’t get bogged-down by search engine hits, but rather go straight to databases that have the right category of data for his purposes. This may mean searching sources not indexed by the search engines.

Google isn’t a substitute for knowledge and experience.

Due Diligence Failure

Salman Farooq Sheikh, had been the Tory candidate in the Pickering-Scarborough East riding until just before he was arrested on 14 charges in cases of identity theft, credit-card fraud, stolen and forged cheques, and fraud related to mortgages obtained in people’s names without their knowledge.

From media reports his entire background was a sham that would have been apparent had a proper due diligence process existed in the Tory party.

Implications of Organised Spam Taking Over Google

Manipulated Search Terms

Huge amounts of money is being spent to manipulate highly competitive search terms in Google. I’m not talking about the normal link-building or link-buying and other normal efforts. The trend is related to criminal organizations trying to sell counterfeit goods through the US search results, and to a lesser degree, the results for UK, France and Germany.

The spammers do this through keyworded anchor-text heavy links provided by automated forum and blog spam along with hacked websites. These gangs create such large numbers of these sites and links that Google is having quite a hard time catching up with the spam. The Caffeine update that ranks sites faster may be degrading overall search quality as this trend seems to go back only 7 months or so.

Lessons

  • Don’t trust what you read on the Internet; it may be planted data
  • If you don’t find anything interesting on the first few pages of Google, then you’re doing it wrong!  Set-up the search preferences properly and make them persistent.
  • Press releases and promotional websites are not a source of reliable data
  • The Internet is not a “neutral” source. Fact-check and evaluate everything you find.
  • The Internet is only one research venue

DIY Research is Not Practical

Over the last two years we have seen a DIY trend really take hold due to shrinking budgets. This has appeared in the areas of Due Diligence and Background Investigations particularly. This is false economy because the DIY Researcher doesn’t recognise changes like those described above, let alone what to do about such a distortion of the results.

The solution may be as simple as using OptimizeGoogle directed at a version of the search engine that does not implement Google Instant or it may mean conducting the search using a proxy in another country.  If you don’t understand how to do this and why you should do this, then don’t give money to somebody based upon your research.

How NOT to get Conned

Victims believe what they are told when someone says that a high rate of return is guaranteed. They don’t understand that a high rate of return equals a high risk.

Victims believe someone they know and trust. Familiar and trusted people are better able to victimize through their own ignorance or stupidity, or through concealed malice. Never let down your guard against this menace.

The victim thinks laws, regulators, and other government mechanisms will protect them. Nobody gives a damn about the individual victim. Educate yourself. If you don’t understand the investment, then don’t give them your money.

Victims don’t check the background of the people involved. Don’t give your money to people without the appropriate education and employment history. Don’t give your money to people with a history of bankruptcy, law suits, criminal prosecutions, and name changes.

Search Results Dominated by One Domain

The following two articles are required reading for anyone who must search by company or product name.

Furthermore, the Official Google Blog  post titled Showing More Results from a Domain, indicates that their algorithm is intended to show searchers more results from a single domain where evidence exits that there is a “strong user interest in a particular domain.”  They also note that the last few results (on a search results page set to show 10 results) are from other domains to preserve diversity in the results.

This has serious implications for anybody doing due diligence research as many derogatory entries in the search engine database will not appear without additional search terms.  It also means that search results set to 10, 20, 30, 50, and 100 per page may give radically different proportions of search results when sorted by domain.

WikiLeaks, YouTube, Propaganda, Politics, and SEO

It never ceases to amaze me how gullible people are. Let’s look at two examples recently in the news.

First, the case of Shirley Sherrod, the black U.S. Department of Agriculture official accused of racism. The evidence of her racism was a short, edited video clip offered up by a partisan web gadfly, Andrew Breitbart, who has a small empire of web sites. This guy knew such a controversial and inflammatory out-take would drive millions to his web sites. This huge burst of site traffic is money in Brietbart’s pocket.

What surprised me was that the NAACP and the Obama administration swallowed this hook, line, and sinker. They didn’t review the full video, interview people present at the event, or evaluate Breitbart’s motives for publishing the edited video.

Second, the leaked military documents that now appear on the WikiLeaks site need closer examination.

The founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, is what a judge would describe as an unreliable witness. He pleaded guilty to 25 charges of hacking in Australia; and according to the National Post, “Before he set up the website in 2006, Julian Assange spent years hacking into government and company computers, including those of the U.S. Department of Defense, as part of a group calling themselves the International Subversives.”

With Assange’s talk about “war crimes” and his background, it isn’t hard to understand that this guy has an agenda. How his agenda distorts the picture of events depends upon what documents he publishes from this large volume of previously classified material.  We will never know what he didn’t publish and this creates a very similar situation to the selectively edited video clip published by Breitbart.

Madoff and Due Diligence

The following post is an excellent example of how a disciplined due diligence process saved an investor from ruin.

If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?

Actually, the formulation of that headline that I prefer these days is the famous inversion by the Nobel economist Paul Samuelson: “If you’re so rich how come you’re so dumb?”

And yes, that brings us promptly to the Bernard Madoff scandal.

But this week Barron’s brings us one: “Living to Tell About Madoff,” an interview with James Hedges (not, I assume, a stage name, although in the circumstances it ought to be), “president and founder of LJH Global Investments in Naples, Fla., who has invested billions in hedge funds and private equity since 1990 through relationships with numerous hedge funds.”

Eleven years ago, Hedges spent two hours meeting with Madoff in his New York office planning to invest a few billion dollars of his clients’ money. He walked out without a deal.

Here are some of the reasons why…

PI Finds Madoff’s Company a Sham

Fool me once…

New York money manager Bernie Madoff was essentially running a $50 billion Ponzi scheme…

Not everyone was fooled. According to a story in the Wall Street Journal one hedge fund adviser actually hired a private investigator to look into Madoff’s accountants. He found that the firm had only three employees, one of whom was a 78-year-old accountant who lived in Florida and another who was a secretary.

Litigation & Competitive Intelligence

Litigation may tell you what the target company doesn’t want you to know.

Here are five things to look for when reviewing a company’s legal entanglements:

  • Is the company the target of large scale mass tort actions?
  • Is the company facing class action claims for faulty products and/or services?
  • Is the company facing lawsuits claiming shoddy or unfair business practices?
  • Have employees sued for wrongful dismissal?
  • Are shareholders claiming the company knew about material facts that depressed their stock price and failed to disclose them?

Copyright as an Asset – Canada

In Canada, one does not have to register your copyright to have protection, but when you register with the Copyright Office, you receive a certificate which can be used to your advantage in the event that your work is infringed. Formal registration of a work is not required. An author or the author’s employer usually enjoys copyright protection automatically on creation of the work.

Registration of a copyright is done by completing an application and sending it to the Copyright Office. A copy of the work is not sent along with application. Under the Library and Archives of Canada Act, two copies of every book published in Canada, and one copy of every sound recording manufactured in Canada that has some Canadian content must be sent to the National Library and Archives within one week of publication.

Library and Archives Canada
Legal Deposit
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa ON  K1A 0N4
Tel.: 819-997-9565
Fax: 819-953-8508

When a publication is deposited, a brief description is entered in AMICUS, Library and Archives Canada’s database. They are also catalogued and listed in Canadiana, the national bibliography, which began in 1950 and is widely circulated in Canada.

Due Diligence and Decison-making Behaviour

Due Diligence (DD) research provides more than protection from criminal behaviour. It helps you understand how the other party makes decisions and behaves in a variety of situations.

For example, if you find the other party has been sued, you will want to know how they responded. If the other party was a judgement debtor, then you need to know how they dealt with the judgement — did they pay, appeal, negotiate a settlement, or avoid paying through procrastination or deceit?

DD research also helps you understand the key decision-makers. You will know their employment history and educational background. You will know how the key stakeholders view their behaviour. If they have published articles and other writings you will have read what they have written. Learning these things may change your opinion about the other party’s ability to perform what they undertake.

If you find a lot of derogatory data that your fact checking proves erroneous, then you must ask what steps to correct this data has the other party taken. If they didn’t know about the erroneous data, then they must not value their reputation, and perhaps they care even less for yours.

Copyright as an Asset – UK

A copyright may represent a substantial asset for a person or company. The UK does not have a formal copyright registration process as in the U.S.A. — in the UK, creating the work creates the copyright.

The British National Bibliography (BNB) is the single most comprehensive listing of UK titles. UK and Irish publishers are obliged by law to send a copy of all new publications, including serial titles, to the Legal Deposit Office of the British Library; hence, the BNB is a list of copyright registrations. The British National Bibliography, was originally a weekly catalog which which became a  reference for book selection, cataloging, and for retrieval.

A Free BNB Web service to be launched in January 2009 will make the BNB available through the British Library Integrated Catalogue web pages. At that time, the CD-ROM version of BNB will be withdrawn. The current consolidated catalogues available on the BL website certainly correspond to a large part to the BNB. The British Library Automated Information Service (BLAISE), allowed a BNB search back to 1950, but I do not know if those catalogue records were transferred to the current BL website’s Integrated Catalogue, but it appears that the the new Web service will include these records.

Corporate Filing Searches on the British Islands

Competitive Intelligence, Investigations, & Due Diligence

Starting a competitive intelligence research project, an investigation, or due diligence research usually entails a detailed look at the corporate filings, share structure, and accounts of the target or subject company.

Great Britain

On the island of Great Britain, there are two separate registries, one for England and Wales, and another for Scotland. Both of these are operated by Companies House. The accounts and filings for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland take the same format.

Ireland

On the island of Ireland, the Northern Ireland Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment of the Northern Ireland Government, (DETINI) houses the corporate filings and accounts. Corporate filings in the Republic of Ireland may be obtained online from the Companies Registration Office.

Channel Islands

On the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey the corporate filings are handled at the Jersey Financial Services Commission and the Guernsey Registry.  Jersey and Guernsey are tax havens, and companies incorporated there do not normally file accounts.

Isle of Man

The Isle of Man is a tax haven, and companies incorporated there do not normally file accounts. The Companies Registry holds corporate filings, and is part of the Financial Supervision Commission.

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