A PROPRIETARY TURNKEY APPROACH TO INVESTIGATING FAMILY LAW CASES
Encompassing closely held business valuation, forensic accounting,, people locates, asset locates, deep backgrounding, and surveillance
David C. Childe, CFA
To the Family Law Section of the Memphis Bar Association
February 18th, 2015
OVERVIEW OF THE TURNKEY APPROACH
This methodology is unique because it deploys just one Daubert-qualified private investigator
Family law cases can be the most complex and investigative-intensive of any law discipline. As such, two and sometimes three investigators and/or experts can be deployed on a major case: One for locates and service of process, another for backgrounding and surveillance, and a third for forensic accounting and closely held business valuation. Because of the highly technical nature of the financial discipline in particular, these investigators will rarely if ever be employed by the same firm.
Complexity is exacerbated by having multiple investigators. Since the individual members of the investigative ensemble do not “record” together, the attorney will not be able to truly “conduct” these investigations. Instead, each investigator will lay down his individual tracks and the attorney will have to splice them together in the studio as best he can. Miles Davis did not use this approach to record Kind of Blue. If you are a Beatles fan, you might recognize it as the the difference between Let It Be and their earlier material. Not that Let It Be was a bad album, by any stretch . . .
Advantage #1 of using one investigator: Single point of contact and a comprehensive view of the case. Because a singular investigator will work closely with the attorney from the start and throughout, more effective theories and ongoing tactics and strategy should ensue . . . and quickly, too. The attorney will not have to wait for multitudes of uniquely styled reports from different investigators from different firms. The investigator will smoothly integrate the many components of the surveillance, backgrounding, witness interviews, business valuation, and forensic accounting on a real time basis – quickly recognizing issues that he otherwise would not if he were just one smaller part of the investigative equation.
Advantage #2: Surveillance—>enhances forensic accounting—>improves business appraisal. On a case in which one of the parties may be trying to hide something, the easiest way to fully prove any shenanigans is through primary investigative methods such as surveillance – which will be the most efficient if conducted by the same person who is doing the forensic accounting and appraisal of the business. The hybrid surveillance operative/appraiser will be more on the lookout for potentially untoward actions such as odd working hours, removal of inventory, increase in cash transactions, transactions at formerly unknown banks, shady associations with suppliers, shady associations with customers, and shady associations with competitors.
Advantage #3: Locating/interviewing—>enhances forensic accounting—>improves business appraisal. A good business appraisal will go well beyond the numbers provided by the self-interested party and extend heavily into primary research-oriented techniques such as interviewing former employees, former executives, suppliers, and customers. These people will have to be identified, found, and contacted – all provinces of private investigation rather than traditional business appraisal.
Advantage #4: Higher-quality, more interesting evidence. The judge or chancellor will not be hearing merely opinions proffered in professorial fashion from an ivory tower perch. Expert testimony will now be supported by direct evidence collected via primary research in the field: Judges appreciate both thoroughness and simplicity – this method gives them both.
Advantage #5: Will save considerable money. The number of meetings with investigators will be cut by one half to two-thirds and the blended hourly rate will be much lower. That is because many tasks that used to fall under the umbrella of the $300-350/hour appraisal specialist will now be in the province of the $75-150/hour private investigator.
The remainder of the presentation will cover practical techniques in forensic accounting, people locates, and deep backgrounding. Business appraisal was covered exclusively in my November, 2014 presentation to the Section. Surveillance techniques are best left to another forum.
FORENSIC ACCOUNTING EXAMPLE: BUSINESS APPRAISAL RED FLAGS
WHAT IS IT?: Investigative financial analysis whose goal is to determine the value or existence of assets that are central to active or possible litigation. The techniques marry private investigation and accounting, are oftentimes complex and esoteric, and are effective in uncovering fraud.
Major capacity influxes. Even if the industry is fast-growing, capacity is being added even faster than the overall industry is growing. This is common in many technology sectors, and results in gross margin erosion despite seemingly healthy growth rates
Other companies in the sector are experiencing difficulties. These can be parallel, upstream or downstream; nonetheless, the subject company pronounces itself immune to these problems.
Major step-up in expansion pace. This is announced without making plans to improve its infrastructure commensurately. This issue often plagues retailers and restaurant chains.
Major new competition. Recently entered or is planning to enter the company’s primary market.
Heavy product and/or customer concentration. A single product or customer accounts for over 25% of the company’s sales and/or the top three customers account for over 50% of sales. This is particularly negative if it is an expensive product that is prone to long sales cycles.
Heavy supplier concentration. A single supplier accounts for over 25% of the company’s sales and/or the top three suppliers account for over 50% of sales.
Highly dependent on government largesse. This can be in the form of direct contracts, major tax breaks, ongoing favorable legislation, and/or subsidies of customers.
Overly dependent on new products for growth. In short, a major lack of recurring revenue.
Management issues: Resignation of any member of top management; a non-sole proprietorship is a one-man show at the executive level; historically high turnover levels.
A new auditor is installed. Just as worrisome is any significant change in accounting policy.
Accounting issues (revenue): No revenue growth; Slow revenue growth yet large increase in margins; the percentage of unbilled-to-total revenue is increasing; higher percentage of revenues coming from “other”; significant portion of revenue recorded before product shipment or service completion; transactions involving significant financing of customers; customers enjoy liberal return policies.
Accounting issues (other income statement): Expenses such as marketing are capitalized rather than put on income statement; depreciation and pension plan assumptions are more liberal than most companies; a major inventory reduction program allows selling of lower cost layers in the future
Accounting issues (balance sheet): Significantly rising receivables or inventory in either absolute terms or in days outstanding; rising prepaid expenses; rising contingent liabilities, declining levels of deferred revenue; payables/inventory declining with commensurate increase in bank debt; a major reduction in the obsolete inventory reserve; a major reduction in the allowance for doubtful accounts; a major investment in a customer; major investments in unintelligible partnerships; numerous off-balance sheet entities
ADVANCED TIPS ON LOCATES
Momma always knows. Yet she probably won’t tell. Even when people go through their darkest periods, they do call their mommas . . . if for no other reason than to ask for money. And, no matter how despicable the individual, momma is loathe to tell where they are. Yet a good investigator knows how to coax it out of momma. So, with a difficult subject, locating Momma should be viewed as just as important as making the direct effort to locate the target individual.
Find the close relative with the paid-off house. Not surprisingly, this residence will be a locus of activity and crash pad for many family members, particularly those with nefarious tendencies and those who are unemployed – categories which will be likely to include your subject.
Check birthdays of all close family members and note holidays. Evasive subjects oftentimes make a point of ingratiating themselves with family members, if for no other reason than to keep the loan spigot open. That means showing up for their birthdays and for holiday gatherings. So the investigator needs to make his appearance on these occasions as well. Santa suit is optional.
Skiptrace the girlfriend/boyfriend, baby momma/baby daddy. Many people who are hard to locate have nothing tangible in their names. This might be for nefarious reasons or it may not. Either way, someone close to them will have the lease, utilities, phone, car insurance, magazine subscriptions etc. in their names, thereby allowing the subject to live a reasonably normal life while maintaining a high degree of privacy. The enabling person will usually be the girlfriend or wife, but could also be a parent or adult child.
The classic “do not forward” letter. This is the oldest trick in the book and still works a reasonably high percentage of the time – primarily because the postal service is not allowed to sell this information to the database information brokers.
Send a blank letter to the subject with “do not forward” written near the last known address and “return service requested” written near the return address. Within a week, the postal service will provide you with the new address if indeed a change of address form were filled out.
Run the name in the paid databases a few different ways. Run it in the paid databases at least these ways: First and last name only and last-known city; first, last, and middle and last known city; first and last name and date-of-birth; then, run any names that show up as likely AKAs (this last step is particularly important for woman who have been married a few times and changed their last names).
Most difficult subjects will NOT show recent data if strictly run by the social security number. Yet, for reasons beyond my scope of understanding, the name searches tend to work better. In contrast, on an easier subject, the social security number tends to be the best identifier.
This method will prove problematic if the subject has a very common name and no other information is available – which hopefully will be a rare occurrence; however, if this is indeed the case, then efficiency would dictate starting with the next step of the process listed below.
If all you have is a name . . . here’s a free way to get the date-of-birth. At least with the name and date-of-birth, one now has some reasonable parameters to work with. Trying to find someone on name alone (particularly if a common one) – although an exceedingly rare assignment in this day and age – can be a Sisyphean task. So here is a free website that converts names and approximate ages to dob’s: birthdatabase.com. Now that you have these two items, you have a fighting chance of getting additional useful information from the databases.
Run the last-known address and carefully analyze findings. On a difficult subject, this is usually the most important starting point, for the following reasons: It will hopefully provide a slew of relatives/associates who were once living with the subject – these people are prime opportunities for follow-up; it may provide a number of variations of subject’s name; it may provide other key identifiers like social security number and date of birth.
Run any known close relatives. Paid databases these days are quite good at providing associative information, potentially highlighting your subject as being linked to one or more relatives whom you input into the database. At that point, just click on the name of your subject and then the remainder of his information should appear shortly. On difficult subjects for whom an address history is not known, this method works a reasonable percentage of the time.
Run the Shelby County arrest screen, which is called JSSI. The percentage of subjects who have been arrested is surprisingly high – perhaps not so surprising given that there is oftentimes much overlap between people who attorneys want to find and people who have been accused of crimes. The JSSI system automatically updates the addresses to reflect the data given from the most recent arrest and from the bonding company. Furthermore, even if the cases get dropped (which about 1/3 of them do), the arrest data stays in the system – unless the defendant hires an attorney to file the paperwork to get the data removed. Most people do not think to do this.
Obtain misdemeanor citation affidavits. Because of jail overcrowding, many Shelby County misdemeanor arrests (including most driving charges) do not result in the suspect being jailed; instead, he is issued a citation and is required to appear in court at a later date. The write-ups by law enforcement are richly detailed and easily accessible on the internet – with the caveat that your subject was actually arrested for a misdemeanor in our county. These affidavits contain a wealth of useful information – including but not limited to current address, phone number, employment, make/model of vehicle, co-defendants, and alleged victims. Most arrestees will not overtly lie to the cops about this information. The main problem is that it gets stale quickly.
Obtain recent traffic tickets. When being cited for a traffic violation, people will oftentimes give their correct addresses to the officer even if it isn’t the same as the out-of-date one on their driver’s license. In my experience, 20% of drivers have an incorrect address on the license. The figure is far higher for those who move around more. The average person moves every three years. So another investigative tactic involves doing an online search of the subject’s traffic tickets.
Many counties (including ours, thankfully) make this available for free. If not, then a trip to the courthouse or DMV office will be in order. In Tennessee, those with an authorized purpose can pay roughly seventy-five dollars to set up a yearly account with DMV plus about four dollars per search to get statewide traffic ticket information directly. Yet, strictly within Shelby county, this information is available for free on the local JSSI system on the internet (for tickets issued by the Sheriff) or by asking the clerk at the traffic division office located at the lower level of the
general sessions criminal court (for tickets issues by MPD).
Obtain incident and accident reports. In Shelby county, these reports are available to any Tennessee resident for only a nominal per-page fee from the MPD central records office on the 10th floor of the criminal justice building. Provide the clerk with your subject’s name and date-of-
birth. Ask for a blanket search for a five-year time frame or so and any incident/accident report over that period will be provided.
Under a blanket search, the subject may show up as either a victim, witness, or a suspect. Either way, much useful information can be garnered such as address, phone number, employment, other people involved, and vehicles. If the subject was a victim or witness, then one can count on the information being provided as accurate at that time.
A big advantage of running the incident reports – and a main reason why the effort is almost always worth it – is that it captures the victim and witness information. For your subject to show up using some of these other search methods, he has to have actually committed a crime or traffic offense. Even Snow White has a chance to show up on the incident reports.
Call the last landlord. Difficult subjects and poor landlord relationships often go hand-in-glove, so cooperation is relatively assured. No matter whether they are apartment complex leasing personnel or individual homeowners renting out their places, landlords tend to know a lot about their tenants. In the case of a homeowner, the landlord’s name can be easily found at either the county registrar’s or tax assessor’s website or office.
Do a thorough “neighborhood. This is a preferred tactic of FBI agents, apparently relying on the premise that neighbors really are nosy. I have found canvassing neighbors at the last-known address to be a reliable source of location information on a subject who has moved; however, this tactic should be reserved as a last-ditch measure because oftentimes it will result in the subject finding out that you are looking for him.
Two tricks to get the highest-quality information: Look for the house with the best manicured lawn(those people tend to be the nosiest); talk to kids about 10-12 years old (they are not old enough to be overly cynical, adult-haters yet still old enough to make reasonable observations).
Local store owners, delivery men, beat cops, postal carriers, kids playing, and pizza delivery people can also be queried as part of a thorough canvass.
Forensically analyze Twitter and Facebook. There are numerous free sites – MIT and Harvard have particularly useful ones – that will analyze geolocate data and allow a thoughtful and persistent analyst to come up with a composite on the subject’s whereabouts.
File open records requests. An esoteric one that oftentimes works is for the jailhouse visitors of your subject or the person who received authorization to claim your subject’s property at the jailhouse. Also try the State Department of Labor to see what address was used on the filing of the unemployment or worker’s compensation claim.
Last but not least . . . mother ALWAYS knows!. Keep coming back to her if necessary.
A high-quality background investigation can be viewed as a mosaic. Some of the individual pieces may be quite alluring in themselves, but the overall composition from the synergy of the pieces is the true art that is being created. A few examples from my experience:
- A plaintiff I backgrounded in a med-mal case had two out-of-state assault convictions – one was against her own mother. I discovered from an ex-boyfriend that her mother had Multiple Sclerosis at the time, which was not noted on the police report. The fusion of these two pieces of information created a much more powerful picture for a jury to ponder about this woman’s character.
- A plaintiff in a wrongful death case had filed a Petition to Establish Paternity and to Change Name on behalf of her daughter in 2008 in Mississippi. The presumed father had already terminated his parental rights. A DNA test determined that the current husband is the father. A number of out-of-state documents yielded the findings that the daughter was born in 1992 yet the divorce petition was not filed until 1995. So it is virtually certain that the plaintiff cheated on her husband and did not tell him about true paternity until many years later. This conclusion was not stated in any individual document. It was arrived at through creating an informational mosaic.
- I discovered that there was a high probability that an expert witness M.D. had committed disability fraud. He collected full disability in 2007 and reported no other income on a bankruptcy filing. Yet under oath as an expert witness in another case he claimed to have a full patient load in 2007. In fact, business was reportedly so good in 2007 that he moved to a cash-only payment scheme which is quite suspect in itself. Once again, it is the art of combining information from data sources into a new, more devastating conclusion that separates the top background investigations from the merely good ones.
- A drive-by of a plaintiff’s residence in a med-mal case showed that the home was in a shocking state of disrepair and the front yard stunk – the whole property was almost third-world-like. So I casually chatted up a neighbor. I was then told that as many as fifty cats were in that house and/or roaming around at one time. The next door neighbor even erected a fence in a vain effort to keep them away from his property. This neighbor also called Animal Control on the family. 4-5 units supposedly rolled up and spent hours capturing these felines. There were reports of dead kittens found in the house, in addition to feces and garbage. I confirmed this with hard copies of the reports from animal control. The uncleanliness of the home and lifestyle of the occupants did have an important bearing on this case. It was the mosaic that ultimately led me to get the animal control reports.
- A deep Facebook search of now-hidden posts revealed that a police officer now facing a civil action for assault and battery had bragged about being in hundreds of fights, shooting at others, and being shot at.
A criminal background investigation usually starts with the locate. Because there is no such thing as a national criminal database available to the private sector, an address history is vital just to get the criminal history part done accurately. The true picture can only be obtained by going to each county and/or city in which your subject has lived and thoroughly checking the criminal history through some combination of incident reports, arrests reports, and court records. In many smaller cities and counties, the only way to do this is by telephone.
Use the locate information for the other local pieces of the investigation. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to take the trouble to perform the following steps in every city/county that you can identify as a former residence of your subject (all of the following are open records, at least in Memphis and Shelby County):
- Civil court records – general sessions and circuit court levels
- Probate court records
- All property deed and tax records from the assessor, registrar, and/or recorder
- Subsidized housing records from the Housing Authority
- Business licensing records from the city or county clerk
- Construction/zoning-type records from code enforcement
- Vehicle history records from the clerk and/or DMV
- Traffic tickets from the clerk and/or DMV
- Incident and 911 reports
- Fire reports
- Health department inspection reports
- Marriage records
- Birth and death records
Be relentless about demanding open records. I make it a point to thoroughly research the open records law exceptions and exemptions in the state I am making the request in. Most of the time the bureaucrats at the other end are helpful – particularly in smaller towns and counties. Yet some officials may get provincial on you and still deny a legitimate request. My approach in these cases is to ask the denier specifically what exception to the law is being relied on. By law, he is the one who has to show cause. If still no progress, then demand that the request is moved up to the city or county attorney level – where it will invariably be approved.
Incident reports, incident reports, incident reports!!! Request them from every city in which your subject has lived. They will give you the most complete picture of potential and actual criminal activity of all the law enforcement reports available – because the more commonly obtained arrest reports flow from the initial incident reports. And because even incidents that do not turn into arrests are still obtainable on the incident reports. A pattern of activity that results in multiple dealings with law enforcement – arrests or no arrests – is worthy of investigative follow-up.
Incident reports are particularly golden because they pick up the person as a suspect, victim, or witness – and they are oftentimes quite detailed as well. From witness status, you can oftentimes glean information about their associations and their being in the midst of nefarious activity. From victim status, you can oftentimes learn a lot about their mindset (regular calls for domestics that don’t result in arrests, regular calls on their children, regular calls for harassment, regular calls for burglaries with no signs of forced entry and valuable items taken). For best results, have them run two ways: by the person’s name. . . and by the address.
These reports are almost never available on the internet. Although most states do not exempt them from Open Records acts, it can be like pulling teeth sometimes to obtain them from the law enforcement records people. Be persistent. Be firm. Be nice. Act like you expect to receive them, not like the bureaucrats are doing you some kind of massive favor. By law, they have to provide them to you in most cases. If they continue to resist, send them a formal request letter containing detailed language from their State’s Open Records laws.
Do everything possible to obtain the resume. A hard copy of the actual resume is best, yet a Linkedin long version or beyond.com version or something from the myriad job sites out there would suffice. Include a resume request in interrogatories and/or deposition materials and/or other discovery requests. Subpoena, if necessary.
A Google search using the person’s name and keywords such as “resume” “CV”, or “Curriculum Vitae” oftentimes proves productive and should be a standard part of the repertoire.
Try and get multiple copies over a number of years (granted, that is fairly easy to do for an expert witness but a challenge for most others). That way you can closely analyze the changes
over time. Look for items once contained that are now omitted. Look for changes in job titles, however subtle. Comb each resume line-by-line. Verify each and every claim.
It has been my experience that even the most erudite and esteemed expert witnesses produce some type of puffery, major omission, or outright untruth on their resumes. Interestingly, these can oftentimes be found in the non-professional or other section. Here are some examples fused from expert witnesses I have backgrounded:
- Claimed to be a PADI Master Scuba Instructor yet not even listed as certified scuba diver
- Claimed to be a Rotary Club member but was not
- Claimed to be an Honorary City Council member yet there was no record of it
- Claimed to be an official surgeon to a well-known organization yet no record of it
- Deleted stint as COO of now-bankrupt venture into the blood storage realm
- Failed to list full extent of consultancies, research grants, and other associations
- Listed numerous hospitals where the doctor no longer had privileges
Comb through the entire bankruptcy and/or divorce jackets. These are the mother all all background sources in the non-criminal realm. Since 2006, PACER has put the entire jacket online, making our job much easier. I have yet to see a court put the entire divorce jacket online, although some jurisdictions provide much better highlights than others. So reading the jacket entails a trip to the courthouse and substantial note taking or copying. Trust me – the trip is almost always well worth it. Here are some examples of items unearthed:
- From the divorce file of an expert witness- Buried within this one-foot thick jacket was a psychologist’s report stating that this expert has received extensive psychiatric and psychological treatment for anxiety, panic, depression, and pain. His short-term memory was noted as poor and he could not express himself linearly. According to this report, the expert closed his outpatient practice to just focus on forensic work. The file goes on to state that he ultimately closed his practice completely because of despondency and depression. As of the next year, he claimed to be unemployed with no medical practice to speak of and disability checks as his sole source of income. One final noteworthy item was that the expert managed to cause three auto wrecks within a short period of time.
- From the bankruptcy filing of a defendant-The filing highlighted massive overspending on the part of the couple. The husband was already paying $5,200/month in alimony and child support from his first marriage, yet still accumulated the following (under significant debt): Two expensive residences; two farms; a Florida condo; five vehicles. The farm required a manager and the kids had a nanny. The kids also attended private schools.
Tips on searching with Google. There is no substitute for tenaciousness, multiple keyword combinations, and ingenious keyword development and use.
Use site search for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Amazon, and Craigslist. Although these site have their own search features, Google’s will oftentimes be better and more convenient
- Always put the name in quotes and do every search twice: Once with first and last name and once with first, last and middle initial.
- Search by name (two ways, see above!) combined with last known city. Then do the same for every city you suspect the subject may have lived. You can even do combinations of cities.
- Search by name combined with each specific address you have unearthed
- Search strictly by the specific addresses
- Search strictly by any phone number or email address you have unearthed
- Search by name combined with each employer you are aware of
- If you know the university the person attended (often in the deposition transcript), by all means search by name and university combination.
- Go well beyond the first few pages of results.
Example: I was tasked with getting current information on someone when all I had was his name (which was a common one), the fact that he had spent some time in Memphis around 15-20 years ago, and a 15-20 year-old email address. I ran the email address on Google, which led to his reference (in an obscure user group) to an undergraduate paper he wrote at Cornell on the food service industry. So I then ran his name combined with Cornell and food service. That produced a Linkedin account of an Ole Miss Adjunct Food Service Professor who attended Cornell University. Then running his name and his current employer got me even more information.
How to search Facebook more cleverly. Without advanced techniques, Facebook is now quite difficult to usefully penetrate for backgrounding. The interfaces were completely revamped – for the worse – in December, 2014. Fortunately, there are ways to easily traverse around these barriers.
First you have to find the right person . . . A key trick is to use the advanced filters provided by Facebook which, unfortunately, were largely eliminated. Nonetheless, the persistent and creative researcher will bypass the defaults and still search the dropdown menu by various categories or combinations of categories that don’t appear together normally: name, employer, city, marital status, how near etc. If your subject has a common name, these filters will be essential to finding him. Using combinations is most important on a difficult subject.
What if their Facebook account is under an alias?. . . This scenario is fairly common among younger people who might go by street names rather than formal names. If you don’t know the street name, then there are a few ways I know of surmounting this problem: use his email address, if known; (or) use a Google site search under their real name and the alias might come up; (or) if that doesn’t work a highly labor-intensive but effective way if you know what they look like and know some of their friends or relatives is to slog through any public profiles of these people and look for the picture of your subject in their friend’s section.
Study the associations . . . If your subject lists her friends on her public profile, then the task is made infinitely easier. Even in this case, though, winnowing is a must because of the hundreds or even thousands of friends normally contained in a Facebook profile, only a few are really close and merit further scrutiny. Determine who these people are by seeing who is liking posts or pictures or commenting on them regularly on the wall. Then follow up on these leads only.
Pay particular note of who your subject is NOT friends with. . . This is a great way to find sources, particularly those of the Judas variety (the best kind!). If you see certain close family members showing up as friends of other family members – but not of your subject – there is a strong probability of a busted relationship situation. Animosity and vendettas invariably translate into the feuding party being a talkative and useful source.
What if the wall, personal information, and friends’ identities are all private? . . . This can be overcome by ethical means . . . an advanced trick is to CHECK THE PHOTOS themselves for likes and comments. Then go to these individuals pages and find one that is indeed public. You will now see any comments from your subject that were exchanged with this person. Next, DO A SEARCH USING THE PULLDOWN MENU at the top (this is not as easy as it once was but is still highly doable with advanced techniques). Items of particular note are “photos liked by” and “pages liked by” and “photos commented on” and “photos tagged in.” This information will now roll down the screen, oftentimes in copious detail, hopefully much to your delight.
Use the mosaic theory to find employment information. Although there are services that claim to be able to find employment histories for anywhere from $150-350, I question the accuracy of this information. I also question how they find it, because if a law firm hires them and they use pretext (an ethical breach) and/or credit reports (a crime), then those acts will accrue to the attorney as well. Instead of paying for dubious information, use these techniques:
- Muscle through on Google with their name and these general keywords: “city”, “past city,” “career,” “past employer.”
- Search Google more elegantly by typing in the subject’s name and these specific keywords: “resume” or “CV.”
- Use the hybrid free/paid databases like Intelius, which contain a surprising amount of employment data; be sure to try both the regular and cached version options that come up.
- Check LinkedIn just in case. A surprising number of people across all employment sectors have LinkedIn accounts and maintain them even when being evasive.
- Search other employment sites such as indeed.com or beyond.com. These are particularly useful for positions of the non-managerial variety.
- Scour Facebook carefully, paying particular attention to likes, activities, comments, and locations. In some cases, the current or past employment could be listed directly. If still no results, an effective but time-consuming method is to plow through the friends and look for at least three who share the same employer. Chances are that is your subject’s employer, as well.
- Scan any divorce jackets. You will at least get the employment history that way.
- Knowing prior employers can be the key to the kingdom. Call the department where the subject worked (NOT human resources, unless you want to be stonewalled) and casually ask for your subject. Then get chatty with the person on the phone and see if anyone in the department knows the current employer.
- Call the prior landlord. Employment information will definitely be in the file. The key will be convincing this person without misleading him to share the data with you.
- Obtain all traffic tickets and misdemeanor affidavits. There is an employment section on misdemeanors and oftentimes this information is asked for with traffic citations, if only in phone number form.
- Depending on their nature, certain local utilities are considered public and must comply with state open records laws. If so, file a request on your subject’s employment.
APPENDIX: FORENSIC ACCOUNTING II – CHARACTERISTICS OF HIGH-QUALITY COMPANIES
Must be something unique about the franchise: Lowest cost producer in a commodity industry; differentiated brand; differentiated by employee talent; strong new product flow; highly service-oriented; or patent protected.
A longer-term orientation: As evidenced by high level of R&D expenditures, sales/marketing expenditures, employee training outlays, and infrastructure ; doesn’t live-or-die by monthly or quarterly numbers.
Unwavering focus on a central mission. Acts only within its distinctive competence and doesn’t grow the company merely just to get large; focused on growing the value of the company; understands that the most important factors in managing a business are employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction, and cash flow.
Solid market share. A company with a competitive advantage inevitably achieves some type of significant market presence. Could just be a niche area within a certain geographic market, but that still counts.
Sales grow at at least 10% annually and margins steadily expand: Good companies never stagnate; they are constantly finding new ways to please their customers and find new ones. Smart top line growth almost always results in expanding profit margins as well.
High level of recurring revenue. Selling to a new customer can be as much as 10 times more expensive than to an existing customer. The best businesses rarely lose customers and are constantly working on ways to sell more to these existing customers.
Loyal, diverse customer base. Heavy customer concentration can be a kiss of death, as they will have all the leverage and the company will have little-to-no pricing power. Consumer goods companies that sell mainly to Wal-Mart are particularly vulnerable.
Diverse base of products that need to be regularly replaced or upgraded. This minimizes risk of any one product having problems or slowing down appreciably. Beware of companies that sell just one or a few expensive products that the customer almost never replaces.
Diverse base of suppliers. Reliance on just a few can create dependency. In most cases, the top three suppliers should be well under 50% of a company’s business.
Strong cash flow and returns on capital. If strong accounting earnings are not translating into strong cash flow, then something is invariably wrong. No matter what the industry, strong cash flow and returns on capital should be the financial residual of a solid business model. Always!
Manageable debt levels. Well managed businesses try and avoid large increases in debt. New investments are steadily made along with the growth of the business, minimizing the need for large debt infusions. If a one-time shot of debt is needed, an overriding focus is on paying it down quickly.
Promotion from within, well-paid employees, low management and employee turnover. Employee satisfaction is either the first or second most important factor in a business – coupled with a good business franchise it leads to most of the other desired factors.
Conservative accounting policies that don’t change