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Geosocial data can help root out comp claims fraud

CHICAGO — The public’s prolific use of social media has provided a “treasure trove” of geosocial data that has become one of the best ways for investigating and defending against fraudulent workers compensation claims, experts say.

At The Institutes Future of Risk conference Thursday in Chicago, a panel of insurance defense attorneys and risk managers shared in a roundtable discussion how they dive deep into geosocial data when they suspect the authenticity of a claim.

The use of social media to change claims exposure is a quickly changing area, said Tom Weiler, a partner at Chicago law firm Langhenry, Gillen, Lundquist & Johnson LLC. Traditionally, law firms send out discovery to see what the injuries are, and if they suspect the claimant is being untruthful, they may send an investigator out to conduct surveillance.

Sometimes they get information, a lot of times they don’t, but Mr. Weiler said with people posting things all the time, he can hire a social media investigation firm that often will uncover that the injury is contradictory to what the individual is claiming, or the online info can undercut the claim somewhat.

“I think of social media as email on steroids,” said Hillard Sterling, a trial attorney in the Chicago office of Traub Lieberman Straus & Shrewsberry LLP. “That’s where we’d go to win cases … people would be talking spontaneously and putting information out there that they wouldn’t normally do. Now with social media, people are throwing everything out there. It’s a treasure trove.”

People would rather promote their own personal brand than protect their privacy, said Michael Teti, managing partner of Digistream Investigations Inc. in Lombard, Illinois, which combs through the geosocial data for attorneys or insurers who hire the firm to investigate suspicious claims. Some of the key elements when beginning a geosocial investigation are as simple as the claimant’s email address and phone number.

Those email addresses may also link to something like a Venmo account, a digital wallet that lets you pay your friends and others via your phone, which will have public details of the transaction if the user does not specifically change that in the settings. The phone number, too, can uncover whether the individual has an Instagram account that may provide insight on an investigation, he said.

“What I tell my team is everyone is a suspect until you look into (the claimant),” said Ana Boyd-Cooper, liability claim manager at transportation company National Express LLC in Lisle, Illinois.

Certain red flags prompt Ms. Boyd-Cooper to start her geosocial search, such as a letter of legal representation that arrives at the same time the claim is coming through the door.

“That sends a red flag, and we will always start looking into that individual,” she said. “Another example is to do an ISO (ClaimSearch) search. If they have open claims … if you look at the history and you see this is a pattern, you need to look a little deeper.”

Mr. Teti said when those flags appear, it’s important to locate that geosocial data that may help in a case and make sure that information is preserved in case it’s needed in court.

“If, down the road, (the claimants) do start deleting info, No. 1, you know it has been deleted and can use that fact in court, and No. 2, you don’t lose that information,” said Mr. Weiler, who said it’s “nearly impossible” to obtain that information from social media companies.

However, Mr. Sterling noted that any archived geosocial data needs to be archived in a way that it can be authenticated. “You don’t want your paralegal taking screen shots,” he said. “There’s a lot of cases when they’ll throw that out, or a person says, ‘That’s not me, it must have been photoshopped.’”

Don’t forget to include comments that might provide additional illumination into when the photo was taken and other important characteristics, said Mr. Teti.

“Context in the photo is everything,” he said.