Risk Insider: Skip Smith

Social Media as a Tool in Claims Investigation

By: | July 10, 2014

Thomas “Skip” Smith is the former senior director of risk management and insurance, HOA, Inc. (Hooters of America), and has spent more than 20 years in the risk management field.

I must admit that the full potential of social media investigations was not on my radar until a couple of months ago. That was when my 15-year-old daughter directed me to postings about an upcoming party on a social media site.

Given the oversharing of questionable material that I saw there, it suddenly hit me that I should approach social media claims investigations the same way I looked at my daughter’s posts and social media network.

The insurance industry has never been known to move quickly and/or adapt quickly to change. However, it is imperative that claims professionals be thoroughly versed in the use of social media in litigation (a great way to save on attorney research costs), in finding favorable liability information, gaining a tactical claim advantage and making life as difficult as possible for plaintiffs’ attorneys.

I have been fortunate to work with a number of fine attorneys who have done a fantastic job in educating me about discoverable information on social media. It’s also an education to read their extensive information requests, deposition transcripts and, specifically, their requests for social media information.

Social media sites are productive places to:

• Learn about workplace gossip

• See what type of personal and private information is being posted

• See who posted what information

• If you can, see what has been deleted

• Identify the members in the user’s network (this is a big one)

It is important to understand that social media postings are discoverable and to understand why your attorney is asking for certain social media content as part of his/her strategy around your case. To be a better partner to your counsel, I recommend being well-versed on the following:

• The rules that cover social media requests

• The type of information that is stored on social networking services

• The information stored in future advancement in computer and/or network technology sites

Asking for the following is important:

• The plaintiff should identify any Internet social media websites they’ve used

• They should divulge their social media accounts used over the last six years and whether they were maintained and/or controlled under different names

• Their username and password

• Copies of non-privileged content

• Dates of all accounts and postings

Deleted Information

Deleted folders are the first place you should look when you start a social media investigation. I learned this when I was working with counsel one day and they showed me that a person involved in an investigation had deleted more than 120 texts and pictures in the last 30 days. We found out so much valuable information that it made our case.

It’s not uncommon for a plaintiff to alter and/or delete information from a social media account they own. In fact, courts are now requiring parties to take measures to secure information on all social media data.

Remember also to inquire about companies and services that are used to clean up a person’s social media site(s). This may allow a potentially fraudulent claimant to delete something he/she wishes they never had posted.

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