Using News and Social Media for Finding Financial Assets – 5 Top Tips

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As a private investigator, I search social media and online news for our clients on a daily basis, and I find it especially useful for asset investigations. Not everything will show up in public records, and news and social media research helps fill in the gaps.

Here are just a few examples of what we’ve been able to find that made a difference for our asset clients:

  • Rural land with mineral rights – Our subject owned several tracts of land in rural Oklahoma, which – on paper – didn’t hold much value. But a short article in the business news reported that one piece of land had recently produced oil. A “gusher,” as they described it.
  • Liquor license application – Through public records, we found a business related to our subject, but we had little besides a business name and address. Nothing described what this company did. A broad news search led us to information about its operations and confirmation of a liquor license.
  • Conflict of interest – In one case, the attorney suspected a conflict of interest between the debtor and an appraiser. After finding no connections in the online public records, we discovered a previous business partnership through our search of older news articles.

Yes, news and social media research adds value to asset investigations, but there are challenges. Too much information, too little, and let’s not get started with the sales pitches and misinformation.

Here are my 5 top tips for overcoming these challenges and using news and social media research for asset investigations:

Know what to look for – Anything can be important, but it helps to filter out the noise. For asset investigations, here’s what I’m generally interested in:

  • Full names, aliases, addresses, and other identifying information
  • Relatives, friends, and other associates
  • Significant others’ profiles
  • Homes, businesses, boats, other assets
  • Lifestyle, habits, patterns
  • Photos

Focus on the “Why?” – It’s easy to get distracted in a hyperlinked world. Avoid straying from what’s important or feeling overwhelmed by too many results by focusing on these two questions:

  • Why is the information needed?
  • How will it be used?

Go beyond Google – You’ve heard me say it before, and I’ll keep saying it. Try different search engines like Bing and Biznar, and use some fee-based news databases like LexisNexis or NewsBank. Go directly to each social platform to search, and try a social search engine. Google is a tool, but it’s not the only one.

Go local – Don’t forget the local news for finding assets. These sources go into more depth than their national counterparts when it comes to locally-based individuals and companies. Use premium databases that let you limit by location, or go directly to the news source. I like to use this directory of links.

Know how it works – It’s hard to search social media platforms if you have no idea how they work. Learn about users, topics, etiquette, rules for searching with or without creating a profile, and how to search anonymously. Become familiar with advanced search options in your news databases, and get to know their limitations.

What are your tips and tricks for using news and social media for asset investigations?

(I’ll be talking more about online asset research at the upcoming NALI Mid-Winter 2022 Virtual Conference. Hope to “see” you there!)

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