Employment Investigations: To Google or Not?

The title of this blog post was the topic of an interesting seminar I recently attended.  The presenter was a Director level investigator at the Pinkerton, one of the world’s security companies.  He talked from the point-of-view of how his team uses the internet to do it’s research on cases their clients give them.  There was some discussion of Google, but it was much more broader focus.  Typical cases he works on are workers’ comp fraud or investigating some off duty employee activity that affects the company.

Some interesting info mentioned:

  • According to some study, 75% of all internet usage is for Social Networking Sites (SNS)
  • Facebook (FB) is the #1 used SNS, Youtube #2 and Wikipedia is a distant #3
  • When they research people and they begin to research that person’s friends on FB, they determine who to look at by the number of friends and number of times that person’s FB account has been accessed (it was mentioned that FB only allows 1,000 friends, and FB will suspend accounts when getting close…didn’t know that!)
  • Heavy use of Google’s Advanced Operators when researching

There was a portion of the presentation showing how these advanced operators can be used to perform searches. There was also about a dozen or so websites mentioned they use to perform some searches of people such as yauba.com, zigs.com and spokeo.com.

There was also mention of info NOT to put on one’s own Social Media Site such as:

  • Birthdate and Place of Birth or Mother’s maiden name (typical info used by banks, etc. to verify account).
  • Vacation Plans before you leave (don’t advertise to burglars that no one will be home at your house for a while)
  • Home Address (not even city and state, easy to verify a person by this info)
  • Confessionals (the presenter mentioned people like to “brag” about their dirty deeds and or want to confess their sins and cited several examples of people mentioning robbing someone or a bank)
  • Variants of their own passwords as “hints”
  • Risky behaviors (if you participate in such activities as sky diving, hang gliding, parachuting, race car driving, etc.)  Insurance companies are now hiring people to research their policy holders.  If you put on your insurance application you don’t do these activities and they find out you do by your posting on FB or other SNS, they have been known to cancel insurances

As a HR professional, I asked about the privacy issue and since he was an investigator and not a lawyer, he didn’t answer professionally.  But personally, he felt companies need to protect their brand and if the information is out in public, it is searchable.  Of course, the “gray(er) area” is when companies actually USE that info for employment decisions.


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