Conflicts and Kickbacks: Rooting out Employee Malfeasance With Social Media

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[co-author: Victor Epstein]*

There’s nowhere to hide when forensic investigators follow digital footprints.

Every time we go online, we leave a digital trail that maps out our past, reflecting our actions and relationships. For most people, that trail is benign. For others, it can be incriminating. Today’s forensic investigators increasingly exploit this phenomenon when probing for malfeasance.

Last year, a Boston-based organization retained FTI Consulting’s Global Risk and Investigations Practice to look into potential kickbacks and conflicts of interest between an employee and an external vendor. After reviewing the organization’s initial evidence, FTI investigators conducted an investigation of the alleged offender that linked online evidence of offline gains inconsistent with the employee’s known lifestyle. This in turn led to other evidence of wrongdoing.

Following the Trail

FTI started by collecting background on the employee in question that eventually branched out to include coworkers within the same group who had dealings with the vendor. The investigators reviewed human resource records including salary histories and resumes, and pulled publicly available federal, state and county data, such as real estate and court records. They also looked at corporate registrations to identify possible shell companies set up by the employees to receive kickbacks or misappropriated funds.

Using social media analytics software, investigators imported Facebook profiles and Instagram and Twitter feeds, cross-referencing links between the subject employees and the organization’s vendors. FTI found photos of lavish trips, which were flagged as potential gifts received by members of the organization’s procurement team. Simultaneously, investigators utilized document review software to sift through multiple gigabytes of corporate emails, attachments and chat messages — all property of, and supplied by, the organization — to identify and preserve evidence of potential kickbacks and conflicts of interest.

FTI ultimately discovered that employees had undisclosed conflicts of interest with vendors and had attempted to conceal those conflicts from senior management. The investigation also found widespread violations of the organization’s gift policy. Multiple employees had accepted, and in some cases actively solicited, substantial gifts from vendors, including all-expenses-paid trips, tickets to sporting events, fine wine and electronics.

Armed with this evidence, FTI conducted interviews with the subject employees and secured admissions of guilt, following which the organization dismissed several of the employees involved or obtained their resignations. FTI followed up with recommendations to management on how to strengthen its compliance program and reduce the possibility of recurrence.

The Human Touch

In the end, a productive forensic investigation depends on successful partnering with all relevant stakeholders. In the organization’s instance, FTI investigators worked hand in hand with human resources executives and attorneys throughout to maintain integrity and compliance. They also considered management’s concerns and the organization’s reputation and worked discretely behind the scenes so as not to alarm employees — even coming in late at night to access company laptops.

The process sounds clandestine, but much of our digital footprint is open to scrutiny, especially when it comes to activity conducted on business hardware. The infographic below looks at how a multipronged forensic investigation using cutting-edge social media analytics leads to a successful resolution.

 

*Director, Forensic & Litigation Consulting

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