The Fraud Examiner

Tracing the Untraceable: A Fraud Examiner’s Guide to Digital Forensics

By Lindsay Gill, CFE 
Director of Forensic Technology 
Forensic Strategic Solutions, Inc.

We live in a world that is becoming more digital every day. From desktops and laptops, to tablets and smartphones — technology is all around us. This proliferation of technology presents new opportunities for fraudsters to commit and attempt to conceal fraudulent activity. While this issue can seem daunting, the digital trail they leave behind sets the stage for us as fraud examiners to connect the dots in ways we could not imagine just a few years ago. The ability to collect, analyze and interpret electronic evidence, often referred to as digital forensics, is becoming more prominent within the field of fraud examination. Possessing the knowledge of specific software and hardware tools, to best practices for recovery and analysis methods, digital forensics is a powerful tool and skill for fraud examiners and investigators — if they know the right places to look.

Digital forensics tools

Data is the heart of a digital forensics case, but data is simply data. There are certain tools needed to collect, assess and interpret the information. Computer forensics provides the tool to collect and preserve legally admissible evidence from one or many computing devices. Once the data has been collected, the fraud examiner must be able to mine the data to extract and identify patterns and relationships within structured and unstructured data. Performing link analysis will help the examiner discover and evaluate relationships. Link analysis, in turn, often identifies new information and connections that require a return to data mining to further zero in or to extract additional information. Data mining and link analysis helps reveal information that is nearly impossible to identify without the technology.

Leave no stone unturned

One of the greatest tips I can provide is to look everywhere. A common phrase is that things are often what and who you least expect. While that has proved true in many cases, sometimes things are obvious or made obvious by connecting seemingly unrelated information or data. Whether it be structured data like the company’s accounting system, or the unstructured data provided by email, voice communications, voicemail, text and instant messaging, it is important to truly look everywhere because you never know where you will find that missing piece of the puzzle. One of the places digital forensic experts are focusing their searches today is the world of social media. People tend to overshare locations and activities on social media accounts. Even when they don’t overshare, social media provides a host of searchable metadata such as timestamps and geo location.

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