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By: Jon E. Crosby, CFE, FCLS
The late Jack Webb, star of the 1950s and 1960s television series Dragnet, made famous the phrase “The facts ma’am, just the facts.” According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, a fact is “a thing that actually happened and is really true.” As it relates to investigations, the message is clear; the purpose is to determine the facts and only the facts. And facts must be based on evidence, which typically includes testimony of witnesses, documents, photographs, items of damaged property, government records, videos and laboratory reports. Investigators, therefore, should approach every assignment with the goal of determining the facts — whatever they may be. This “fact orientation” will motivate the investigator to pursue all available leads and remain impartial. It will also help to avoid compromising the integrity of the investigation, which would no doubt occur if it could be shown that the investigator was predisposed to prove a theory versus just obtaining the facts.
REMAIN IMPARTIAL — PROTECT CONFIDENTIALITY:
The investigator, through his words or actions, should never create the impression that there is a belief the policyholder, claimants or anyone else were involved in any wrongdoing. Since investigations by their very nature may create the wrong impression (that an accusation is being made), the investigator must use a great deal of tact and diplomacy in his approach. The investigator must never state or imply any wrongdoing on the part of anyone, and should provide only as much information regarding the investigation as the person being interviewed needs to know. Releasing privileged information concerning an investigation without the client’s permission may be in violation of state laws regarding confidentiality, and may subject the investigator to administrative and civil actions. Moreover, it may compromise the investigation.
LET THE FACTS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES:
Unfortunately some inexperienced investigators, upon receipt of a new assignment, draw unsupported conclusions as to what occurred and then initiate an investigation to prove they were right. This often results in the investigator’s failure to follow up on important leads or even pursue other logical steps in the investigation. The investigator hears and sees only that which fits comfortably into his preconceived notion of what took place. Even experienced investigators sometimes allow their “gut” to dictate their handling of a case. A gut feeling on the part of a seasoned investigator is an important asset. Gut feelings are based largely on solid experience and are often proved out. But relying solely on gut may preclude the investigator from following important leads and looking for other possibilities. Never compromise thoroughness — get the facts and let them speak for themselves.
START WITH A PLAN:
Upon receipt of any new assignment the investigator should start with a thorough review of the file and then prepare an initial investigative plan. This plan can be modified as necessary during the course of the investigation, but the initial plan serves as an important springboard to ensure the case is acted upon and stays on track. During the investigation, all logical steps should be taken and leads followed. The one step not taken or lead not followed may result in a critical piece of the puzzle being missed, and an investigation is a puzzle. To see the total picture, all pieces need to be properly in place. This can be tedious work. It’s usually better to err on the side of doing too much investigation rather than not enough. The important thing is to recognize when you’ve done enough and when to conclude the investigation. Private investigators are expected to conduct investigations only as requested by their clients, no more and no less. In those instances where it is believed that additional investigation is warranted, this needs to be promptly communicated to the client for authorization before any action is taken.
DON’T CHASE WILD GEESE OR GO FISHING:`
Through proper planning and an understanding of the facts necessary to establish who, what, where, when, why and how, the investigator will be able to maintain control of the case and not go off on what might be considered “wild goose chases” or “fishing expeditions.” While the
former indicates a lack of direction and control, the latter may be viewed as an unjustified effort on the part of the Investigator to “find something.”
EXPECT TO BE EVALUATED:
Pursue every investigation with the expectation that your work will be reviewed and evaluated by your superiors, clients, attorneys, judges and a trial jury. It may even be covered by the news media. Keep in mind that you may be called upon to testify at deposition and at trial regarding the things you did and to explain why you did them. Ask yourself whether you feel confident that your efforts will pass muster? They usually will if your focus was was on just the facts.
Jon E. Crosby is Manager of the insurance Services I )/vision of Business Consulting & Investigations, Inc. (fl( 1), Atlanta, Georgia. He is a former Director of Florida’s Division of Insurance Fraud.
© 2000 John Cooke Fraud Report