Social Media Investigations – A Winning Strategy for Insurers

Posted in Legal Alerts on October 16, 2023

The cost of non-health insurance fraud each year is significant. This fraud results in increased premiums for customers and decreased profits for insurance companies. One of the best ways to identify insurance fraud is through surveillance, which can be used to verify or refute injury and loss claims. Investigations of social media platforms can provide valuable information about the legitimacy of a claimant’s assertions.

How Social Media Posts Can Help Detect Insurance Fraud

With more than 70 percent of the American public using social media of some type, these platforms can contain beneficial information regarding insurance claimants and whether their contentions are accurate. Information gathered from a claimant’s social media posts can show their true physical state and limitations. Often, their actions around their friends and family conflict with the limitations they report to insurers. Social media investigations have a clear digital chain of custody, which is important since the information discovered in an insurance fraud investigation must be admissible in court. 

Using Sock Puppet Accounts in Social Media Investigations

Use caution when relying on social media information in a fraud investigation. For example, do not use personal social media accounts to obtain information on a claimant. Keep the investigation secure by avoiding the use of anyone’s personal accounts. 

Rather, insurance providers and their investigators can consider creating sock puppet accounts. Sock puppet accounts are also known as research accounts. They are fake accounts that can be used to gain information regarding a claimant’s behavior. 

Consider the following before creating a sock puppet account to conduct an insurance fraud investigation: 

  • Name: Do not use a real name on a sock puppet account. Use a fictional name and other details. Also, use a name that does not stand out or draw attention to the account.
  • Profile picture: Do not use a real photo of yourself in a profile picture or elsewhere on the page or account. Also, avoid using someone else’s photo. Rather, use a stock photo with the metadata removed.
  • Email address: Create a new email address for the sock puppet account. If you use an address that you previously created, it may be able to be traced back to you. Consider using a completely different email provider than the one used for personal or work email.
  • IP address: Do not use a virtual private network (VPN) when creating a sock puppet account. Rather, use a public, free Wi-Fi connection. This demonstrates to a social media platform that a user is using the account in several locations with different IP addresses, which reduces the chances of the account being flagged for suspicious activity.
  • Phone number: Avoid using a personal phone number or work phone number for a sock puppet account. When possible, bypass the phone verification altogether. If this is not possible, use a burner phone to verify the account.
  • Security settings: Ensure the privacy settings being used for the sock puppet account are the most secure available. Do not make the profile public. Further, do not publicize the account’s friends’ (or connections) list until it reaches a realistic number.
  • Activity: Ensure the account is interacting with others and making posts like a regular social media user would.

Using a fictitious account to collect information regarding an insurance claimant can be incredibly beneficial. Laws can vary from state to state, but the above guidelines for creating a sock puppet account make it more likely that investigators can successfully pass as regular social media users. Doing so can help insurers and investigators gain invaluable information about insurance claimants. 

How to Obtain Social Media Posts in Insurance Claim Cases 

Because social media posts are often visible to the public, the information they contain can be used in court to refute a claimant’s assertions. However, if a claimant does not have a public profile, the information they post on social media may not be as easily obtained. In this case, the insurer and / or its legal counsel can request that the claimant produce their relevant social media information in discovery.

If you are relying on discovery to obtain social media information, be sure to request metadata as well. Metadata can expose deleted information, as well as the dates and times of social media posts. This information can be used to refute a claimant’s assertions.

Keep in mind that under the Stored Communications Act, some social media sites, such as Facebook and Instagram, only preserve and share social media content with law enforcement and other governmental agencies. When an insurance company serves these sites with a valid, domesticated subpoena, the sites only share subscriber information and not user content. As such, it is critical that you request a complete history and activity log from the user through discovery.

What to Consider When Using Social Media Investigations

When relying on social media investigations to prove insurance fraud, keep the following concepts in mind – they can affirm or repudiate the insurer’s contention that a claimant is defrauding the insurance company: 

  • Preservation is key: Once a claimant realizes they have potentially damaging information online, they may delete it. As such, be sure to print out everything you can from the individual’s page and / or account and take screenshots immediately upon discovery of the information. This may be the only proof you have of the claimant’s actions that prove their dishonesty.
  • Authenticity is key: Florida courts require that insurance companies present authentication evidence when social media history is used to contest claimants’ assertions. Sometimes printouts are not enough. Be prepared to work with your insurance lawyers to develop and present an affidavit from someone with personal knowledge of the claimant’s social media content. 

Social media investigations help to develop a winning strategy for insurers when conducted correctly. Using social media investigations can verify the legitimacy of insurance claims and reveal fraudulent claims. It can also save insurers money at a time when the total cost of non-health insurance fraud exceeds $40 billion annually. Use the popularity of social media to your benefit as an insurer.

Getting Legal Help with Insurance Fraud

If you are already swamped with conducting investigations and writing reports, Conroy Simberg can help you identify cases of insurance fraud. Our experienced legal professionals can gather help insurance companies utilize cutting edge techniques and strategies to counter claimants’ fraudulent assertions.