The Changing Landscape and Evolution of the Forensic Accounting Profession: Open-Source Intelligence

The following excerpt is from an article that was published in the August/September 2020 issue of the Financial Valuation and Litigation Excerpt.

The introduction to this series discussed the evolution of the forensic accounting profession and explained that there are three investigative techniques in which the modern-day forensic accountant should be well versed. The first investigative technique, which was highlighted in this article, is open-source intelligence.

“Open-source intelligence” is a term used for data and information that is available to the general public. Thus, “open-source” refers to accessible sources, as opposed to covert or hidden sources.

Publicly Available Information 

Among a long list of available sources, public records include:

  1. Media, such as print newspapers, TV, radio, and magazines
  2. The Internet, including online publications, discussion groups, social media sites, maps, photos, and videos
  3. Public government data
  4. Professional and academic publications

Although publicly available information has always been a traditional research source, today it can be deployed as an even more powerful investigative asset due to the Internet, where an enormous amount of information detailing the histories of our lives can be easily accessed. 

Social Media

Social media research, one of the most widely used sources of publicly available information, is often the best way to get real-time insight due to the way people now interact. Traditional media was a one-way street, as individuals would read a newspaper, listen to a radio, or watch a show on TV. However, social media is a two-way street that provides individuals the ability to communicate with others almost instantly.

Social media is an inexpensive tool for the forensic accountant to utilize, with its accessibility and expediency of information. People are tweeting live from events, exploring Facebook, posting pictures to Instagram, and commenting on, liking, or sharing, just about everything. The amount of personal information that social media users are willing to disclose is staggering.

There are hundreds of social media sites that can be incorporated into an investigation, with some of the more popular sites being Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook. On sites like these, users disclose a great deal of personal information that they would not necessarily be willing to divulge in person, and certainly not to a forensic accountant.

Many social media sites allow the user to control what information is visible to the public, but this feature is not always used. As such, this creates new opportunities to accumulate distinct individual or entity information during an investigation. Consequently, by taking advantage of this material, a forensic accountant can build a timeline of events and identify relationships between individuals and entities, among other analytical objectives.

This is the second article of a four-part series that will be released over the next few weeks. To read the previous
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