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Personal Injury & Insurance Fraud Investigation: Get the Mobile Device!

Personal Injury & Insurance Fraud Investigation: Get the Mobile Device!

As a registered Private Investigator in Virginia, I routinely see job postings and other opportunities for “surveillance investigators” to work insurance fraud cases.  This role involves a licensed private investigator going to the home and/or work place of someone who has filed an injury claim against another party for damages to surveil and document (i.e., videotape) their activities to help prove or disprove that an injury has taken place and is in line with the claim.   As an example, John Doe claims injury at his local grocery store by slipping on a grape and falling.  He files suit against the grocery store chain, whose insurance company now must work to defend this claim if they feel the claim is fraudulent.  John Doe may get a doctor to diagnose him with some sort of non-descript physical malady, bolstering his case, but medical science can be fooled by a good actor, so the insurance company hires a private investigator to follow and record John’s activities so they can dispute his claim that he is legitimately injured due to the fall and present that evidence to the plaintiff attorney and John Doe to combat the suit.

This is big business in the private and insurance fraud investigation worlds.  It’s probably just as big (or close to it) as infidelity investigations.  But when a private investigator is charging $65 per hour or more to sit in his car with a video camera, those costs can add up quickly.  One of the reasons why this is done is the worst reason in the world to do anything:  “That’s the way we’ve always done it!”  But there is a better and more high-tech way to help prove whether or not John Doe is really injured…

Also, I never liked surveillance work, so let’s talk about building a better proverbial mousetrap…

Wearable Technology

The simple fact is that in the modern era, smart phones are everywhere.  Apple, Android, Windows and Blackberry (yes, still) are all in the game to get consumer market share for smart phones.  Furthermore, smart phones are almost always connected to a network of some type, be it a cellular network, wi-fi network, GPS or other type of connection.  One huge area of the smart phone market is wearable technology.  Apple watch, FitBit, Nike & others all have the ability to track movement and calories burned for health & fitness purposes.  This data can be a huge benefit in insurance fraud investigations.  If John Doe is claiming he can’t walk more than 5 minutes at a time, would he really be taking 5,000 or more steps in a day?  Much of this data is available to us through mobile forensic data extraction and it really doesn’t go away unless the user chooses to make it go away.

Overall Data Sources

Even if there’s no wearable technology in place, the mobile device will often capture movement & health data by default.  In our experience, most users don’t turn off default setting such as location data & health tracking information, so if they’re using a device, it’s a pretty good bet the data is still there.  Consider the sample data extraction we performed on an iPhone 6s in April, 2017 using Cellebrite Universal Forensic Extraction Device (UFED).  The extraction is encrypted and must be on an iPhone to get the health data and, even though the Health app isn’t currently natively supported, there is still useful data contained in a number of the app database tables.

Figure 1 below shows when the health data first started being logged on the device, which is our first clue that the app is in use:

The next figure helps show us how much data the Health app has used since it’s initiation on the device, which further proves that the user was using this app to track activity:

The “Wan In” & “Wan Out” are indicators that data has been sent and received through the Health app on the cellular network on this device.  It’s a simple equation, if there’s no data sent or received, the app is not in use.

Figure 3 details part of the healthdb.sqlite file, which is a database file that is associated with the Health app on the iPhone.  It details the data sources that the app is using to help track movement, calories burned, etc.:

As you can see, the user is using not only the iPhone itself for the data input, but an Apple Watch as well.  The table even tracks the software version of each of the devices and we can see that the user has routinely updated the devices when new software versions were released.  If the user were syncing a FitBit or other wearable technology to this iPhone, that would likely be listed here as well and give us yet another clue about where to look for additional data.  Please note, the time frame listed here covers multiple devices through upgrades as well.

The native Health app on the iPhone has the ability to capture data from a number of different sources, such as Nike Run, FitBit or other apps which track movement, steps, etc.  Figure 4 below shows us the actual input data sources for data going to the health app and gives us more information.

So we know that the data may be coming from the Apple Watch, the Health App, the iPhone generally or the RunKeeper app.  The healthdb_secure.sqlite table is the real goldmine in this treasure hunt because it tells us more specific information about steps taken, dates, times, calories burned, goals set by the user, etc.  Fig. 5 below is a sample of this data in the activity cache:

After obtaining this data from John Doe’s (or Patrick’s) device, it starts to get very hard to stand by the claim that he is injured beyond the ability to do normal every day activities.  But a further search of all the apps on the device reveals a number of other activity-tracking apps, such as Pacer, which is used to track movement and distance.

Pacer app is also not natively supported by Cellebrite, but that doesn’t matter.  It still stores a ton of information we can pull out of the database tables and report, as is shown in Fig. 6 below:

This data can exist independently or be used to help corroborate the data that exists within the Health app.  Will they always be exactly the same?  No.  But the point is proven that there is a fair amount of movement happening and John Doe (or Patrick) is likely capable of earning a living and may not be injured to the degree he claims.

Getting the Device

The rub in civil cases like this is often getting access to the device.  This important step should not be overlooked.  First and foremost, Counsel should issue a spoliation letter to the plaintiff to preserve this data.  If this is not in place, you run the risk of the data being destroyed when an order to produce is issued.  Furthermore, consumers upgrade their devices all the time, and if the device is upgraded during the litigation process, we need to ensure the previous device is still accessible.  Next, when the timing is appropriate, we can petition the court for a Motion to Compel the opposing party to produce their device for the purposes of proving or disproving certain activity.  We see this done fairly often in divorce matters to help prove or disprove infidelity, malicious behavior/abuse, locations etc.  One very important piece about the petition to the court is to request that any and all passcodes and passwords to the device be supplied by the opposing party.  Without this, we may not be able to access the data on the device.

There are likely other data sources on the device that may serve to dispute the claim of injury, such as pictures, videos, etc.  But the health and activity data is often overlooked by the claimant in a civil action because it’s all stored automatically.  Furthermore, this data is not always easy to delete.  So start thinking outside the box and call a digital forensic consultant before you call your private investigator with his video camera.  You could save a lot of time and money and get better and less subjective evidence to help defend your client!

Patrick J. Siewert
Principal Consultant
Professional Digital Forensic Consulting, LLC
Virginia DCJS #11-14869
Based in Richmond, Virginia

Available Wherever You Need Us!

We Find the Truth for a Living!

Computer Forensics — Mobile Forensics — Specialized Investigation

About the Author:

Patrick Siewert is the Principal Consultant of Pro Digital Forensic Consulting, based in Richmond, Virginia.  In 15 years of law enforcement, he investigated hundreds of high-tech crimes, incorporating digital forensics into the investigations, and was responsible for investigating some of the highest jury and plea bargain child exploitation investigations in Virginia court history.  Patrick is a graduate of SCERS, BCERT, the Reid School of Interview & Interrogation and multiple online investigation schools (among others). He continues to hone his digital forensic expertise in the private sector while growing his consulting & investigation business marketed toward litigators, professional investigators and corporations, while keeping in touch with the public safety community as a Law Enforcement Instructor.

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