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The power of visualisation

Forensic Focus - February 2009

Investigative visual analysis (“VA”) is a powerful tool which uses charts and diagrams to uncover hidden patterns in large amounts of data. VA is a tool that is often used by investigators to help catch identity fraudsters.

Often in large cases investigators will experience ‘information overload’ where they won’t know where to focus their analysis and investigation.

VA allows investigators to visualise relationships and patterns in the fraudster’s activity. These relationships and patterns will show investigators where to target their investigation and how to best allocate their time and resources.

Case study

Most people don’t realise that the everyday documents or personal details that we make freely available, either by throwing away or by providing to others, can help fraudsters steal an identity or build a false identity. Once the fraudsters have sufficient information and documents they can begin their fraudulent activities for example, obtaining finance.

In a recent case we identified an identity fraud ring where an individual had obtained everyday documents (bank statements, letters, bills, application forms) and personal details of her colleagues to obtain several loans.

This case involved collating and analysing data from a number of institutions including banks, finance companies, utility companies and retailers. 

Power of visualisation - chart 1

Demonstrated in Chart 1 is one of the many links identified between the fraudster “Sally Smith” and her victims. In this situation Sally Smith obtained four loans from finance companies under her victims’ names (“Lucy Lake”, “Jess Jones”, “Tammy Tindall” and “Anna Able”) and had the loans paid into two bank accounts controlled by her.

Power of visualisaton - chart 2

VA can be applied to a vast range of data, not just financial data, for example, telephone numbers, addresses and email addresses. Demonstrated in Chart 2 is a second link identified between Sally Smith and her victims. Sally Smith not only redirected funds to her personal bank account as shown in Chart 1 but she also used her personal phone numbers as contact details on all four applications for loans under her victims’ names, in case someone needed to verify any details on the application form.

The advantages of VA include:

  • VA allows large amounts of data to be analysed quickly and efficiently;
  • VA shows investigators where to target their investigation and how to best allocate their time and resources;
    VA charts are a ‘live document’ and can be continually updated as more information from various sources is received in an investigation;
  • VA establishes links between individuals, locations, vehicles, events, telephone numbers and other identifiers rather than relying on the investigator to establish the links manually; and
  • VA brings clarity to often complex relationships and can be easily understood by those not directly involved in the investigation (such as lawyers or judges). 
For more information please contact:

Lisa Lee 
Senior Analyst, Forensics

Other related articles:

Identity theft - the clean up
Analytic insights 

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