Misconduct & Dishonesty

Searching for Evidence

The Internet, Search Engines & The Dishonest Employee

It need not be said how popular the internet is today, nor does it need to be said what a crucial tool this is to just about any business enterprise. What is not so well known though is the latent power that lies in the hands of the employer, should they wish to conduct any additional research into the activities of their employees, or more specifically, to the power available to just about anyone with an internet connection when it comes to investigating cases of misconduct. Two specific examples come to mind.

I was approached recently by a client who needed assistance in dealing with one of her employees. She thought that he had established a business, which while not being in direct competition with the employer, constituted a breach of the employment contract, as well as the common law obligations of the employee.
The employer wanted to dismiss the employee as quickly as possible, and so we set about making arrangements for a disciplinary hearing, and the gathering of evidence, which would provide a clear indication of which charges the employee would be required to respond to.

It was at this point that I decided that we needed more to tip the scales further in our favour.
Since this case dealt with a conflict of interest situation, and the employee had registered a company it was a simple one to investigate. Within the space of forty-five minutes I had managed to gather enough evidence to make our case a winner, and the real beauty of this was that I used little more than some common sense and an internet connection.
The employer knew the name of the registered company, and my first port of call was the CIPRO website, which, provided you have some basic details, will show you the registration information of all the companies that they have on record. (Bear in mind that they will ask you to pay for some of the more detailed information, but luckily for this instance, the information I required was freely published to the world at large.)
Armed with a screen capture of the employee’s company registration, I was able to show the date the company was registered, as well as the name and contact details of the person who owned the company.

Spurred on by my discovery I did a quick search on Google for the name of the company that had been registered. The first link provided pointed directly to the domain that had been registered by the employee, which opened up a whole new avenue of research possibilities.
All domains registered on the internet are handled by domain registration organisations, of which there are many, mainly divided up by geographical location. In South Africa the association responsible for this is Uniforum, and domain information is freely available to the public, by visiting their website here. (You can click the link ‘Whois – Registration Details’ and enter the name of any domain which falls within the region of South Africa).
The page that comes up will show you the date the domain was registered, the name and address of the owner, as well as the administration contacts, if they have been provided. In this case, the domain in question had been registered on a .com address, and so it was simply a case of locating the US equivalent of Uniforum, and entering the domain details.
What followed was a gold mine, since it perfectly corroborated the evidence that had been unearthed so far, and would ensure that the employee would not be getting his long service award, and oiled the rails that led toward the door.
There have been numerous other instances where the internet has proved invaluable in nailing the ungodly.

Another recent case related to an employee who had embezzled money from a client, and overall appeared to be a dishonest and abusive individual, who was prone to lying and conning his way through his interactions with his employer. Although we had sufficient evidence to defend his dismissal, it was while inspecting the evidence that I decided it would be interesting to do some research into one of the companies that he had brought to the employer as a ‘sales lead’.

The so-called lead was a request for a quotation from a company that had a rather unique name. I headed straight over to Google and entered the name of the company, being careful to enter the search phrase between a set of inverted commas. (Inverted commas will search for the exact phrase entered between them, for example: If we were looking to find specific references to a company called ‘Dishonest Investments CC’ one would enter it into Google as “dishonest investments CC”, resulting in Google returning all instances where that exact phrase had been used.)
Only two links were returned, but both of them hit the mark exactly. The site in question was a well known local crime fighting community initiative. What I discovered was that the ‘company’ had been mentioned as being directly involved in fraudulent activity, whereby they would place orders for stock with legitimate companies, and then send counterfeit proof of payments through to the supplier, in the hope that the goods would be released before anyone realised that the money had not been deposited.
I approached the employer with this discovery, and it quickly became apparent that the employee in question had been involved in some way with this scam. A quick check with the employee’s previous employer revealed that he had attempted to pull the same scam with them. It is frequent that you find a serial sinner who will try and pull the same trick again and again.
As a parting shot, the employer, quite rightly, referred the matter to their local police station, providing the police with another lead to be followed up as part of their investigations into the fraudulent company.

The power of the internet is vastly underestimated by many, but in my opinion it can never hurt to search for the proverbial needle in the haystack. Certainly with the right approach, there is a mass of needles waiting for those seeking them, and the wise would see it as one more tool that can be used to potentially cover lots of ground very quickly.