What is the first thing you should do if you discover your business has become a fraud victim? Fix it and get back to work, right?
Not so fast. Your first action when you uncover fraudulent activity (after contacting your attorney) should be to take proactive steps to preserve evidence. Otherwise, you might inadvertently destroy or discard critical data, and without evidence, fraud cannot be fully traced and perpetrators cannot be prosecuted and punished.
Place any physical evidence you find in a safe location that is accessible only to a few key people. Do not make notes on any paper documents and, unless necessary, do not let them be handled. Instead, make separate notations about when and where they were found and how you preserved them. A court case can be derailed if you do not preserve the chain of evidence.
Handling paper documents is relatively easy as long as you approach the task with care. Copy anything you need to continue operations, and then turn the originals over to fraud examiners or law enforcement for fingerprinting, handwriting analysis, or other forensic testing.
Computers are another story, especially if your information technology (IT) staff is not trained to deal with fraud evidence.
Even the most skilled IT technician may unintentionally alter or destroy evidence in the course of restoring computer systems or devices to normal operations.
To avoid such mishaps, any routine data destruction should be put on hold. If your system automatically deletes certain information (including emails) periodically, that process must be discontinued immediately. IT staff should keep their investigative activities to a minimum while they act promptly to make sure that no further alterations can be made to existing files.
Your business then needs to hand the matter over to a computer forensics specialist. This expert can identify and restore altered records, digital forgeries, and files that have been intentionally corrupted. They also can get to secured or password-protected files and pinpoint unauthorized system access — all without destroying or damaging suspect files.
Successful fraud investigations live or die on the amount and integrity of the evidence that is uncovered. Preparing to respond in a manner that preserves fraud evidence is the first step in the process of catching and punishing a thief. Contact us for more information.