Fighting Fraud with Metadata

 Thursday, January 5, 2017

 Michael H. Boyer

It’s probably accurate to say that most adjusters and examiners have handled dubious property insurance claims. Questions frequently arise as to the true cause of losses, the extent of the alleged loss, the insured’s representations during the investigation as to ownership, and the documentation submitted in support of the claims.

Claims adjusters and examiners routinely request proof of ownership or purchase in the form of receipts or pho-tographs of the property now claimed to have been lost or stolen. Policies of all types require an insured to provide information or evidence in accordance with the policy’s general conditions, sometimes called the cooperation clause or “Your duties after loss.”

Bogus receipts or invoices have been created or fabricated by some individuals. They may have obtained blank receipts from office supply stores or actual blank receipts from retail outlets. In other in-stances, actual receipts were modified by whiting out, cutting and pasting information, dates and prices. The fraudulent receipt usually over-stated the value or cost of the item or the date of purchase was changed. Falsified receipts were then photocopied and submitted as proof of purchase or acquisition. If Polaroid photos were submitted, it was possible to determine that an instant photo was taken after the date of loss because the manufacture date was imprinted on the back. Then computers were used to create bogus receipts with computer programs such as Adobe Photoshop or similar software.

In the last decade, a myriad of digital devices including cell phones and smart phones, cameras and even digital audio devices have come onto the market. These devices record dates, times, conditions, settings, locations and more. The recorded data is called metadata and can be very helpful in the investigation of suspicious claims and suspected insurance fraud.

Metadata
Merriam-Webster.com defines metadata as “data about data.” Metadata represents a wide range of digital content embedded in files which includes the following: how or by what means the data was created or originated (phone, camera, audio or video recordings, etc.); the purpose of the data; date and time of creation; the cre-ator or author; location of the data on a computer or network; and the standards used in its creation.

Metadata can be created by many de-vices in numerous formats which include photography, audio and video recordings, and telecommunications. The usual standard format is JPEG which means Joint Photographic Experts Group. The file extension is .jpg or .jpeg. There are many other image formats, but this discussion will focus on digital photos (JPEG files) in the EXIF format (Exchangeable Image File Format).


Here is an example of the EXIF information from a digital photo. To view the EXIF details:
  • Put the cursor on the jpeg and right click.
  • A menu drops down — now at the bottom of the list, left click “Properties.”
  • At the top tabs left click on the “Details.” Depending on the camera, there may be several categories of information to scroll down through. The amount of information depends on the maker and sophistication of the camera and lenses.
Here is an example using an iPad:
  1. The type of file: JPG File (.jpg)
  2. Location (which is on a desktop).
  3. The size and the size on the disk which is 244 KB.
  4. The date and time created (taken), date modified and accessed: September 17, 2014 at 9:41 a.m.
  5. At the top of the box right click on the third tab labeled “Details.” This will provide the following information:
Description
Title-
Subject –
Rating – Five Stars
Tags –

Origin
Authors –
Date Taken: 9/17/2014

Image
Image ID – None
Dimensions – 720x720
Width – 720 pixels
Height – 720 pixels

Camera
Camera Maker – Apple
Camera Model – iPad2
F-stop – F/2.4
ISO Speed – ISO-40
Focal Length – 2 mm
Max Aperture –
Metering Mode – Pattern
Flash Energy – 0
35 mm focal length – 59
Advanced photo (Omitted here)

File
Name – IASIU Car Fire5.jpg
Item Type – JPEG image
Folder Path – C:\Users\pharman/My Doc…Date Created – 8/17/2015 10:10 AM
Date Modified – 8/17/2015 10:15 AM
Size – 224 KB
Attributes – RATI
Owner – SBMedia/pharman
Computer – OFF05184 (this computer)

GPS Enabled Cameras or Phones Provide Latitude and Longitude location data
As of 2014, most digital cameras and cell phones will include a built-in GPS receiver which stores location information or coordinates (longitude and latitude). Smart-phones and Android are GPS enabled. GPS is sometimes referred to as “Geotagging.”

GPS Metadata
The GPS coordinates can be used to find the actual street address or location where the digital photo was taken by using Google Maps and map services. Was it taken at a storage facility, at the insured premises or at another location?

There are free online apps that convert address information into GPS coordinates and coordinates to addresses. Go to http://www.gps-coordinates.net/ for one source of these apps.

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are installed in many automobiles as original equipment with the first year of GPS services provided. Watercraft, agricultural equipment, commercial vehicles, heavy equipment and other business equipment and assets routinely use global positioning systems or black boxes. Businesses use GPS to keep track of business assets and equipment, especially the location of commercial trucks and trailers. These devices also monitor and record how drivers use the equipment. The various locations of the equipment can be reconstructed by experts who can examine on-board GPS equipment (or black boxes) and recorded data in tracking service provider’s data.

Viewing “removed” metadata
Metadata can be removed from JPEGs but all is not lost or deleted — the data is just hidden. Photo manipulation and paint software such as Adobe Photoshop can be used to view, read, edit and extract EXIF information. There are sev-eral free web or online photo applications available which include “Online EXIF Viewer” and “Camera Summary.” Several other EXIF viewers are also on the market.

Use digital forensic experts
It is clear that metadata is a complex area of forensics with its own unique lexicon. Experts in digital forensic science should be engaged in the investigation as soon as digital data is discovered that requires their expertise. It is also essential that forensic experts actually qualify as experts in anticipation of litigation.

A word of caution
The main purpose of metadata is to determine whether the insured’s representations regarding the facts of a loss, version of events, claims of ownership, existence and use of property claimed to have been destroyed, lost or stolen are true or false. It is clear that metadata can be used in connection with all types of property and casualty claims including personal property and structure losses, material or physical damage losses on automobile policies, such as owner give-ups, total theft and fraudulent casualty on any personal lines and commercial property policy. How metadata can help in the investigation of suspected insurance fraud and other crimes is limited only by the ingenuity of the investigator.

A complete investigation is critical to resolving issues with questionable claims. Confronting the insured about discrepancies in the questioned claim as they arise would be premature. There may be other aspects of the claim that need further investigation.

The claims department must require that the insured comply with all general conditions (duties after loss) which include the production of books and records, and to an examination under oath (EUO). Let counsel for the insurer confront the insured under oath and on the record about his or her representations regarding any matters related to the claim and insurance.
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