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Investigative Series: What’s In a Name?

To the general public, a Name is a personal reference point.
We use it to create familiarity and to be personable.  In the business and legal communities, parties will contract with a Name and in adversarial situations, will sue the Name.  In the investigative sector, a Name is an identifier; it is the nucleus of the investigative process, as the majority of information systems and data warehouses today are name-search driven.

De-Coding a Name
There are three key considerations when launching an investigation of a Name.  The first is to decipher whether the Name at hand is a given legal name, surname, married name, or moniker.  The second is to determine the possible spelling variations of the Name.  The third is to understand the possible cultural nuances behind the Name.

Using my Name as an example, one must investigate my given legal name, my middle name because this is how I am known in the business community (Jennifer), my maiden surname, and my married surname (Mannino).  If I intend to be strategic with the usage of my Name, I may execute investment contracts in my legal name, and would consider being litigious using my name as it is known within the business community (Jenn Mannino).

Tracing Footprints of a Name
Now that we have de-coded the Name, we need to trail it.  As a starting point, ties to a specific jurisdiction are derived from a person’s employment background (current and past); property ownership records (current and sold); corporate registrations (active and inactive); professional licensure (active and lapsed); and academic affiliations.  Trailing the footprints of a Name is particularly important to the investigative process in order to analyze our information systems and data warehouses, and decipher whether those jurisdictions are available.

Researching a Name in the “Public Record”
When we search a Name in the “Public Record,” we must understand the resource we are searching and how it functions before we utilize it.  For example, a common Public Record resource that is electronically utilized in San Diego is the Superior Court at www.sdcourt.ca.gov.  In reading the website’s disclosure statement: “Civil Limited records may only be available for 10 years for some court locations. Juvenile cases are not included in this index.”  Your options to search are using a strict name search or case number.

The disadvantage to online searchable Public Record websites is that they do not support free text querying, meaning if a clerk uploads data into an agency’s system and misspells the name, a strict name search will not yield important information and may have drastic effects on your imminent investment or pending lawsuit.

Researching a Name through “Data Warehouses”
One solution to protect against the strict name search pitfalls is to subscribe to Data Warehouses, or more commonly, Proprietary Databases that have packaged information (for the permissible use) by the legal and financial communities.  The benefit to these subscriptions is that they have the capabilities of running natural language and Boolean searches.  As indicated above, it is still critical to understand the search tool and how it functions because there is no single proprietary database that is all-encompassing and providing nationwide coverage of every agency and court system within the United States.  Therefore, without such an understanding, there may be potential gaps in the data that you uncover from your search.

These Proprietary Databases are very transparent about what is and is not covered through their systems.  For example, an excerpt from one of the Data Warehouses reads: “Database contains records concerning civil lawsuits from courts in more than 500 counties in 45 states….”  From an investigative perspective, it is critical to know which of those counties are included, as there are actually over 3,000 counties in the United States, meaning that particular search tool only covers an estimated 16% of the counties in the United States.

S. Jennifer Mannino

S. Jennifer Mannino is a principal of RISC® a global due diligence and investigative consulting firm based in Phoenix, Arizona. Jennifer manages full cycle investigations and oversees the investigative strategy on background investigations for M&A deals and asset searches for commercial litigation disputes. She can be reached at 602-277-7472, ext. 105 or www.risc-llc.com.

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About the Author: S. Jennifer Mannino is a principal of RISC® a global due diligence and investigative consulting firm based in Phoenix, Arizona. Jennifer manages full cycle investigations and oversees the investigative strategy on background investigations for M&A deals and asset searches for commercial litigation disputes. She can be reached at 602-277-7472, ext. 105 or www.risc-llc.com.

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