November 30th, 2011 by Rebekah Smith
“People are stupid.”
– Anonymous Attorney
I suspect the attorney making this comment did not actually conduct a formal survey to come to her conclusion. However, given the topic she was speaking on…divorce and facebook…she likely had some pretty strong antidotal evidence. In this particular news story, which boasted a headline “Facebook being used in 90% of divorce cases,” a divorce attorney was discussing the frequent use of Facebook in divorce cases.
While we aren’t seeing the use of Facebook as high as 90% in our litigation and forensic cases, there is definitely a use for facebook in forensic accounting cases. As forensic accountants, we are frequently called upon to uncover financial assets and activity that aren’t being disclosed and there are times that social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace) have proven to be quite valuable. And while I don’t subscribe to the “people are stupid” school of thought, I am constantly amazed by the things people do post on Facebook.
For example, in a hidden assets case, we were able to access the debtor’s daughter’s Facebook page which discussed her very elaborate upcoming nuptials, posted pictures of her expensively furnished condo in a very upscale neighborhood, in addition to her convertible sports car. Needless to say her job description (also listed on facebook) was not one that it would seem could support such a lifestyle. This reinforced the creditor’s belief that there were some assets that had been squirreled away before the bankruptcy and were now funding the daughter’s lifestyle.
In divorce or hidden asset cases, many times there is photographic evidence of either the lifestyle the couple led or assets they possessed. I have seen pictures of houses, household goods, trips, vacation homes, and “toys” (such as a new Lamborghini, true story!). Many people protect their personal information on their Facebook accounts but fail to secure their photo albums.
We used LinkedIn in an employment case one time. The plaintiff in the case had changed their employment goals accordingly to their LinkedIn profile, was purposefully seeking to make career change to a lower paying position and industry (because they were looking to slow down). This evidence was used to demonstrate that the decline in their salary was not just a result of the employment claim they made.
So just remember your Miranda rights when you get online….what you say can and will be used against you (and so can what you post)!