Case Studies

Case Study – Data’s Little Bro

Aside from fighting off guard dogs, hiking seven miles a day and navigating backyard death traps, entering accurate data into a computerized device played a key role in meter reading. I should know since I did it for about four and a half years for one of the largest utility companies in the world. It served as my first taste of data entry, but it wouldn’t be my last.

To this point, in my case study series, I’ve discussed a sort of data family: database administration, data mining, data mapping, and data analytics. When people think data, they think data science. What people forget is the importance of good, clean, accurate and efficient data entry. Entering accurate data into a system is an essential task. And I’ve seen far too many get it wrong, whether at the corporate or government level.

When I started working at an investigative firm as a data entry associate, I was met with a curve ball: it wasn’t just data entry. It was comprehensive data entry. I had to comprehend the request I was being asked to enter into the online database. In other words, typing speed was pointless. Accuracy, speed, and thoroughness was everything.

So, I did what I knew best: I asked a ton of questions. I researched the insurance industry. I learned the ins and outs of claims. I broke down “referrals” according to case type, and ultimately developed my own system for maintaining accuracy and speed.

Within a week, I was already hitting double digits a day when the goal had been eight. It wasn’t long before I set records for most done in an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year, and a lifetime for speed and accuracy. I wrote the training manual on the department I wound up supervising for a spell.

I was never the fastest typist. Nor was I the most experienced in insurance. I simply worked my tail off in order to completely transform how an entire department operated.

Never be afraid to take a task others find unimportant and tedious to new heights. Work hard. Stay strong. Set records. Be faithful in the little things. And lay down solid foundations.

Case Study – Intelligence / Investigative Analytics

Over the last seven years, and for more than 12,000+ investigative hours, I’ve worked as a intelligence/investigative analyst. I use both intelligence and investigative because the position goes by either.

Technically, I’m an All Source Analyst because I use both open (OSINT) and closed source data points. An intelligence analyst researches, gathers, and evaluates data from a variety of sources. They specialize in data mining. An investigative analyst works on, you guessed it, investigations.

Typically, there are three divisions: military, law enforcement, and insurance. Often, we use similar databases but with different levels of security clearance. Law enforcement is more concerned with digital forensics and cyber investigations. Military locate and track terrorists. Insurance investigates claims. All three have similar skill sets: we are cyber sleuths. It should be noted that there are also Cyber Security Threat Analysts that are also similar (they search systems and networks).

The insurance side of things deals a lot with insurance companies and law firms, and often works alongside law enforcement. Some of the cases I’ve worked on include money laundering, rape, assault, kidnapping, and shootings. Several of them have gone international (Mexico, Spain, Canada, Guatemala, etc) , and have included all forms of insurance: liability, work comp, property loss, FMLA, and life.

Before I continue, it should be noted that a background investigator is not the same as an analyst. Yes, I may do a simple social media sweep or a pre-employment search, but that’s the extent of what a background investigator does. They collect a bunch of data, but make little to no attempt at evaluating it. They don’t go beyond the confines of a search engine. Additionally, a copy service retrieves documents such as court records, birth certificates, and camera footage from an intersection, but that is only the “other” duties of my job function, and not what I do the majority of the time.

So, what do I do? I piece puzzles together in order to paint a clearer picture. I work on skip traces, SSN traces, heir searches, asset and business searches, employment checks, social media archives (which may include metadata) and criminal/civil checks, and a host of other case types. I launch bank account searches, comb through DMV records, and run vehicle sighting reports. I might triangulate the location of a cell phone or create a family tree in Ancestry.

Yep, I’ve read thousands of police reports, traffic incident reports, birth certificates, property deeds, property transfer detail reports, vehicle titles, death certificates, autopsies, bankruptcy documents, articles of organization and incorporation, statements of info, and marriage and divorce records. I conduct geofences, match data points, and watch body-cam and surveillance footage. I then conclude my findings by compiling a legal document for court purposes.

My toolkit is vast. It includes a host of software and online databases. And it’s not something one ever truly masters. You’re always learning, adapting to some new trend or security feature, and uncovering new methods for solving cases. You’re on the frontlines in combating the $1 trillion a year industry known as fraud. And rarely are two days alike.

Your coworkers have no idea what it is you do. The certificates you get are often the same ones military and law enforcement receives. And you’re even eligible to test for and receive a PI license! It’s a job that includes lots of tech, sometimes being on call for a court appearance, and is rewarding in and of itself. I mean, I get to work on some really interesting cases and see things few others can ever testify of. We see a lot, learn a lot, and the feeling you get when you crack a case…it’s amazing.

So whether it’s a dude claiming to be a vegetable who is using dummy LLCs in a real estate pyramid scheme, another dude who claims to be broke to sneak his way out of lawsuits while he liquids his assets, transferring them to Canada where he happens to be a multimillionaire, or it’s finding a mother pretending not to know the identity of the father so she can collect all the life insurance on her deceased toddler, the cases are never the same.

Eight years ago I didn’t know this position even existed. I was experienced in marketing, sales, writing, customer service, and project management. I started out in data entry, did some editing, and then stumbled into a super fun and wildly different day job. It’s perfect for the writer and mystery lover in me. And I can’t wait to take it to the next level.

Case Study – Professional Writing

Years later, after already being lied to by financial aid, I soon discovered the head of the professional writing department resigned from his duties due to being charged with sexual assault. Apparently, this had been going on for thirty plus years, with multiple accusers, and they failed to mention it in the brochure. It makes for an intriguing conversation starter, but what exactly does professional writing look like?

First, my “writing career” has gone in variety of directions. I wrote award winning short stories while in school. I spent a decade getting articles and reviews published in over a dozen publications. I earned a bit of change as a freelance writer. I even did work as a ghost writer. I made some money, so that makes me a pro, right?

I’ve written detailed essays on retroviruses, award winning poetry, and scripts for television, commercials, game shows, graphic novels, comic strips and even an award winning indie film. On the creative side of things, I also managed to write and self-pub a novel that hit #12 on Amazon. Cool, cool.

I believe the problem with my writing career is just that: for years I played the role of professional writer. Such a generic term. Think on this. On top of everything I’ve listed, I also wrote business plans, marketing plans, press releases, training manuals, legal reports, and code for databases. In fact, I’ve now studied VBA, MySQL, HTML, JavaScript, and Python. Did I mention I’ve also written songs? And I don’t even remember the hundreds of other things I’ve tinkered with.

In one sense, it’s great that writing can be transferred to a number of incredible occupations. I’ve even done copy editing, proof reading and developmental editing. On top of video editing! Yes, the ability to communicate is an essential skill. However, did you see the problem? I sure did. I guess I had been blind to it for far too long.

Yep. Jack of all trades but master of none. Consistently distracted, continually learning, but never coming to a place of sheer satisfaction. And that’s the interesting thing about this case study. Despite the successes, all I hear is the sound of failure.

For a long time I lived life as a conquered of molehills. I hear someone exclaim, “I do sales!” So I go and spend two years, win eight awards, and master the art of sales. Then another guy shouts, “I am a graphic designer!” And I charge into battle, designing 180+ billboards. Then another guy says, “I’m a beast at customer service.” Oh yeah. Well I have six awards and a handful of employee of the year awards at various companies! And that’s how I went about life. Hilltop to hilltop. Conquest to conquest. A pile of worthless rewards and a burned out attitude lacking much passion.

Yeah, I went about writing that way too. Ghost writer, technical writer, copy writer, copy editing, proof reader, marketing, business, publication relations, coding, film, poetry, novels, manga…well, you get the picture I suspect. When you continually hop from discipline to discipline, it’s difficult to mature, to grow, to come to any sort of sophisticated level of understanding.

The haze began to clear when I finished my graphic novel script. It was the proudest I have been of my writing for years. I started to think: man, writing manga, writing novels…those are things I genuinely love. Not so much film or technical writing or any host of things I had worked on. Sure, I could do those things. But I didn’t have the passion for them like manga and novels.

Then I had a talk with a bigwig at a company. A guy who had significant military and business experience. He pointed out my main weakness, perhaps my only weakness, had always been focus. I could do anything…but I lived life like I had something to prove. And I needed to prove it to anybody and everybody. It’s true. I grew up in abusive home. I guess I always felt like the underdog in every situation. When in reality, I need to stop, consider, and focus on on the things I’m truly passionate about. Then set out to master those things.

It doesn’t mean I don’t have hobbies. Martial Arts. Guitar & Piano. Learning foreign languages and gardening. Working out. Fantasy Football. Reading. Gaming. But when it comes to passion, what four things would I narrow it down to?

Well, writing, of course, is number one. I don’t care if I’m never famous. I love it. And I want to focus on manga and novels and maybe a video game one day.

Problem solving is number two. I love investigations. I also love math and data. Teaching is number three. With critical thinking and creative freedom tied at four.

Where does that leave me? Well, I love data analytics and want to master data science. I love investigative/intelligence analyst, and want to continue to master it and possibly teach it. And if I can master the art of being an author, I believe I will accomplish a portion of what I was created to do.

To me, loving what I do will always be more important than the amount of money I make or fame I incur. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll hear those words one day, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Well, I can hope at least. In the meantime, here’s to being a master of a handful of skill sets as opposed to being a jack of all trades.

Case Study – Data Doesn’t Lie

Well, data doesn’t lie unless the data is wrong. I was once delivered a task that seemingly no one else wanted: create quarterly reviews for our top fifty clients, plus a company-wide edition. At the time, the reviews were simply snippets cut out from a report auto-generated by the company’s online database and slapped into a PowerPoint. No one ever double-checked the data and not much thought was out into the presentation.

Personally, I feel PowerPoint is best used for presentations only. I found it restrictive for my purposes. And it didn’t take long for me to notice several inconsistencies in the data presented on the auto-generated report. By the way, this is a key skill for data analysts: the ability to recognize patterns and identity errors. If you enjoy puzzles and patterns, this is the job for you.

The first thing I focused on was getting access to the raw data in the form of Excel sheets. Once I properly organized and sorted the sheets, I went row by row until I was able to identify each and every error within the datasets. Mastering Excel is fundamental for data analytics.

For the first couple of years, I transitioned the final product for reviews from PowerPoint to Adobe PhotoShop. Of course, that was only a stopgap. After I learned the basics of Tableau, the goal now is to generate all quarterly reviews, and other reports, in Tableau itself. This requires me learning Python and R programming, which I am in the process of achieving. Albeit, slowly but surely.

My work on this project redefined the role of data, in general, and quarterly reviews, specifically, for not only the company, but our clients as well. It impacted marketing, sales, and internal review processes. I was able to generate specific charts and data that were used in large sales meetings, outside of just quarterly reviews. For example, I could generate weekly assignment turnaround times or chart usual, but vital statistical information.

We live in the Age of Information, and data is king. Three crucial duties a data analyst must fulfill: gather and interpret data, identify errors, and present the data in a visually pleasing manner. I know it sounds boring at first, but I love it. The raw data helps you get to the root cause of issues and can assist in helping to improve an organization from the inside out. I literally learned this job in the fly, with no assistance or guidance.

So the lesson is simple: never be afraid to take on new challenges. The risk of failure is worth discovering if it’s something you might love. It also reinforced my past experience in journalism with regard to fact checking. I am constantly “fact checking” the data I run to ensure accuracy. It’s crazy to think just how versatile the writing skill set really is…

Case Study – Marketing 101

I once described the definition of marketing as the implementation of effective branding in order to create name and/or product recognition. I argued that people didn’t buy Apple products so much because of clever ad campaigns, but because of name association. You hear “just do it” and think Nike or “loving it” and think of McDonalds. Marketing builds rep and establishes trust.

Of course, the person who asked informed me I was wrong, and that the definition of marketing is sales. Nothing more, nothing less. To this I still say no. Marketing is a sales tool, and the two often work hand in hand, but marketing is a much different beast. In order to prove my theory, I set about to do something my company had never done before: create a marketing plan.

I previously worked on international marketing strategies for Irongrip Barbell and Slotline Golf as an intern. Additionally, I worked as a graphic designer for a billboard advertising agency. I wrote my first business plan at the age of 16, and felt my strengths as an analyst served me well in creating an appropriate strategy for my company that would work in the 21st century.

Any good marketing plan begins with a thorough survey of the current industry. This means understanding current trends, market demographics (and target audience), and conducting evaluations of competitors. This also means identifying current company strengths and weaknesses, and using data to create a vision for where you want to be as a company in the next 5-10 years. Research is king and correctly interpreting data is the difference between success and failure.

Once I laid a proper foundation, I was able to formulate an appropriate strategy that would unfold in a series of well thought-out phases. Like Kenpo, where every belt builds upon the one that came before it, each phase of the marketing plan builds upon itself like a stack of blocks.

Of course, I started with a social media marketing campaign that began with a redesign of the company website, proper execution of SEO, and a complete social media overhaul. At the same time, I worked on an updated design of the logo, and a swath of new material: bi-folds, pamphlets, flyers, business cards, and mailers. I also identified all key conferences to attend, and which ones would be ideal to sponsor. In addition, I updated the event material and mapped out a plan to create a stronger conference presence.

I don’t want to go to into too much detail, but other elements of the plan included press releases, redesigned quarterly reviews, a company newsletter, and new ways to create a tighter sense of community between us and our clients.

I was even allowed to implement portions of the strategy, tracking stats via Google Analytics and other metrics. Data is king, and because I was already becoming versed in data analytics, it proved to be a major factor in moving forward with a proper implementation of my strategy. The results were strongly positive.

I have always felt that a good marketing strategy needs to remain fluid and dynamic. If something isn’t working, you must have the flexibility to adjust as needed. So what are the results of my marketing strategy?

I laid the foundation for a strong social media presence, had several press releases published, wrote a successful newsletter, revamped much of the company’s stale marketing material, and managed to produce an uptick in metrics concerning e-mail blasts.

While I ended up transitioning into intelligence and investigative analytics, the strategy I put into play is only still being realized, years later. It’s crazy to think how ahead of the times it was. A marketing plan that predicted the future of the industry would be almost entirely digital and would be founded upon data. Years later, and that’s exactly where we are. I consider that a massive success in and of itself.

From this project I learned the importance of research, the gathering of data, the proper interpretation of data, and using data to create effective strategies and accurate prediction of market trends. It also became another exercise in the value of strong writing ability as I put together an effective marketing plan, marketing material, newsletters, and press releases.

Case Study – Security Audit

If you don’t know what a SOC 2 Type 2 Audit is, don’t worry because I didn’t know either. I had turned down a position as a permanent copy editor (I wrote the manual for the department and trained a person for the position), instead opting to take on the role of a project manager. It wasn’t long before I had my first massive assignment – do whatever it takes to pass the audit and achieve compliance.

My specific task was twofold: first, I would be writing the bulk of the actual report. A simplified process at this time because I knew all the ins and outs of the company. I wrote training manuals for multiple departments, and had cross-trained for almost every single position. With a strong background in writing, compiling a slick, detailed report turned out to be a breeze.

The second major task proved more daunting: build an internal database for the purposes of housing the HR and IT departments. My background in coding was limited to HTML I played with in high school on notepad and MS FrontPage. I was given no budget, no team, and no guidance for putting together the database. Just a three month deadline. No pressure, right?

The first program that popped in my mind was MS Access since it had sat there on my desktop, collecting dust for years. Access = database, I thought. I discovered I needed to know two programming languages to get this right: VBA and MySQL. I immediately purchased a ‘Dummies’ book, located a handful of forums where database conversations were taking place, and got to work.

I remembered a simple trick clockmakers would use in order to master the craft: take apart the clock and then put it back together again. So, I grabbed a database off the interwebs, broke it apart, examined the coding, and put it back together. This built my confidence up.

Looking back I wish I had done some wire-framing. Although, at the time, I didn’t know what wire-framing was. Regardless, I built a database, from scratch, that housed both the IT and HR departments. I did it in three months while also compiling the SOC 2 Type 2 Audit report. Best news of all? We passed the audit and were granted compliance. At $20k+ you could say it’s the most expensive exam I’ve ever passed.

This would become the foundation for my present study in Python and R programming. It also proved to me that with dedication, discipline, and a deadline, I could accomplish just about anything. Well, almost anything. Lastly, I really don’t like VBA, but it is what it is.

Case Study – Missing Child

Over a career spanning 7+ years and 12,000+ investigative hours, still the toughest case I ever worked on was that of a missing child – my own daughter. It was a case I worked on for more than a decade, spanning half a dozen states and a multitude of slammed doors, a broken justice system, and a shattered heart.

My investigation started before I became a intelligence & investigative analyst. It began shortly after my soon to be ex-wife informed me our relationship was over and sent me to the curb. I was 2,000+ miles away from home, having just moved from California to the middle of Misery…I mean Missouri. I literally went from a sunshine paradise right into a frozen tundra. Of course, I had done it for love, only to be betrayed and discarded.

My first experiences with the family court system in Missouri took place during the divorce proceedings. One thing was made painfully obvious and clear to me by my attorney: the courts will not like you simply because you are male. Discrimination in family court is not only an accepted reality, it goes almost entirely unchallenged across the country. The media won’t cover it. Law enforcement ignores it. And in family court, one person, the judge, has absolute authority and control.

Without going too much into detail, over the course of the next several years, I dealt with a mother who domestically kidnapped my child. Because the mother was the one who kidnapped the child, police departments in multiple states refused to allow me to file a report. It was a domestic issue, they told me. With no police report, I could not file a report with the FBI.

None of this stopped child support from collecting. In fact, they were emboldened by it. They often collected between 60-70% of my pay, making money off the interest. I was forced to pay for medical insurance my daughter had no way of using. Long story short, there were times I lived on less than a $1k a month. However, I never gave up. After several years of wondering the Midwest, I came back to California and stumbled upon a job in investigations.

I quickly learned the ins and outs of the insurance industry. From the different kinds of insurance, to understanding fraud, and every aspect of my company’s firm. I set records for speed and accuracy in their data entry department. Before long, I worked at nearly every position at the place and won a nice employee of the year award.

Using my newfound resources, not to mention years of dealing with courts from various states, I searched for my little girl across the internet. And man, the tools I had were incredible. OSINT. Digital forensics. Still, there’s a reason so few missing children are found. It’s rough. And even looked hopeless. Law firms had offered to take my case, but only for a $25k or more retainer, and it would be up to me to find her, with nothing guaranteed.

The case was blown open when I came across a random video of my daughter…now much older…surfing not far from where I lived. I was stunned. She had been not too far from me. See, I had tracked her from Missouri to Oregon to Washington to Utah, all while living in Illinois, Indiana and Alabama. This bread crumb led me to a family court case involving one of my ex’s ex-husbands. I got hold of the court documents…and was floored.

My daughter had been abandoned by her mother and was living with her former stepdad. To make matters more complicated, the former stepdad had petitioned for guardianship in probate court. It was now or never. I didn’t have the money to afford star studded attorneys. But I had truth on my side, and over a thousand pages of evidence I had collected for the better part of a decade.

I won the probate with ease. The case was then sent to family court. And yes…I could have won that too. The court investigator was stunned by the amount of work I had done. The sheer volume of evidence and research…she hadn’t even seen that on criminal cases. But time was against me. It had taken me far too long to find her. I was given a choice: exact justice and hurt my daughter, or forgive and let her go. But by letting her go, she could heal. By pressing forward, I would cause damage to her.

This is a long case study, I know. It was the most difficult case of my life. I used every available resource. I proved my case beyond any reasonable doubt. I actually had two massive law firms opposing me and both were bewildered. In the end, I chose the option of forgiving and allowing my little girl that opportunity to heal. Yes, it breaks my heart. But it would have broken it more to see her have to go through anymore pain. I kick myself for being too late, but there’s nothing more I could do.

Morale of the story? Investigations often hinge on that one little clue, that overlooked detail, that tiny bread crumb. And sometimes life won’t be fair. The waves will be a bit rough. For this, I’m thankful for my relationship with Jesus. He’s my crutch, my wheelchair, my entire hospital. Yes, life can be dark sometimes. But never lose hope. Keep pressing, keeping digging, keep climbing. Upwards and onwards. Don’t become a prisoner of your past, allowing bitterness to chew away at your dreams. Forgive. Move on. And never, ever, ever give up. One day at a time, friend.

Case Study – Jewelry Counter

I still remember the time all of my coworkers were arrested. No really. I was 18, fresh out of high school, and working for a little jewelry counter in Sam’s Club. My manager had recently quit. Well, she told the higher ups it was maternity leave, but let all of us know she was not coming back.

When I showed up to work on a midsummer afternoon, I was welcomed to a startling site: the police had surrounded our jewelry counter. They had all of my coworkers in handcuffs. They hauled them away as I approached, not bothering to offer me any sort of explanation. As I stood at the counter, mortified and perplexed, the phone rang. It was the district manager. She congratulated me on my new promotion – I was now the manager of the jewelry counter. No training would be provided. Mainly because the counters were being sold back to Sam’s Club in less than a year, so they didn’t really care. I would be given a raise and free reign to do whatever I pleased. My coworkers? Oh, they were involved in some sort of credit card fraud scheme. I never heard from them again.

I took a look at our sales chart: our monthly sales average was 40% below goal. A quick glance around the counter, albeit a very large square counter, was enough to tell me the place was in a serious need of a makeover. I had no employees. But I had two things on my side: I was the first student in HBUHSD to graduate with an expertise in business, and I earned a certificate of distinction from the center of international business and communication studies. That had to count for something, right?

Well, I got right to work. See, I made a decision that afternoon. If I was going out, I was going out swinging. So I made some calls to other jewelry counters and asked if they had some employees to spare from time to time. I made arrangements and I’ll never forget the two people who came by.

The first was a girl who was slightly older than me, engaged, and one of the nicest people I had ever met. The second was an older, heavy set woman from Glendale. Even to this day, when I hear that city’s name, I think of her. You see, she taught me more about business than all my years of high school and at CIBACS. She taught me visual marketing, proper customer service, and the art of selling a product. But she also taught me how to pour my passion into the work I do, to enjoy whatever it is that I am doing, and to take pride in my work.

I ended up convincing two Sam’s Club employees to work for me at the counter. Over the next seven months we crushed our monthly sales goal. In fact, we crushed the annual goal. It was as such a miraculous transformation, and I thank God for it, that the regional manager not only gave me a raise, but then she awarded me employee of the year.

Yes, the counter was still sold back to Sam’s Club. And to Sam’s Club credit, they offered me a job. Over the months I had turned a lot of heads and earned a ton of respect. But I declined. My work was done there, a new season was on the horizon for me, and I felt I had left it in a better spot than when I had arrived. It’s a philosophy I would carry with me my entire life.