As fraud investigators, we can sometimes be put in the unfortunate position of starting an investigation with only the name (and maybe a date of birth if we’re lucky!) of a subject of interest. Starting an investigation with limited information can be difficult, and requires some out-of-the-box thinking.
Something often overlooked is the information included in the name itself.
Understanding how a name is put together and how this might differ from culture to culture can provide some much needed insight on our subject of interest, and whilst it is unlikely to crack the case on its own, it may provide extra avenues for a fraud investigation.
A basic example would be certain name endings give us a clue to the gender of the subject. Let’s take Hispanic names for example – typically, male names end with “o” (such as Pedro), whilst female names end with “a” (such as Pedra). Similarly, Polish surnames often end with a “-i” or “-y” for males, and “-a” for females. Again, this knowledge is unlikely to solve the case, but it can save a bit of time – especially with unfamiliar names.
A time when understanding names can really help fraud investigations is when we are trying to find relatives of our subject of interest. Even one or two possible names will often help further your Open Source Investigations.
Whilst we are probably all familiar with the widespread practice of one partner taking another’s name after marriage, there are many other variations.
For instance, Hispanic people will sometimes create a compound family name (last name) by merging their families’ last names together. For example, Juan Pedro Alvarez Reyes marries Rosa Maria Delgado Guerrero. Juan is proud of his mother’s family name, so he decides to change his first family name to Alvarez-Reyes. Therefore his daughter is named Lenora Alvarez-Reyes Delgado
Similarly, Russian names give us a direct clue to a family member’s name. Most Russian names are constructed with a given name, the father’s first name + a suffix, and a family name. Russian middle names combine the father’s name with the suffix –ovich,–evich, or–yevich (all meaning son of) for males and–ovna,–evna, or–yevna (all meaning daughter of) for females. So for example, a man with the first name ‘Ivan’ and a father named ‘Vladimir’ would be named ‘Ivan Vladimirovich’.
In some cases, fraud investigators can even gain some level of geographical information from a name. As an example, Some Arabic family names indicate where the family originated, such as Al-Baghdadi(from Baghdad) or Al-Tikriti (from Tikrit). Obviously this may be a family name originating in the far past, but it can give a clue to the nationality and background of the subject of interest. This is often of use in Open Source Investigations where there is usually a requirement to narrow down the geographical parameters of searches.
All of these are extra tools for your toolbox, and if you are consistently dealing with a particular culture or nationality, it is worth researching any naming conventions to see if there’s anything that can be of use.A reference guide to using names in investigations can be found here and if you are interested in learning more about Open Source Investigations, take a look at our Open Source Intelligence(OSINT Foundation)(online) course.