Investigative techniques have dramatically changed in the past 15 years with the introduction of computer databases and technology.  However, databases and technology alone cannot take the place of good “old fashioned” investigative techniques that have been utilized for many years.  One example of “old school” investigative techniques is the “cold call.”

“Cold calls” are an important tool now more than at any other time in the past ten years, due primarily to the recent state of the economy.  Foreclosures are at an all-time high in California and across the country.  The unemployment rate is climbing, with no immediate end in sight.  The economy is causing many people to relocate for other job opportunities or to find affordable housing.  The population is much more transient than at any time in the past ten years.

How To Conduct an Effective Cold Call

The unofficial definition of a “cold call” is, “an unannounced visit to the last known address (LKA) of an insured, insured driver, witness, (unrepresented) claimant, and/or subject involved in an investigation, in an effort to interview the involved party, or to develop information as to their current whereabouts.”  Generally, the “cold call” occurs after all other efforts to contact the subject have been unsuccessful (e.g. phone calls, letters, etc.).  At some point, it seems evident that the subject is either uncooperative, or is no longer residing at the LKA and is not aware that someone is trying to reach them.

Key decisions often hinge on whether someone is being uncooperative, or simply not getting the message. For example, most insurance policies require that their insured cooperate with an investigation, or risk the denial of their claim.  Or, in the case of a third party claim, the insured’s statement is essential in determining liability, apportionment, damages, coverage, and/or other issues. For those reasons, the claims handler must exercise “due diligence” in assuring that they have made a “reasonable” effort at making direct contact with their insured or other parties involved.

Once a certain amount of office-related effort has been made to contact the subject(s), it may then be necessary to conduct a “cold call” to the provided address.  When should the “cold call” be conducted?  Generally speaking, the most effective “cold call” is conducted in the early evening between 6 PM and 9 PM on weekdays, or on weekends between 9 AM to 1 PM, or 5 PM to 8 PM.  These hours/times may provide the highest probability of success, based upon the typical work schedule from 9 AM to 5 PM, with commute time factored in.  Weekend hours are based upon the more likely time that the typical person may be at home, rather than running errands, going out for the evening, attending religious events, and other weekend activities.  Of course, the best time to conduct a cold call also depends upon the information known about the subject (e.g. work schedule, type of job, etc.).  Some of this information may be known or obtainable from other sources. For example, if an insurance application lists the insured’s occupation as “construction,” then it could be deduced that his/her work hours may start earlier in the day, which could affect the time in the evening that the cold call may be most effective.

There may be occasions where the Investigator can completely “throw out the book” and conduct a “cold call” at a time/day that would NOT be considered “optimal.”  Investigators often find themselves on another case, or returning from another case, that is within a reasonable driving distance to the “cold call” address, but at a time that may not be “optimal.”  In that case, the Investigator may elect to conduct the “cold call” in the afternoon and find the subject home, or speak to a resident or neighbor who provides the Investigator with the best time to return to the subject’s residence.  On many occasions, the Investigator may be successful in obtaining the subject’s work, cell or other contact phone # and then schedule an appointment with the subject.

However, the above situation should be considered a less optimal “opportunity,” with a lower probability of success.  Therefore, it may not be fair or reasonable for a client or employer to pay for a cold call that was done to “accommodate” the Investigator’s work schedule regarding an “off-peak” cold call, unless there was a valid reason for conducting it (e.g. Investigator may have developed information that the subject worked a “graveyard” shift, was a college student, housewife, etc.).  Without some valid reason provided in the report (or verbally), the client or employer may be justified in disallowing the costs for the “off-peak” cold call.”  Professional and ethical Investigators are aware of “best practices” and may conduct such an “off-peak” cold call on their own time, and only charge the client or employer if it is successful.

It is important to review the Investigator’s report for the day and time that the cold call is conducted.  The report should tell the reader whether the cold call was conducted at an optimal time (e.g. “On Thursday, October 25, 2008 at 7:30 PM, the Investigator traveled to the subject’s address to conduct a cold call…”).  The absence of a reported time may be a “red flag” that the Investigator may have conducted an “off-peak” cold call, since they were in the area and it fit their own schedule.  Also, the investigative report should explain why a cold call was conducted at an “off-peak” time. If not, then the client or employer may want to question the motives of the Investigator further to insure that they are not paying for services that are not consistent with “best practices.” So what should the Investigator do while at the provided address?    If a statement is needed, the Investigator should take the statement if the subject is cooperative.  If not, then the Investigator should properly document the subject’s uncooperativeness.  If the subject is home but unavailable or unable to provide a statement, the Investigator should schedule an appointment with the subject at another time/date, obtain ALL contact numbers (even email address, if possible), and leave a business card with the subject.

What if the subject is NOT home at the time of the cold call?  First, the Investigator should communicate with anyone at the residence and attempt to obtain any contact number(s) for the subject, and best time to reach them.  If possible, the Investigator should attempt to reach the subject while still at the residence, with the assistance of the resident (e.g. call them on their cell phone, work number, etc.).  If NOONE is home, the Investigator should leave a letter (if provided by the client or sent prior to the cold call) briefly outlining the purpose of the call and anything else of importance, along with a business card and best time to call the Investigator.  The letter and/or business card should be left in a conspicuous place on the door or gate, or both.  At that point, the Investigator will then proceed with a neighborhood canvass.

There may be some occasions in which the Investigator may NOT want the subject to be alerted to the fact that they are trying to reach him/her, or that they are involved in an investigation.  In these situations, the Investigator will have to be discreet or vague when speaking to residents or neighbors, so as not to alert the subject to the investigation.  However, the Investigator must still attempt to obtain whatever information they can about the subject’s schedule or best time to reach them, and then return at that time.

There will also be occasions where it is determined that the subject no longer resides at the provided address. In those cases, the Investigator should attempt to obtain any information they can from the current resident(s) as to the subject’s whereabouts, when they moved out, if they have any further information about why they moved, where they may have moved to and, if a rental property, the name and contact number of the landlord or property manager.  The Investigator can then call the landlord or apartment manager in an effort to develop further information about the subject/whereabouts, or follow up on leads from the information provided by the current residents.

How many cold calls should an Investigator conduct in an effort to make contact with the subject or determine his/her whereabouts?  That will largely depend upon the nature of the case, the seriousness of the matter, and the costs.  For example, if the case is a “high profile” matter, then the client may wish to have the Investigator return numerous times, or even stake-out the residence until someone comes home (or leaves). In a less serious incident, the client may consider several cold calls as sufficient “due diligence” in satisfying the “reasonable” effort threshold.

Conclusion

Not all cold calls are going to result in contacting or locating the subject.  In those cases, further skip tracing/locate efforts may be necessary. It is important to utilize the services of an investigative firm/Investigator that is experienced in conducting cold calls and skip tracing to insure that you have conducted a “reasonable” due diligence investigation or obtained the desired result and resolved the case.  Please contact Richard Harer at 1-800-714-3728, ex. 177, , if you have any questions about conducting a cold call or skip trace/locate investigation, or wish to refer an assignment.

By Richard Harer, CFE, WCCA, CPI, CFS

 

 

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