Revealing Fraudulent Activity on Companies House with OSINT Technology
By Rebecca Lindley
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The UK Companies House framework for registering companies is viewed increasingly as one of the easiest ways for criminals to create corporate vehicles for fraud and financial crime. Reforms are on the way, but, in the meantime, organisations and individuals must wrestle with the vast numbers of illegitimate companies this system facilitates.
In this blog, we’re going to take a look at how an investigator can use open source intelligence (OSINT) technology to build an understanding of an entity and identify whether it’s fraudulent in just a few minutes.
Understanding a company
In this investigation, we’re starting with a company called ‘Blockchain Corporation Limited’, which may have been involved in a suspicious transaction. In order to establish whether there is anything suspicious going on, we’ll need to understand what the company does, who its directors are and whether there are any red flags surrounding it. The name of the company suggests that it operates in the cryptocurrency industry, which is considered a high risk industry.
As a starting point, we will examine the director of Blockchain Corporation Limited. When trying to understand a corporate entity, visualisation tools can support the investigator by making corporate structures easier to understand. Here, Videris, our OSINT investigations platform, allows the investigator to automatically expand and map the corporate record of Blockchain Corporation Limited via a direct integration with the Companies House API. This lets the investigator access and visualise the most accurate and up-to-date corporate data in just a few clicks, ensuring data quality and authenticity.
Understanding a director
We can now see that there is one named director of Blockchain Corporation – Stephen Mollah – and an address association with the company. With a single click, we can view all of the other companies he is a director of, as well as another address.
When we have a complete visual overview of all of his corporate affiliations, we can identify very quickly that many of them have names associated with cryptocurrency, and that most have been dissolved – another potential red flag? With Videris, we can open all of the company filings for these dissolved entities simultaneously, in a secure web browser. This allows us to compare them side-by-side and identify that many of these companies were established, then struck off around two years later having shown little activity.
Searching the internet for risk
As Stephen Mollah seems to have been a relatively prolific incorporator of companies, it might be useful to check if he or his companies have any associated adverse media.
Searching for risk using a search engine such as Google often necessitates the construction of complex Boolean searches, but Videris helps investigators to conduct targeted risk searches automatically. Videris also allows investigators to find key information quickly by reranking and filtering results, helping them to cut through large volumes of data at speed.
Searching Mollah’s name reveals a number of articles which suggest that he is really Satoshi Nakamoto, the inventor of Bitcoin and Blockchain. However, the content and presentation of these articles suggests that this claim is a scam, and that by extension he is likely trying to scam others. Similarly, Mollah has attempted to register patents for Blockchain which appear to have been rejected.
Publicly available social media
Checking publicly available social media can help investigators to understand more about an individual, and spot indicators of fraud. Using Videris, we can search major social media providers for relevant profiles and pull back any information that is publicly available, avoiding the need to visit and create accounts on multiple platforms separately.
Here, the investigator has identified a Twitter account and LinkedIn account that appear to belong to the same Stephen Mollah. In each case, we can see that the accounts have very few followers and that the language on them is full of errors, suggesting that Mollah is not the leading businessman/ inventor of Bitcoin he purports to be.
OSINT software makes deeper and faster investigations possible
An OSINT tool like Videris helps investigators to understand a suspicious company in just a few minutes, in a single, auditable interface. Investigating every suspicious company from Companies House manually is an impossible task, but by automating manual activities where limited skill is required, investigators are left with time to analyse and make quick, impactful decisions.