Investigating with Auction Web Sites
By Cynthia Hetherington, Hetherington Group
Cynthia Hetherington has more than 15 years of experience in research, investigations and corporate intelligence. She is a consultant for Thomson Reuters and the founder of Hetherington Group, a consulting, publishing and training firm focusing on intelligence, security and investigations. Visit Cynthia on Twitter.
Using the auction Web sites for buying and selling goods can be a fun and cost effective way to get rid of your junk, or buy someone else’s. However these services can also be very helpful for online investigators.
For example, If you are trying to locate the person behind a pseudo anonymous posting on a blog, or in a forum, use eBay. Chances are the suspect has used the same user handle, or nickname, in innocuous places like eBay, never considering for a minute that you would search for them there.
You will be able to see, at the least where they ship from, which can seriously narrow down your search by geography. Also, it is possible to learn much about their behavior, in viewing what they purchase or sell online. Finally, they might have an old email address in their profile, which was the original login for eBay when it started in 1995.
The online auction site eBay.com has been on the Web for more than a decade and is the owner of its merchant system Paypal.com. Very lengthy, detailed logs are maintained for each transaction in the event that records and identities need to be subpoenaed. For the casual surfer, learning how to dissect these tools for information can make your case.
Here is how to search by a person’s name, e-mail address, or, best of all, the first half of an e-mail address, which is very likely also the person’s username on eBay:
• Go to “Advanced Search” in the upper right-hand corner of the home page.
• Choose “Find a Member” from the left-hand column.
• Type in the first half of the person’s personal e-mail address. For example, for email@example.com, type “crazybird.”
The results screen shows one perfect match for crazybird in Utah. This person has held this account with eBay.com for more than eight years.
*Note: Remember to take into account that this could be a mismatch, especially if the name is a common one like “baseballfan” or “nascarfanatic.”
If you think you have a match to your suspect, visit his or her online profile on eBay and read everything. Insight can be developed by looking at the items bought and sold and by reviewing all comments made to and by the person.
Once you gather the comments, click over to the “Feedback Profile” for the individual. Along the right-hand side are a few selectable items under “Member Quick Links.” Look at “View ID History” to see if the member changed an ID in eBay in the past ten years. You can also “Add to Favorite Sellers” to be alerted when the person places new items for sale on eBay.
The site Craigslist.org is an online emporium or a flea market, depending on your perspective. The large want-ad listings include products, garage-sale items, rental properties, houses for sale, services, and personal ads. The catch to searching in Craigslist is the geographic restriction. If you are interested in Silicon Valley then your search will be confined to that geographic location only. To expand the search you must specify another area. To circumvent this geographic restriction you can use SearchTempest.com or Craigslook.com.
SearchTempest.com & Craigslook.com
Tired of hunting around Craigslist for your suspect’s posts, stolen goods, or to see if your hard-to-find sports memorabilia is anywhere to be found? Craigslist itself does not offer a way to search across broad geographic areas. Lo and behold, a search engine to the rescue: Craigshelper.com. This service is now known as SearchTempest.com, also craigslook.com (new player to the field). You can search by distance (in miles) to a zip code, pick multiple cities, type of sale, and if you want eBay results or not. My search on ‘Dukes of Hazard’ from New Jersey brought up results as far as Monterey Bay, California.
In closing, one of the key reasons to search within eBay or Craigslist is not to find your Dukes of Hazard memorabilia, but to discern if your subject is using auction Web sites and services with a unique user account.