Our top-trends blogs, which highlight what our experts foresee as driving best practices and priorities across the U.S. and the world, remain among our most popular posts. In 2020, we present a multi-part series covering critical issues and advances in (1) security risk management, (2) threat and violence risk management, (3) emergency management and response planning, (4) investigations, (5) law enforcement consulting, and (6) private client and family office security.

Trend #1 – Certain Public Records to Become Less Available Online

Given the ongoing growth in the availability of digitized data today, many people and organizations believe that public records research is primarily an online endeavor — and in many jurisdictions it is. However, over the past couple of years, there has been some movement to limit data availability, and certain jurisdictions have actually been taking information offline. For example, Santa Clara County no longer offers an online search of its Official Record Index, and Wisconsin now removes dismissed criminal, eviction and certain other cases from its statewide website after two years.

With new data privacy laws coming into effect in California and other states weighing similar measures, the availability of records online will continue to evolve, and not necessarily in the direction of more availability. It is more important than ever as investigations professionals to understand the public records landscape and determine whether to conduct research online or on site.

Trend #2 – Historical Claims of Abuse to Increase

Until the last few decades, state legislatures set the limitation period for most felonies (excluding murder) at five years or less. In part, this is due to the concerns that memories of incidents fade and may become less reliable over time, witnesses become difficult to locate, and evidence is often lost or becomes corrupted, either intentionally or due to the passage of time.

Following highly publicized sexual abuse allegations, many states began to amend their prosecution deadlines for sex crimes. Recent movements such as #MeToo have further spurred this trend. Last year, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker eliminated the statute of limitations on major sex crimes regardless of the victim’s age, an act that went into effect on January 1, 2020.

Given these changes, organizations are assessing the risk of and necessary response to historical claims of sexual assault and abuse. Skilled and experienced investigative teams are necessary to help locate witnesses, gather evidence and shed as much light as possible on whether the alleged abuse occurred.

Trend #3 – Growth in Legal Marijuana Complicates Criminal Record and Asset Searches

Illinois just became the 11th state where it is now legal to possess marijuana for both recreational and medical use. This trend has led to not only decriminalizing possession of the drug, but, in some cases, vacating past convictions in those states where it is now legal. This means investigators may no longer have access to historical criminal records that in the past have provided useful information about a subject, including his or her address, employment history, marital status and associates.

In addition, with cannabis still illegal at the federal level, many banks are reluctant to do business with clients in this growing industry, leaving them little choice but to conduct transactions in cash or cryptocurrencies. For investigators, the use of these hard-to-trace financial transaction methods presents a challenge when conducting asset searches, in which a paper trail can be key in assessing a subject’s financial situation.

Until the federal government addresses the cannabis industry’s banking problem, investigators will continue to struggle with this lack of transparency.

Trend #4 – Finding the Truth in a World of Alternative Facts to Become Increasingly Important

In a world of alternative facts, deepfakes, social media bots and other means of deception, it is becoming increasingly important – and challenging – to find objective truth. This fact-finding challenge applies to our personal lives, as well as to any investigative focus on mergers and acquisitions, partnerships, executive hires, board appointments and market entry.

Due diligence in the corporate world is as critical as ever to decipher the “fake news” surrounding individuals and companies under consideration and help to prevent placing individuals with questionable backgrounds in sensitive positions or to make informed decisions acquiring new companies in emerging markets. Beyond the boardroom, the urgency to be vigilant of deceitful people seeking to take advantage of others is paramount.

Skilled and focused investigation is needed to sift through the voluminous data now available and to determine what is reality and what is fake or misleading information.

Trend #5 – The Demand for Investigative Services from Family Offices to Grow

According to one report, the number of family offices with more than $50 million in assets increased 23 percent from 2018 to 2019, and that trend appears to be continuing.

Along with this growth in the number of offices, Forbes and other media outlets have reported that the focus of a family office has expanded from not just seeking financial returns, but also managing reputational and security risks.

Even seemingly innocuous emails, text messages and phone calls allegedly from family, friends or coworkers can lead to wire fraud, theft, misappropriation of trade secrets or intellectual property requiring financial fraud investigation, cybersecurity incident response or both. While already recognized in the corporate environment, increased cybersecurity protection and awareness is also important for the Private Family Office.

If you’re concerned about how these trends will affect your organization, feel free to contact me, Jennifer Mackovjak at jennifer.mackovjak@hillardheintze.com or Howard Fisher at howard.fisher@hillardheintze.com.