This weekend a story caught my eye that I thought might be fun to share here. Although it’s about an interesting election, you may be relieved to hear it has nothing to do with the names Trump, Clinton or Sanders. Rather, the election in question was for mayor of a small town in northeast Romania called Draguseni, population: 2,500. Over the weekend, Draguseni held its mayoral election, and the results were something of a surprise. Then again, so were the names on the ballot. To quote the Associated Press, “Vasile Cepoi defeated Vasile Cepoi and Vasile Cepoi in a mayoral election.” Yes, the town’s mayor election featured not one person by the name Vasile Cepoi and not even two, but three with the same name! Although the name wasn’t familiar to me, I learned that Vasile apparently is very common in Romania, and Cepoi is a common surname in Draguseni (“Cepoi” also means “big onions” I learned).
The Details Matter
It turns out the three rivals aren’t related, but incumbent mayor Vasile Cepoi believed the opposition parties were deliberately trying to confuse voters by putting forth candidates with the same name and tricking them into voting for the wrong candidate. To prevent this from happening, the incumbent mayor added the middle name Lica to his ID card to help people distinguish between the three candidates. It worked, and the incumbent mayor won with 82 percent of the vote.
This whole story got me thinking about something we face all the time in our line of work as investigators and researchers, where paying attention to the details makes or breaks a case. In so many of the investigations we conduct, we face the issue of namesakes – just like in the case of Vasile Cepoi – especially when searching for civil litigation, which often doesn’t show a party’s date of birth or Social Security number, unlike most criminal records or bankruptcy petitions we review.
Differentiating between Name Matches
So how do we determine if we are reporting on the right John Smith when we find a civil case that is possibly the subject we are researching? Well, it is quite tedious and takes experience – and many times it isn’t something that we can do through a simple online search. We often have to obtain the underlying court filings to see if any known identifiers or details about the subject are noted in the filings – a known address, the name of our subject’s spouse, an employer or company affiliation, to name just a few. Like I said, tedious. Now imagine having to do that in not just one or two places, but across all the jurisdictions where someone has lived or worked. And then imagine the search methodology we utilize when searching for press reports about this same individual with a very common name, or across social media platforms. Like I said, it is tedious and certainly requires know-how and experience.
My colleague Howard Fisher raised this point last year in a blog, “Pre-Transaction Due Diligence: A Google Search is Enough, Right?” As he stated, he had heard from some of his attorney friends working on a deal that their client was concerned about costs, so instead of conducting an in-depth due diligence investigation, they would take a shortcut by using Google “to see if anything negative pops up.” But how is the inexperienced “Googler” able to tell if the negative story about John Smith could possibly be about the very same John Smith he or she is researching? The answer is it is pretty difficult and you could wind up confusing two or three or more individuals with the same name. Lucky for Vasile Lica Cepoi, he was able to add a middle name to the election ballot. But again, we don’t always have middle names available in the records we are given. So if you think this year’s presidential race couldn’t possibly get any worse, take heart. At least all this year’s candidates have their own names!