"Price Fixing," she wrote...

26 August 2015 by Adrienn Toth

Like any young Scottish girl growing up, my aspiration in life was to become Cabot Cove’s finest; J.B. Fletcher.  Played by the glorious and revered Angela Lansbury, J.B. Fletcher was a sharp minded, best-selling novelist who would always save the day by discovering who the ’real killer’ was.  Years of ’whodunnit’ episodes brought out my inner detective, itching to solve mysteries.

And so, we fast-forward to the present day where you will find me donning my my Jessica Fletcher hat  and 80s style blazer to help clients with their investigations.  More often than not clients are faced with vast volumes of data, a broad question to answer and quite frankly, no idea where to start. This is where I come in, large earrings and all, to help our clients quickly and efficiently their data and gather a data set. This data set is more often a starting point but such is the power of the technology (and wit of the detective!) that in some instances provides an answer.

So without any further ado, let us dive into the mysterious Case of the Chocolate Cartel.

How will our glamorous heroine help solve this case?

My client, a law firm, has been enlisted to investigate whether a  chocolate company has been liaising with their competitors with the purpose of fixing prices. The law firm has collected 15 custodians’ data and have 1.8million documents after processing and deduplication. Where do they start looking for clues when faced with such an intimidating amount of data?

Cartels live and die by conversation. Without communication between parties there can be no cartel and so logically uncovering a cartel will involve investigating the communications of employees of The Chocolate Company, particularly emails and meetings discussing prices. So what would Jessica Fletcher do in this situation? Both she and I would start by examining the communications, and no I don’t mean reading through 1 million emails.

Armed with the best technology on the market, we can run a report to show the Domains that exist within the ‘FROM’ field of the database. Within a couple of minutes we can establish if any of the custodians have emails from a competitor. If there are, alarms bells start ringing. We also look for private email domains (Hotmail, gmail, yahoo etc.) because private email addresses are often a sign that someone has been doing a lot of internet shopping, or something dodgy. If both competitor domains and private domains exist  Jessica Fletcher might say I don't want to alarm you but something very sinister is going on here”.

Next step in the hunt for clues would be to run searches to isolate communications with those specific domains, and utilise visual analytics to get a good an idea of whether or not there is a mystery to solve, focusing particularly on answering the following questions:

Who was communicating with whom?

We will check whether or not there are external competitors talking with the employees of The Chocolate Company and if custodians forwarding emails to their private email addresses.

When are communications happening?

Building a timeline of communications is key to understanding the relevance of  communications and how they factor in the creation and maintenance of cartel activities.

What are employees saying?

Are the Chocolate Company employees negotiating a new employment or agreeing to align prices? Are they arranging unofficial meet-ups with competitors (golf sessions, dinners out or other places where it is possible to talk in confidence)? If this sort of communication is occurring, further investigation is definitely warranted.

By looking into these criteria, in a very short amount of time I can get a visual overview of the type of communications in the database, and enough of an insight to make an informed judgement as to whether or not there is a potential problem.

All that’s left to do to finally solve the case is to run targeted searches and provide focused results to my review team which will help them to understand the bigger picture and sequence of events.  This helps the Review Team navigate the data to find the evidence and unmask the true guilty party!

And that, my friends, concludes this episode of The Case of the Chocolate Cartel on this season of ‘“Price Fixing,” she wrote…’ – cue closing book and cheesy smile freeze frame!