By: Neil Harrison ~
Late one Saturday evening, I received a call at home from Sue, my local travel agent and franchise owner. She had several concerns about some of her employees recent changes in attitude towards their jobs, increased secrecy about their activities outside of work, and an unexplained decrease in recent customer activity. So we agreed to meet early the following morning as the office was closed Sundays, and no one else would be there.
The next morning we entered her office and discovered that the office fax machine and a computer terminal that had been turned off the previous evening, were now turned on.
A quick search of the office found that the alarm was activated, the doors were locked, and there were no signs of a break in or of anything gone missing. We deduced that one of the other employees had been in the office after hours for some unexplained reason. Sue retained us to investigate her agency and her employees activities in an attempt to identify and explain the reasons behind her concerns, and verify any misconduct of any of her employees.
The very first thing we did was to obtain a copy of the agencies employee files and copy their application forms, travel agent licenses, and any letters of reference. Complete background and verification checks would be conducted to re-verify the due diligence done during the hiring and licensing processes.
Next we were able to access the companies computer server and downloaded all emails sent and received through the agency email accounts. We also were able to access and download emails sent to and from the individual travel agents personal computers and devices, as these also went through the company server. Due to the sheer volume of these emails we loaded them onto a 500 gigabyte passport drive for review and analysis.
With Sue's assistance we also downloaded the companies client contact information and all related travel agent notes, and stored them on the passport drive for further examination, and for future interviewing purposes. We then closed up the office with Sue and agreed that she would conduct business "as usual" until we were able to examine and investigate the data on the passport drive.
The following morning I contacted the licensing department that issues the travel agents license and was able to verify that all thirteen of the travel agents in Sue's agency held valid travel agent licenses, however the licensing department explained they had recently been contacted by three of the agents, one being the office manager, inquiring how they would go about "transferring" their licenses from one agency to another agency.
We also conducted standard nationwide background checks on all of the travel agents and found that one additional travel agent had a previous felony criminal record from another state that was not disclosed, and that he lied about on his initial application, and in his hiring interview.
Over the following few days we obtained certified copies of the felony conviction from the other states superior court, and verified that they were one and the same person. We also went through the email data paying close attention to the office manager, and the other two agents, who had asked about transferring their licenses to another agency.
Our investigation revealed that the office manager had been sending and receiving emails from a rival travel company franchise based in New York. She sent these emails on her personal computer in an attempt to hide her activities from Sue, not realizing that they still went through the companies server, regardless of what computer was used.
The rival travel company was willing to back the office manager in the amount of $150,000.00 to open a new office and company name, similar to Sue's company name, and to take Sue's best agents and clientele with them. The rival travel company representative had also visited with the office manager locally, and had been given a covert after hours tour of the office facilities and files the previous week. The rival representative and the office manager had also exchanged sample logo designs for the new agency, and were joking about how closely they could match Sue's company name as they believed she would be forced to close after they left with Sue's customers.
With Sue's consent we selected a few of her clients, who had postponed and/or cancelled planned trips over the past year, and interviewed them. They informed us that they had been approached by the office manager and the other two travel agents, and had been offered cheaper deals through the rival travel company, due to the overbooking of their previously booked cruises and trips. They were shocked and angry to realize that they had been lied to, and they agreed not to contact anyone or do anything about it until the following week, after we had they opportunity to review things with Sue and the authorities.
I met with Sue the following Sunday night at her travel agency and showed her our investigative findings. We also arranged for a locksmith to be there and change the office locks, while Sue changed all of the computer and email user access and login/password accounts. I agreed to meet with her prior to the start of business the next morning and to segregate and interview the four employees as they arrived.
The first person to arrive was the young man who lied on his application and interview. After getting over his initial shock and surprise that we had discovered his prior conviction, for assault with a deadly weapon, he confessed to us that he had lied because he believed it was a minimal risk that we would find out from another state. He was terminated, given his final check, and escorted from the building with instruction to never return.
The two travel agents who conspired with the office manager arrived next and were interviewed separately. The first agent was belligerent and accusatory when shown the damning evidence against her, and threatened to sue us all for violating her privacy by reading her emails. She also threatened to file suit for wrongful dismissal and violation of her employment contract. The second travel agent broke down into tears and said that she was forced to go along with the others as she feared they would stop being her friends if she didn't.
They were both fired, given their final commission checks, and escorted from the building with instructions to never return.
The office manager arrived a few minutes later, but as we introduced ourselves and told her what the interview was about, she refused to speak to us and promptly quit.
After the interviews and investigation concluded, we forwarded our evidence and findings to the corporate lawyers at Sue's travel company, and to the licensing department.
The co-conspirators and ex employees of Sue's agency did attempt to sue for damages, loss of earnings, and violation of their privacy..... but as you can guess, they not only lost there suits but were ordered to pay for all of our legal fees and also for the cost of the investigation itself.
They also proceeded to open the rival travel agency and solicited Sue's clients, but a few short months later they closed and were out of business........ their travel agent licenses were also revoked.
This was one of our more entertaining cases ....... stay tuned for more!