Six Degrees of Separation – Linking and Correlating Data Points


Have you ever played “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?” The original premise being that everyone in Hollywood was connected somehow, within 6 relationships, to prolific actor Kevin Bacon.  The game extended to see how many non-actors could be connected within the same six degrees of separation.

In today’s networked world “six degrees of separation” is truer than ever.  It is easier to look up old friends and harder to hide unwanted associations.  In particular, the ability to see and understand connections between people through data linkages and correlation becomes important when law enforcement, intelligence agencies and commercial businesses need to perform background checks or criminal investigations.  The ability to link an individual to other people, places or things is a critical factor in understanding potential or realized fraudulent behavior.

People who are looking to participate in deceitful or criminal behavior are usually not blatant about it –if you look only at their surface behavior you will often not find anything out of the ordinary.  They probably have good credit, may or may not have any outstanding warrants or prior arrests, and in general appear to be “on the up and up”.   That is, on the surface.  However, when you start looking at the degrees of separation between that individual and other people (known fraudsters or otherwise), the “common operating picture” starts to change.  Being able to see how the person is connected through information like addresses, phone numbers, even personally identifiable information (PII) used on an application enables investigators to paint a more complete picture about that individual and his associates that would normally not be apparent at first glance.

Actual sharing of PII among Individuals – such as Social Security numbers – is a practice that’s obviously a red flag for fraud.  Other connections are more subtle, requiring automated, technology-enabled information correlation and analysis.  Two people having the same address in their history might not mean much.  But what if those same two people – who have no other apparent relationship with each other – shared the same address at the same time?  That could be a signal requiring further investigation. What about a phone number? Again, having the same phone number in and of itself is not bad, but what does it mean if you share the same number with another individual at the same time?  This type of data linkage and analysis can be a critical investigative tool that can tie two individuals together and help detect potential fraud.

This ability to look beyond the obvious and link disparate “known” and “unknown” events and individuals can aid government law enforcement and intelligence communities investigating fraud. Having a technology and unified fraud intelligence strategy that can bring multiple sources of data together securely, and determine linkages to other persons, places or things is critical to support the government and business missions of law enforcement and information security.