Gumtree may be the UK’s most popular classified ads site, but its uses go beyond buying and selling items – it is also a great tool for OSINT investigators. This is particularly the case when investigating stolen items, or determining whether lost property, home insurance and personal injury claims are indeed genuine. However, extracting information from a classified ads website as opposed to a social media website presents its own unique set of challenges. In this blog, Senior Analyst Ashleigh Barratt examines the steps taken by NetWatch to overcome these challenges.
Opportunities and Limitations
Below is an average Gumtree listing; it includes photographs of the item, a description, a price and the ability to contact the seller. Users can also view the seller’s profile, which allows them to see what other advertisements the seller has currently online. But there are limitations: unless the seller puts their contact details in the description, users are required to contact them via Gumtree, and they can’t view any historic listings.
Having identified a need to exploit the wealth of information available on Gumtree, NetWatch’s software team developed our own Gumtree search tool. Using this, we can view the seller’s historic listings. The tool also provides location and phone number for sellers where available. This aids with attribution and enables us to potentially ascertain alternative addresses or contact information for targeted sellers.
The snapshot below provides a redacted example of the initial search results created by our Gumtree tool, alongside available location data. The full listings are available by navigating from the links in the search results.
Advantages for Clients
Earlier this month, NetWatch was asked to investigate an insurance claim for a stolen bicycle. We were provided firstly with the model of the bicycle, and with contact information for the target individual. We inputted the subject’s contact information into the search tool, which elicited a number of listings for bicycles, including two of the bicycles in question.
The available listings show that the subject was attempting to sell the bicycle prior to reporting it as stolen, and they show images and models of numerous other bicycles which could be cross-referenced with previous claims for stolen bikes.
Results obtained through the Gumtree tool are also useful for personal injury investigations, as demonstrated by the examples below. In the first example, the description of the item details that it was for sale due to injuries sustained by the seller, providing valuable information regarding the subject’s wellbeing – that could be unavailable elsewhere.
In the second example, the image of the vehicle for sale inadvertently shows the subject of the investigation. In the photograph, he can be seen using a mobility aid which in this case was of high value as he had claimed to be fully wheelchair bound. In the description, he likewise gave details of his wellbeing and medical situation which further assisted the investigation.
As a software-led team, at NetWatch we are always searching for ways to improve the efficiency and efficacy of our investigations. The tools we develop are used by both our in-house analysts to help deliver our market-leading research products, and by multiple outside agencies for their own investigation needs. Our Gumtree search tool is one of a range of options available to investigators, to request a free demo of all of the tools in the NetWatch® OSINT ToolSuite range please contact us.