Show Notes: From Fraud Investigations to Security Software Innovation with Dean Cornelison | Episode #11


In this episode I was lucky to be joined by the SUPER knowledgeable Dean Cornelison (CFE, CIFA, CIFI, FCLS), who’s had an incredible career working fraud investigations over the years, and who is currently supporting Skopenow as a Solutions Architect — leading a number of projects including those around innovation.

During our convo, Dean shared a ton of cool insights. First, about his career in insurance fraud investigations, then his thoughts on the importance of finding career roles that you’re passionate about; surrounding yourself with great mentors and a solid network. Then finally we wrapped up the show with Dean’s (excellent) book recommendations and his advice for aspiring practitioners.

Big Ideas from This Episode

  1. As a Solutions Architect, Dean has the ability to leverage his 20+ years of fraud / investigative experience to (a) shape innovation of his organization’s security software products (b) content creation (c) education of stakeholders in his org and outside (d) supporting sales and marketing efforts.

  2. Unique industries such as insurance can offer MANY opportunities to those interested in investigative careers: getting the opportunity to work with data, to collect information out in the field, learn about organized fraud rings, and work with diverse stakeholders (attorneys, etc.).

  3. Stay open to the opportunities that come your way! This is especially true when you work for smaller organizations or organizations with a “flat” hierarchy — in those organizations you tend to get far more diverse projects to contribute to.

  4. Key skill areas for investigators:

    (a) Curiosity
    (b) Initiative
    (c) Creative / Critical Thinking
    (d) Understanding Human Nature (Rapport Building)
    (e) Research and Information Finding

  5. Do your best in school — it will open doors for you when you’re starting your career.

  6. Don’t seek money and status only, this won’t take you far. Look for opportunities that will help you develop a well-roundedness. And find things you’re good at / passionate about.

  7. Don’t be afraid to seek new experience. Go outside of your comfort zone. Find mentors to help you along your journey… learn from the good and learn from the bad.

  8. Important broad skills: speaking, reading, writing, and crafting an argument can take you places!


– ANY BOOK BY Michael Bazzel (for investigations topics)

– Content from Cynthia Hetherington / Hetherington Group

The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

Future Crimes: Inside the Digital Underground and the Battle for Our Connected World by Marc Goodman

Psychology of Fraud: Integrating Criminological Theory into Counter Fraud by J. Michael Skiba

The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win by Gene Kim

Use CONTROL + F to search the transcript below if you want to learn more!

Transcript from this episode (#11)

*Note: this transcript was generated using automated software, and my not be a perfect transcription. But I hope you find it useful.

Travis  0:00  
Dean, I've been looking forward to chatting with you for some time now. And to give some of our listeners a little bit of background, we first met over zoom about a year ago when you volunteered to sit down and chat with me for an hour as I was doing a project where I was serving and interviewing corporate investigators. So thank you, again for sharing your time with me that day. And also, one of the big reasons I wanted to bring you on was so that some of the listeners can understand that there's a lot of ways that security practitioners and investigators can apply their knowledge. It's not just working in their own security orgs. It's also in similar work that you're doing, where you're supporting the development of security software products. So I think this will be a really insightful conversation for some of our listeners. And thank you again for joining.

Dean  1:56  
Thanks for inviting me. I appreciate it

Travis  1:58  
So as we get started, can you share a little bit about the role that you play today in your organization?

Dean  2:07  
Sure. So you know, my background was, like you said, investigations insurance in the assurance arena. About a year ago, I joined scope. Now, as a solutions architect, and basically scoping out being a software as a service company, I basically got brought in as a subject matter expert, for the insurance vertical, to kind of help build out their product and interact with insurance customers to basically further that customer, customer base.

Travis  2:44  
It's really cool, because I've also gotten a little bit of insight about this over the years to just coming from a similar software company. And could you share a little bit about maybe like, what your day to day projects or tasks tend to look like?

Dean  2:59  
Sure. Primarily, I support multiple groups at the company. Initially, I work with sales, pre sales, business development, and working with basically demos and sales and trainings and any type of discussions around how to use the platform correctly from an insurance perspective and investigator or claims. Handling perspective. So that's, that's kind of one of my primary functions, providing subject matter expertise in the insurance arena across all lines of insurance. I've worked insurance in a number of areas, workers comp, property casualty homeowners in also in multiple western states, from the office and in the field for several years, so that's an addition to SIU investigations, which SIU stands for special investigation unit, which a lot of companies have, and I also was involved with the data function within the SIU I also kind of help out because I'm also a private investigator, and a CFP, Certified Fraud Examiner licensed private investigators to California. So I help out in those arenas or verticals, with the company and in presenting the materials so the platform can be leveraged correctly by those users and customers. Some of the other big things that I get involved in is innovation, and any type of issues coming up within the platform, such as Bugs dealing with product management, quality assurance and development. I get involved pretty heavily in content creation, primarily internally, but I've I've been involved with external My efforts as far as getting information out in in Article and podcast format, I do attend conferences with the sales folks, customer service staff, a customer success staff. So that's another area that I get involved with, along with helping locate and facilitate vendor and partnership arrangements for for the company, kind of as a as an adjunct to kind of other areas I tend to get involved in. So those are kind of the primary things I'm working on right now.

Travis  5:39  
Yeah, so as a solutions architect, like one big piece is you going about educating the sales staff, the developers working on innovation, and one of the things I've kind of noticed, like being in this security software space for a few years is that one big differentiator that I've noticed among some of the different software groups, is that the ones that actually bring in people like you, that have a ton of practical experience that have used the tools that have been the end user, like doing all the work on the ground, it just makes their products so much more, it just resonates so much more with end users when they could bring in knowledge from someone like you. So that's just one observation that I've kind of made over the last couple of years.

Dean  6:26  
I think it's pretty smart. It's I'm sitting literally on calls with people who I either have known or worked with him in the industry, or I've done exactly their job, whether it be a claims function or investigation function, no matter the line of business. So very helpful to have kind of that in the seat perspective, and help people kind of figure out, use cases for how the platform can, you know, make, make create some time savings ROI and basically create a make it a lot easier and quicker to do investigations.

Travis  6:57  
Definitely super valuable to have someone like you around. And you started to touch on this a little bit. But I want to ask you, like, what did your career looked like leading up to where you're at today? Could you share a little bit about your background?

Dean  7:12  
Sure. The investigations kind of was a natural lead in from claims as a claims person and I started in the early 90s, with Liberty Mutual in a claims roll across multiple lines of business, both in the office and in the field. And that that led to working with investigators doing claims investigations, and then basically having a pretty significant role in you know, understanding that how crucial investigate investigations were to getting an outcome and a claims case claims file. And from that point, I started interacting with some folks who were dealing with fraud issues in the insurance space, specifically, the SIU or special investigation unit, folks, so I was able to kind of work my way over into those areas specific to automotive and, and injury type claims. And from there, Liberty Mutual, I went over to homeowners and was covering, like home arsons personal property thefts, any number of other cases. From there, when it goes to a strict investigation mode with Liberty, with Progressive Insurance in the SIU and started handling a lot of field cases in Northern California, a lot of vehicle fires, vehicle thefts, some injury losses, but primarily it was a property involved investigation position. So a lot of a lot of fraud with folks who basically didn't want to, you know, they wanted to make an insurance claim for for their vehicle. And a lot of times as those cases were involving pretty significant levels of fraud where the person can make payments, or they had other motivations to make a claim. So that was very interesting. I got involved in some forensic activities specific to origin and cause on vehicle fires. I've worked on boats, motorcycles, RVs, and big rigs in that position all over the Northern California area. And from there, I just came into insurance. Because they were basically a completely online scenario. So they didn't see people. They didn't have brick and mortar agents, and they didn't see vehicles. So I thought the incidence of fraud would be pretty significant in a completely virtual or digital arena for insurance. And I was, I think I was right in the fact that the amount of fraud in the online setting is pretty significant, and helped to build up the SIU at insurance as an investigator in the West, senior investigator, basically working with claims staff doing training, dealing with investigation vendors and any other number of experts, including attorney is to investigate fraud. From there, I went to an internal insurance operations mode, kind of ferreting out non claims fraud. So I worked in in the billing area, the collections area, underwriting, and and sales, the sales area was pretty, pretty rife with folks who are calling in and impersonating other people out of identity theft, chargeback and payment fraud issues, but also got involved in internal corporate level investigations involving both internal and external individuals to the company. So that's kind of where I got some, some threat experience dealing with penetration testing, dealing with, you know, looking at threats and dealing with that accordingly. So from there, I was able to kind of move into an SIU analyst role, going back into the claims, arena, with specifically working directly with SIU investigators looking at large data sets for organized insurance fraud rings, family groups, and any number of other schemes, where I would use data to primarily visualize those scenarios for the for the SAU investigators, potentially legal counsel, and to assist, have my work, product assist, and referrals to law enforcement, specifically department of insurance. So those are some of the things that got me from an investigation perspective, over to scope now. So that was kind of the route I took prior to prior to, you know, the the investigation angle, I had a pretty significant experience in different claims organizations, workers comp, homeowners, commercial liability. So it's good experience to kind of move forward and, and allowed me to get a private investigation license based on that experience, also, seek additional designations, such as a Certified Fraud Examiner, designation. So it's all been kind of a cumulative scenario, kind of a rolling, cumulative situation to get me where I am today.

Travis  12:19  
Yeah, that's very cool to learn about how someone working in the insurance space can get experience in like so many different parts of investigations and fraud. So get that's just pretty fascinating to me. And then plus, like you said, there's active groups who are actively plotting to try to defraud insurance companies. So you're seeing Yeah, like, very, you know, pretty smart adversaries, and I'm sure plenty of dumb ones, too.

Dean  12:50  
Yeah, I would, I would compare the two different types between playing checkers and playing chess. So yeah, that's that was, that was my experience. And I got a chance to work all kinds of different fraud angles in those scenarios. So it was, it was definitely an education, I think the the biggest thing is just staying staying open to the opportunities that come your direction. And that's how I was able to kind of fill areas that where there was a void or a vacuum in primarily at insurance, I had a lot of opportunity, because it was a smaller kind of startup company, I joined in 2004, it had just been started in 1999. And, you know, flat organizations, you tend to get stretched in any number of different areas. And that was a very good experience.

Travis  13:35  
Yeah, and that's a great lesson to like for people listening. Basically, for the smaller organizations that you tend to work in, you tend to have far more flexibility and like the different projects that you could work on rather than in some of the big organ organizations where they tend to focus people like very narrowly on specific tasks. So that's, that's a good lesson too. And next, I was curious, were there any early influences that kind of got you down the path towards doing investigations and working in the insurance space?

Dean  14:07  
Yeah, I mean, even as a, as a small kid, I was always interested in investigation investigations in law enforcement primarily from media. And then I've, you know, the insurance angle I had a pretty significant comfort level with insurance. I had family members who were in the sales and underwriting and corporate level at a very large insurance company. And so I was around it, I was around different people in those functions at those at that company. So in my youth, I was around a lot of insurance people who, you know, they, they, they talked about business, and I was in offices, I actually did some summer work in a sales office. So I was pretty comfortable being around the insurance side of things. business, whether it was sales and understood what underwriting meant, and it was kind of a natural progression progression to kind of move into that area. Insurance is kind of complex, and I kind of had an understanding, probably sooner than most on how insurance works. And, and, you know, I had an opportunity, right out of college to go work for Liberty Mutual. And that was, that was kind of what got me started at the time. As far as that, in that experience on the on the claim side,

Travis  15:33  
I see. Yeah, it's very cool that early on, you already had a lot of support, and were able to get you like some of those some of that early experience before you started working full time. Next, I want to ask you, so in like, all the investigations you've done and working in fraud, and insurance, are there any competencies or skill areas that stand out to you that are like, big requirements for being successful in those types of roles?

Dean  16:02  
I would say that curiosity initiative, and the ability to kind of think both creatively and critically, would be some pretty specific areas that you need to focus on, or have those skill sets to be a good investigator. And, you know, and investigators in my, in my opinion, is, is someone who can kind of keep an open mind about what they're seeing, take in a lot of information, try to think in maybe different ways about the information and receiving both over time and contextually paying attention to nuance, you know, trying to understand where what specific data sets come into play, and, and human nature. I mean, it's, there's a lot of different kind of areas of expertise people get into, I think, if you can, you know, you've got a good attention to detail. And you can interact with people in a pretty report based successful way, when you're doing information seeking, I think it'd be, it'd be successful as an investigator, some of the other things that I think that are really important for investigator is the ability to do research and, and, you know, find information outside of people. So, I mean, when I started in insurance claims and investigations in the internet was not a big thing. I mean, nowadays, you've got a lot of tools in the in the toolbox to be very thorough get a lot of good information, almost the information fire firehose. So I think it's a lot of trying to figure out what's what's really material and impactful to what you need on your case. So I think there's less skill sets, it's just a matter of how the case what the case requires at the time, those are things to think about, as you kind of move along in getting experienced in the investigation area.

Travis  18:05  
And I like how you mentioned curiosity, because that plays such a big role from everything from following trends, whether those are trends specific to your industry, or trends in security, being up to date with new tools that are relevant to like the very specific types of investigations that we do. And then also for those specific cases, trying to look at it from several angles and figure out, just figure out creative ways to solve whatever that big intelligence or investigative issue is. So yeah, I love those points. And I wanted to ask, so for people who are younger practitioners, or who are aspiring practitioners trying to get into the investigation space, like, what advice would you have for them as they get involved in the security industry,

Dean  18:59  
you know, kind of looking back on kind of some gaps in areas that I think were important for me or areas maybe I missed out on, I think doing your best academically upfront. And when you're young is very important. It's going to open doors for you in ways you can't even glimpse when you're young. So really doing your best making contacts and doing networking is pretty huge. And being unafraid to try new experiences, even if it pushes you outside of your comfort zone are really important experiences to have not, you know, the focus on money and status, in reference to seeking the position is, in my experience, not something that's going to get you very far. You've got to basically look at the opportunities that are out there. There might be kind of ever changing. You know, it's good to have an interesting set of opportunities that are that'll round you out. And the other thing I would say As you know, focus focus on what you're good at, or develop, getting better at what you have an interest in. Niche niche skills can be an asset in the right context. You know, one of the things that got me over scope now was I developed a pretty severe interest in Oh synth or open source investigations. From interactions I had with like attending a conference in Las Vegas many years ago, called osmosis where I got a chance to, to hear Michael Bazzell speak, and that really kind of kicked it off for me in the ocean space. The other thing I would say, as mentors, you know, expand your knowledge through your network, try to find, like I said, new experiences. And I would say the last thing, and probably one of the biggest things that will carry you through your entire career, but will really make you stand out is the ability to master writing, researching and public speaking. Huge, huge areas to get to get good at, they will pay visit, pay very good dividends over your over your career.

Travis  21:04  
Yeah, those are some really good points, like, one that really comes to mind was your last one, when he mentioned, the ability to speak, right. And like put forward an argument. There's a there's one psychologist that I've that I follow His name is Jordan Peterson. And like one of his big, one of the quotes that he's famous for is to say that, like there's nothing more deadly than a person that could speak and read and write well, and put forward and arguments. So I think that's a great point. And then another thing that stood out to me too, which I love that you mentioned, which was kind of like getting experience early on, tends to be more valuable than just going for whatever job pays the most. There's, there's a book that I was reading recently, it was mastery by Robert Greene. And he's talking about mentorship and thinking of work as like apprenticeships. And one of the big takeaways from his book was that, when you're younger in your career, you should place far more value on getting hands on experience, and working with mentors that have been doing your type of work for 1020 years, that gaining that experience upfront is going to pay dividends down the line, rather than just trying to find whatever job pays the most, like, directly out of school or so early on in your career.

Dean  22:28  
Exactly. I totally agree with that, in my insurance, and SIU areas of my career, I got to work with and be mentored by people who had multi decade experience in those areas when I was just walking in. So the phrase, you know, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants is huge, I have some very deep respect for some of the initial people that I worked with, in those areas, because they basically made me who I am, and how I how I look at things. You know, good, bad and ugly. Not everybody's got that everybody walks on water. So you kind of you know, you learn from the good and you learn from the bad. So I would say those are some pretty pretty huge areas to definitely take to get some takeaways and you know, put them in a place and just kind of reflect on them as you need to.

Travis  23:21  
Yeah, that chance to work with an experienced team early on is incredibly valuable. And next, I was curious to ask so throughout your career, have you ever had any failures or an apparent failures that later set you up for success? Like, have you had any favorite failures throughout your career?

Dean  23:43  
Yeah, I so I, when I was a progressive, I left the company for about a two year period of time to pursue what I thought would be a career in law enforcement with the California Highway Patrol. And it's kind of a dream that I had my my brother was in law enforcement younger brother was in law enforcement. I was a little bit older at the time early 30s. And that while it didn't turn out to be a good fit for me for lots of reasons it was a kind of a game changer from perspective and experience level. But those law enforcement is definitely in my opinion, the younger man's game from a number of perspectives especially with someone who had the experience I had at the time you know ride alongs and Academy experience will only get you get you so far. I had a I'm also I'm prior military so and then I'd been in corporations for a while so I think that kind of colored my my worldview and in working in the in the law enforcement arena specifically state law enforcement. But that was definitely good experience. helped me out more than it hindered me it was just kind of a you know, I rolled some dice I thought it would be a good fit. But, you know, you're not always that's not always gonna happen. And I well, I consider a kind of a quasi failure. I also see it as a success. So it's I see it as as as both things. But I also I see the value in it. And it definitely was a sacrifice to go through that process. But it it has yielded some treasure after the fact.

Travis  25:28  
Yeah, I think I could completely relate like, early on in my career similar to you. I had like a really strong interest in law enforcement, like in the Marine Corps, I was a reservists military, police, marine. And law enforcement was something that I wanted to do for the longest time. And I think after a while, I just kind of lost interest. Honestly, I think after getting a couple like parking tickets leaving, leaving my university, I was like, Man, I don't want to give out these parking tickets. Like, is that is that going to be me if I'm in law enforcement? So like a couple of like, funny things like that kind of happened along the way that pushed me toward working on the private side. But yeah, I can completely completely understand that.

Dean  26:10  
Yeah, I mean, I bring a corporate mindset, you know, law enforcement, not necessarily a recipe for success. I'll just leave it there.

Travis  26:20  
That to it. That's like any really experienced person going into an introductory role, but especially yours, having been doing work that was completely different. Yeah, I can see that being challenging for sure. Next, so I wanted to ask you, are there any books that you've found yourself recommending the most to your peers over the years?

Dean  26:44  
Definitely, I already said his name. But the literally any book by Michael Bazzell is is for any investigation or OSINT spaces, you know, literally should be the first book you get. I can't say that in the investigation and research base and the data area. Before I was reading Michael Brazil's books, I was reading Cynthia's Cynthia Hetherington books and her newsletter. Huge, just and tried to come at it from a practical standpoint, I think having an interest in in different areas, like current events, or history or the military understanding strategy, I think, you know, even certain areas in gaming and science fiction have applicability to investigations and the mindsets of curiosity, and problem solving. So I think those are really, really big areas, some of the other books that I would recommend as future crimes by Mark Goodman. Psychology of fraud by Dr. Michael S. Great, great book. And I read recently, a book called techno crimes by Walt Manning, which I which was kind of is a more of a futurist book and kind of a kind of a call to action. I thought that was an interesting book, on the software as a service and project management management side, the Phoenix, the Phoenix Project, was a very interesting book, because, you know, software and coding development is is not my forte and, and understanding logistics and process management, product management and processes. That was a that was an interesting book, I'm in the process of reading visual intelligence by Amy Herman. And so I'm kind of getting through that. And you, you said his name earlier, but I found one a really interesting book from a stet from a strategy, both tactical and strategic, and also historical perspective is 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. I'm sure you've probably read that book. So since you've read other books of his, I find that to be a very interesting kind of breakdown of how, you know, human relations work within the areas of power. And a lot of those a lot of those examples are military. So that's, I found those a lot of those books very, very, definitely recommend any of those books, any at all of those books.

Travis  29:19  
Yeah, those are some really good recommendations. And I'll be sure to link to some of those in, in our show notes. But yeah, you mentioned some good ones. So like 48 laws, of course. So Robert Greene's book 48 Laws of Power. It's like, kind of an unusual book. But I found, like the ideas in there to be so interesting, especially for someone who is like a young professional who's just getting into any industry. I think a book like that is useful because it helps you understand, like different group dynamics and power dynamics in organizations. And I think that type of info emotion is especially useful for younger people, because they tend to be ignorant to be to be like, to be straightforward. So I do think that's a really useful one for young people and just understanding politics and dynamics in organizations.

Dean  30:18  
Yeah, I got a chance to read Machiavelli in college. And I think, you know, he's kind of a another, you know, person to consider when reading things, I think he's pretty widely quoted in, in the 48 Laws of Power. And, you know, understanding politics and you know, in, you know, power is, is, you're gonna go work in any type of a setting with other people, you're gonna, you're gonna have to have some experience and understand how those things work. And, and it's really good to have kind of some historical context on how things have played out before, and how you might be able to leverage that for maybe a situation you might find yourself in.

Travis  31:01  
Yeah, and I think young people tend to be more naive. So books like that, I think are extra useful. And then you also mentioned looking at sci fi, and that's one I've heard a number of security practitioners talk about is that many of them recommend that security practitioners be involved in more science fiction, because it kind of helps you think about future threats and think a little more creatively about some of the work that we do. So I do like that as a recommendation to That's great.

Dean  31:32  
Yeah, I completely agree that, you know, science fiction tends to bring out what you said, you know, creativity, and thinking of the future, but also thinking of innovation. One of the reasons why I came to scope now is because I was able to make innovation requests to the CEO, Rob, Rob Douglas, and, and, you know, try to improve the site along the way, kind of with the mindset of, you know, pie in the sky, here's what I need, here's what here's, here's what I'd love to have. Here's what would be great to have, and just to think differently about things and what's possible. And I think if you can get into that mindset, it'll also help you with problem solving, because it's going to make you a more creative problem solver, just maybe sci fi seeing things in a different context to

Travis  32:21  
yeah, those are excellent points. And then next, so as we begin to wrap up our session here, is there any other advice or recommendations that you would want to give young and aspiring practitioners who are interested in working in investigations or fraud?

Dean  32:41  
Yeah, I would say that an interest in the law, specifically criminal or civil law, don't rule out, you know, working in the legal field. Having that background is is is important because it gives you a deeper understanding of, you know, what the parameters that we work in our involving, and that's going to make you a better investigator, if you know those, those laws and cases that are out there developing that when I was an investigator, one of the biggest things and was, you know how big your role your Rolodex was? For most people, that's your Outlook contact list now, so the bottom line is, is that you're really only as good as your network, especially if you're looking to do something that's outside of your area outside of your niche area. And the more people you can contact, you know, going to association meetings, going to conferences, taking those classes that you think are interesting to you, mate, that may be all kind of peripherally connected to what you have an interest in, all are going to potentially help you make contact with people and network and get, you know, having one good contact may solve a case or solve a situation for you or put you into a position or an opportunity that could change your life. And I think that's that's a huge thing.

Travis  34:05  
Yeah, that's so true network is so important in our industry, because there's so many times where we need information about how to solve like a very unique problem. And there's no way that all of us can have that all of us can be able to solve every single problem. So yeah, having those networks of different people that you could reach out to for niche topics and for help with solving very niche problems. Those can be super helpful. Yes. So Dan, I really appreciate you sharing your time with me today. You gave me a number of really interesting things to talk about when it comes to skill areas that people should develop as they want to become investigators. Like the broad range of experience that people can get in just one industry such as working in the security industry or working in the insurance industry. And then you all gave us some cool insight into how someone who develops a ton of security and investigative expertise over the years can transition into something like software as a service, which seems completely new, but where you could add so much value. So, Dean, I really appreciate you sharing your time with me today.

Dean  35:19  
Definitely I appreciate the questions appreciate the opportunity to do so. And I hope people find value in what we were able to talk about today.

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