Antoaneta Ionescu, SPIA: “The segment of services that generates the highest profit is represented by anti-fraud investigations. In most cases, the investigative process also results in the recovery of major damages”
Leader of the Romanian new generation of private investigators, SPIA – Secret Private Investigations Agency, was founded in 2012, in order to offer the local business environment tailor-made private investigation services, which guarantee companies access to the latest specific investigation methods and techniques.
SPIA’s exclusive focus on the corporate environment, without serving individuals or domestic cases, has resulted in the specialization of its investigators in complex industries. The investigated cases become more and more complicated, as the fraud methods are discovered by the investigators, then changed and perfected by the illicit persons or groups.
(Interview with Antoaneta Ionescu, Managing Partner SPIA)
How did the private investigation services market evolve in Romania since 2010 and who are your competitors?
The Romanian private investigations market is considered to be young but with a high potential of development. Although the exercise of the private investigator profession was regulated in our country in 2003, once the 329 Law was adopted, it is fair to say that it was only in 2010 that the services dedicated to companies really started to develop. Foreign investors, multinational companies or investment funds that have made acquisitions in strategic areas, started to request the services of private investigation agencies in various segments of their activity.
The portfolio of services addressed to companies has constantly evolved and diversified. Today it covers a wide range, from economic and financial investigations, anti-fraud investigations, background checks, due diligence and risk management, to corporate investigations or investigations to identify and prove smuggling and counterfeiting, combating and preventing money laundering or corruption. For SPIA’s clients, we also offer specialized legal advice and even crisis communication.
Only 20% of the 650 authorized private investigation agencies in Romania provide services to legal entities. However, more than 90% of the industry’s turnover in 2019 was achieved by the top 10 agencies.
As the economic, social and political climate changes and companies adapt and develop new business models, fraud attempts are multiplied, diversified and improved. Therefore, Romanian companies need solid and stable investigation services that they can rely on when their interests are in jeopardy.
As the leader of the Romanian new generation of private investigators, we have the responsibility to encourage and actively contribute to the development of the industry and the transformation of competition into collaboration.
With what local and foreign authorities, official representatives, organisms do you collaborate in your activities and what authority is the regulator of your operations?
The activity of private investigation agencies is subject to the control and supervision of the General Inspectorate of the Romanian Police.
In addition, all investigators are required by law to cooperate with law enforcement authorities. Specifically, if during an investigation we identify data or information that correspond to violations of criminal law, we are obliged to immediately notify the competent institutions, depending on the criminal act against which we obtained relevant evidence.
All our clients are aware of these legal obligations before the start of each investigation.
In SPIA’s 8 years of activity, we cooperated with national police and prosecutor’s offices, but we did not encounter situations in which a possible judicial interest would interfere with our clients’ objectives, but on the contrary.
Given the past years, how would you describe the evolution of crimes’ typology and complexity in Romania and how would comment the findings? What do you expect in this respect, in the upcoming years?
The experience of the last years has shown us that the fraud attempts companies face are more and more complex and more difficult to identify and prove. Large organized crime groups have adapted much faster than expected to the new security paradigm, which on one hand involves the cooperation of state institutions with private investigative agencies and, on the other hand, the establishment of internal anti-fraud departments.
There was an initial lack of reaction from corporations, which relied on the above-mentioned paradigm. The criminal groups thus had the necessary time to obtain access and specific information about the protection measures taken against them and to take in their team people specialized in overcoming the obstacles whose objective was to prevent fraud. For private investigative agencies, everything has resulted in increased difficulty of investigating and documenting each case.
All this competition between the criminal groups and the companies they are trying to defraud to be at least one step ahead each other, continues and will continue to exist and intensify. Why? Because the reasons that led to its appearance did not cease to exist. Legislative gaps in criminal matters and new interpretations of some of its articles recently, the material interest of people with relevant positions in organizations and the inconsistency of internal protection policies with regard to taken anti-fraud measures, along with techniques and increasingly complex methods of fraud of criminal networks, all lead to a bleak but very real picture.
What kind of frauds are most common in the Romanian landscape and what are the challenges in preventing, proving and disclosing them? What is the most complex/ complicated type of fraud investigation? What are the usual consequences in Romania for these kind of frauds?
Although crime is manifested in all economic sectors, the most fraudulent industries are, not surprisingly, the richest ones.
In the last 7 years, SPIA investigators have specialized in investigations in the energy field, insurance and real estate transactions, each of these industries having risks defined according to specificity.
The energy field is, for example, the most difficult to approach from an investigative perspective, because it is characterized by a high degree of specialization and regulation in secondary legislation. Crime groups have access to material, data and human resources, which makes it much more difficult for investigators to penetrate and obtain and then secure information that can later become evidence. In the face of these challenges, we have the advantage of experience and specific techniques we have developed over the years and hundreds of investigated cases.
Even so, we often encounter situations in which we are outnumbered, both technologically and logistically. We have learned to exploit the vulnerabilities of organized crime networks and to compensate quantity with quality, operational deficit with professional expertise.
Like any law violation, the illegal actions of criminal persons or groups have various legal consequences, from the simplest to the most serious. Because the targeted industries are also the richest, some may be of critical importance for the Romanian state’s economy, depending on the gravity of the facts. The stakes are often high.
Do you have also private individuals requiring your investigation services and what kind of services do they usual demand? What is the most uncommon demand for investigation services from your clients, if it can be disclosed?
SPIA services are exclusively addressed to companies that want to protect their interests by finding out the truth. We identify the immediate risks and the indisputable evidence necessary for legal entities through personalized investigation services, private supervision, specialized legal advice and even crisis communication.
At the domestic level, the largest share of requests from individuals are infidelities related investigations. With a lower percentage are also disappearances related investigations, inheritances or other particular situations.
Which are your company’s objectives at this moment and how did your business evolve in the past years? What investigation services segment generates the highest profit for your company?
Since 2012, the year SPIA was founded, the agency has been on an upward trend. The evolution was registered on all levels, from the increase in the number of customers to the diversification of the industries that use our services, from the evolution of the employees and collaborators number to the increase of specializations and certificates that all our team members have, from the diversification of areas in which we can provide investigations up to constant investments in high-performance, state-of-the-art logistics. Beyond the desire for development, there is a need to keep up with the organized crime networks development and diversification as well as the methods and resources they use.
The segment of services that generates the highest profit is represented by anti-fraud investigations. In most cases, the investigative process also results in the recovery of major damages.
Which is the common profile for a SPIA employee as investigators? How do you run the recruitment process and what are the company’s values and missions in terms of employer branding?
SPIA team members, employees and collaborators alike, do not follow a specific pattern. They have different personalities, come from different social backgrounds and are each specialized in certain industries. This approach of human resources is not accidental. The diversity of SPIA investigators gives us the opportunity to address cases involving different types of people, and the presence of a wide range of typologies among our employees is a clear advantage.
The recruitment process has several stages, including an interview and a field internship. We follow several aspects, which are essential in carrying out private investigation activities and a final element in the decision is related to team integration.
How many employees do you have and what is the evolution of your employees’ number over the past 2 years?
Without human resources, state-of-the-art equipment and our creative approach to cases would not be worth as much. The team of SPIA investigators has constantly evolved, both in terms of numbers and certificates and specializations in intelligence investigations and operational surveillance.
From 14 employees and 20 collaborators in 2016, we ended 2019 with a team of 24 employees and another 60 collaborators at national level, to which we turn punctually in the investigated cases. We are in a continuous search for professionals to add value to the team and the portfolio of services that we provide for companies that need to find out the truth.