Paper trails have always been a part of white collar crime investigations. If someone is stealing money from the company, for example, he or she may also be leaving a lot of altered paperwork behind to cover up the crime. If multiple people are involved, there could be communication between the parties that can be read and investigated later on.
In the past, before the electronic age, paper trails were a lot shorter. If there was a court case that was tied to 300,000 different documents or pieces of paper, that was thought of as an incredible amount. Many cases were far smaller.
Today, 300,000 documents are nothing. It's on the small end, to the point that some experts have described it as "a drop in the bucket." These experts note that there are often 30 million different documents, or even as many as 300 million.
The difference, of course, is that many of these documents are not printed out. The paper trail is so huge because it's an electronic paper trail. Investigators have to look at email messages, text messages, social media interactions, direct messages and much more. Documents are created and stored in a wide variety of ways, and they all must be considered.
It's easy to see how complicated this can get. People may have written a letter once a day in the past, and that would be considered a lot. Today, it would not be uncommon for someone to send multiple email messages, dozens of text messages and another slew of social media messages -- all before lunch.
When a paper trail is complex and hard to follow, investigators must be thorough in determining what the evidence says and what can even be used as evidence. Those being investigated need to know their legal rights -- especially their rights to privacy -- and what to do if those rights are breached in any way.
Source: NPR, "E-Mail, the Workplace and the Electronic Paper Trail," Ari Shapiro, accessed Aug. 25, 2016