Interviews are a key part of a fraud investigation, and often one of the first steps in the investigative process. An effective interview can expose organizational weaknesses, identify employees who may be motivated to steal, and, of course, produce a confession from a guilty party.
Although it is difficult to tell if a person is lying during an interview, there are some behavioral indicators to watch out for which tend to indicate a lie or avoidance of the truth. The indicator that most commonly comes to mind is the shifting of eyes. However, research shows that eye contact or lack thereof is a not scientifically reliable indicator of truth.
So, how does a forensic accountant or investigator determine the truthfulness of an interviewee? Nonverbal behaviors, body language, and statement/answer phrasing often offer key insights into what is really happening. The FBI points to several interviewee behaviors that are likely to indicate deception:
- Countering the question with a statement that is true, but does not answer the question
- Fidgeting either in the seat or with items such as hair or clothing
- Slightly changing aspects of the statement or story each time it is told
- Becoming angry with the person asking the question
- Acting as if he/she does not understand the question
- Avoiding the meeting and interview altogether because things keeping coming up or the individual is “too busy”
Unfortunately, there are always exceptions to the indicators above and it takes an experienced, well-trained investigator to properly unearth the truth. As Joe Navarro points out in Psychology Today, managing the forensic environment by strategically asking questions can provide many insights during an interview.
The manner in which questions are asked is extremely important, as is closely observing not just the answer that is provided, but also the way in which the suspect answers each question. This is when the behavioral cues listed above come into play. Is there a change in body language? Does the individual react angrily or avoid the question? Sifting through these clues and indicators can help detect deceit and lies.
As forensic accountants, it is our job to remain skeptical throughout the audit and investigative process and look for certain verbal and non-verbal behaviors that could indicate fraudulent or suspicious actions. Skillful interviewing techniques, combined with meticulous data collection and astute analysis are key tools for sifting through the evidence at hand and finding fraud.
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