Liar’s Poker

Liar's-PokerOur Chapter Member’s Lecture for CPE credit for this month (Interviewing for Prosecution) elicited a number of questions about the distinction between lying and deception from attendees of our May Training Event so I thought I’d address them in a post.

Our May-June lecture states that everyone lies and, in most people, lying produces stress. The human body will attempt to relieve this stress (even in practiced liars) through verbal and nonverbal clues. So a practiced interviewer will be able to draw inferences from subjects’ behavior about the honesty of their statements. The ACFE tells us that conclusions concerning behavior must be tempered by a number of factors. The physical environment in which the interview is conducted can affect behavior. If the respondent is comfortable, fewer behavioral quirks might be exhibited. The more intelligent the respondent, the more reliable verbal and nonverbal clues will be. If the respondent is biased toward the interviewer, or vice versa, this will also affect behavior. People who are mentally unstable or under the influence of drugs will be unsuitable to interview because their behavioral symptoms are generally unreliable. Likewise, the behavioral symptoms of juveniles are generally unreliable.

Additionally, during an investigation, it’s always important to never lose sight of the fact  that people do things for a reason. The fraud examiner might not understand the reasons a fraudster commits his or her crime, but the motivations make sense to the perpetrator. For example, a perpetrator might commit fraud because his life has spiraled out of control, although it might not be out of control under a reasonable person’s definition. In the perpetrator’s view, his life has become so problematic that fraud is the only way he can restore balance. And during the fraud examination, if the examiner can get the perpetrator to talk about the lack of control in her life, the examiner can use this information to compel the fraudster to admit guilt and provide valuable insight into ways to prevent similar frauds in the future.

When conducting interviews leading to possible prosecution with suspects, interviewers should seek to understand the possible motives of various suspects. To do this, interviewers should suspend their own value system. This will better position the interviewer to persuade the suspect to reveal information providing insight into what might have pressured or motivated them and how they might have rationalized their actions. In an interview situation, the examiner should not suggest reasons for the crime. Instead, the examiner should let the individual share his motivations, even if the suspect reveals his motivations in an indirect manner. Remember to:

  • Leave your ego at the door.
  • Talk to the suspected perpetrator as an adult.
  • Do not patronize the suspect.
  • Use good communication skills to develop rapport with subjects so that they will feel comfortable talking to you.
  • Avoid being confrontational with the suspect. If the interviewer is confrontational, the perpetrator will be less likely to make an admission.

When conducting an interview with a suspect, the interviewer should begin by asking questions about the standard procedures and the normal, actual practice of the operations at issue. This is necessary to gain an understanding of the way the relevant process is intended to work and how it actually works. Additionally, asking such basic questions early in the interview will help the interviewer observe the interviewee’s “normal” behavior so that the interviewer can notice any changes in the subject’s mannerisms and word choice. Next, the interviewer might ask non-accusatory questions related to the issue at hand, such as:

  • Why do you think someone would do something like this?
  • What do you think should happen to a person who would do something like this?
  • Of all of the people who work in this area, who could be involved?

The answers to these questions can help the interviewer understand the possible motives of various suspects, narrow the pool of suspects, or obtain an admission. For example, a suspect who answers the question ”Why do you think someone would do something like this?” with a sympathetic answer might be trying to appeal to the interviewer’s sense of compassion to reduce or minimize her punishment.

One of our attendees brought up the issue of fraudsters’ seemingly irrational behavior.  It’s a good point.  During the interview, fraud examiners should be aware that there are times when otherwise rational people behave irrationally. It’s important in the interview process because it will help humanize the misconduct. Unless the perpetrator has a mental or emotional disorder, it’s acceptable to expect that the perpetrator committed the fraud for a reason. Situational fraudsters-those who rationalize their right to an illegal enrichment and perpetrate fraud when the opportunity arises–do not tend to view themselves as criminals. In contrast to deviant fraudsters, who are more proactive than situational fraudsters and who are always on the alert for opportunities to commit fraud, situational fraudsters rationalize their crimes. As indicated above, situational fraudsters feel that they need to commit fraud to regain control over their lives. Thus, an interviewer will be more likely to obtain a confession from a situational fraudster if he can genuinely communicate that he understands how anyone under similar circumstances might commit such a crime. Genuineness, however, is key. If the fraudster in any way detects that the interviewer is presenting a trap, he generally will not make an admission of wrongdoing.

Deception refers to actions designed to mislead or deceive someone into believing an inaccuracy or untruth. Studies tell us that people lie an average of three times during a ten-minute conversation. By definition, fraud involves deception for personal gain. Most humans commit deceptive acts to protect themselves from various consequences of the truth.  Lying refers to the deliberate act of departing from the truth. A lie is an untruthful statement, especially one made with an intention to deceive others. The capacity to lie is noted early and nearly universally in human development. At about the age of five, most children begin to be able to lie convincingly. Before this, they seem simply unable to comprehend why others do not have the same view of events that they do and assume that there is only one point of view-their own. When children first learn how lying works, they lack the moral understanding of when to refrain from doing it. In this stage of development, children will sometimes tell outrageous and unbelievable lies, because they lack the conceptual framework to judge whether a statement is believable, or even to understand the concept of believability. Developing a proper understanding of these concepts takes years of watching people tell lies and the results of these lies. It is this observation, however, that typically allows young children to learn that stating an untruth can avoid punishment for misdeeds, often even before they understand why it works.

Finally, many people consider withholding the truth to be the same as lying, and while they both do involve deception, there is a distinct difference between the two: Lying requires an active approach to deception, whereas withholding the truth involves a passive approach. For example, a fraudster might withhold the truth by disappearing to Brazil after embezzling enough money to retire. Thus, if the perpetrator is missing, he cannot be confronted or punished for his actions. Most people would prefer avoiding the truth when compared to lying because it is easier to be silent than to lie. Additionally, it’s difficult to be consistent with lies, and a person who has committed fraud is generally aware of this risk and wants to avoid it at all costs!  Remember, people can become so engaged in managing how others perceive them that they become unable to separate the truth from fiction in their own minds.

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