Australia: Truth or fiction? How to tell if someone is lying, through fraud-detection skills

In the latest Forensic blog, Forensic Partner Robert Cockerell shares some of his tried-and-true methods to decoding whether someone is lying.

In my three decades of working as an investigator of fraud, including as a former Chief Inspector with Victoria Police, I have learned that there are some tried-and-true methods to decoding whether someone is lying.

Human beings "show" their true colours all of the time, and it's easy to spot them if — and it's a big if — you're prepared to watch and listen.

Recently I presented at the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) annual global conference in Texas, which outlined my techniques for unearthing deceit and extracting a confession.

Fundamental to the success of any interview is asking the right questions to extract the required information.

Some outstanding research has been done in respect to communication — verbal and non-verbal — and the proper application of the results of this research to the interviewing of witnesses and suspects.

To begin with, you must ask open-ended, probing and direct questions. Those that elicit a simple 'yes' or 'no' response are not going to give you much detail.

It's also fundamentally important to look for verbal cues, harnessing the power of the SCAN (Scientific Content Analysis) technique to read between the lines to determine what someone is really saying.

For example, the use of passive tenses in speech, lack of detail in the re-telling of an event, stumbling over words or repeating the question are all potential signs that deceit is at play.

People also display many non-verbal cues when trying to conceal a lie, such as poor eye contact, displays of nervousness, and micro expressions, which are flashes of genuine emotion that occur before a person has a chance to conceal it.

Even the order that people with more than one child list their children is important. If you have more than one child say the names of your children to yourself. 95 per cent of people will list their children in age order from oldest to youngest. If you list your children not in age order typically there will be a reason for that. I did this exercise in Sydney when one person out of a group of nine did not list his children in age order putting his youngest daughter first. I said to him there will be a reason for listing his youngest daughter first, he then stated yes as she was just about to undergo a medical procedure.

As another example, if you describe someone as 'my' friend as opposed to 'a' friend, then the use of the more intimate possessive pronoun of 'my' suggests a closer connection.

As the SCAN technique highlights, interview subjects often don't lie overtly, but they will hedge, omit crucial facts, and feign innocent forgetfulness.

When trying to construct a veneer of truth, they will provide 'just enough' information to convince the interviewer, and be thrifty and economical on detail so that every detail has a function. Look for vagueness around the telling or incriminating detail: often that is where the lie is found.

Regardless of your level of experience as an interviewer, if you observe body behaviour and the hidden meaning of the language being used you will be able to glean a vast amount of information on the veracity of what is being said.

This combined with tangible forensic tools, such as document analysis or DNA, will provide you with a potent toolkit to uncovering fraud or misconduct in the workplace.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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