How to Detect Deception? Understand the Signs

“No man has a good enough memory to make a successful liar.” So said Abraham Lincoln – in a quote shared by Ed Stolle, CFE, CPA, CGFM, during his session “Forensic Interviewing: Techniques to Detect Deception for Auditors, Examiners and Investigators.” 

It's more than just an occasional memory lapse, however, that can trip up a fraudster. Stolle provided a close look at the telltale signs that someone is being deceptive. Word choice, body language and other factors must be considered when interviewing someone suspected of committing fraud.

Among his examples: Overuse of the word “never.” “ 'Never' is not the same as ‘no,’ ” Stolle said. He also told interviewers to beware of “overly optimistic language in challenging situations.” Some good illustrations of this, according to Stolle, were statements made by Enron’s Kenneth Lay as the scandal was beginning to break.

“Our core business is strong." "Things are looking great.” Those were just a few of the kinds of statements Lay made – when the exact opposite was true.

Stolle showed video clips of well-known situations in the news in which the subjects were eventually exposed as liars. One of them was Scott Peterson, who was convicted of killing his wife. As the investigation was underway, he sat for an interview with ABC News’ Dianne Sawyer to further his proclaimed innocence. When asked if he expected to be arrested, he responded that he didn’t because there was “no possible evidence” to support such an arrest. It was a deceptive way to answer the question, Stolle pointed out.

Stolle also highlighted the case of Susan Smith, a young mother who claimed her two children were kidnapped during a carjacking. After an investigation, she eventually confessed to their murders – but not before making public pleas on the news for their “safe return.” After showing one of her television appearances, Stolle keyed in on some of her more troubling statements. Despite claiming that an African-American man  jumped in the car with her and drove off with her children, Smith pleaded for “whoever has taken them” to return them. Why the word “whoever,” Stolle asked, when she had already claimed to have seen the perpetrator?

Another example was Ted Haggard, the former pastor whose affair with a male prostitute led to a swift and dramatic fall from grace. Stolle showed body language behaviors exhibited by Haggard that indicated deception in his statements.

Stolle invited attendees to describe some of the red flags they had seen in their investigations that clued them into the fact that their subject was lying. One of them explained that a suspect, who was eventually convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, never gave direct answers to questions. “He just talked around the question … in circles.”