Interviewing Fraudsters: Don’t Hold Yourself Back

By Scott Patterson, ACFE Media Relations Specialist

Learning from past mistakes is part of growing as an investigator. When it comes to interviewing, it is important that fraud examiners don’t hold themselves back for fear of asking the wrong questions or making other miscues. Too much restraint could leave questions unasked, and stones unturned, to the detriment of the investigation.

That was one of the key lessons shared by Jonathan E. Turner, CFE, CII, in his Tuesday presentation: “The Fraudsters Strike Again!” (session 11-A) at the 24th Annual ACFE Global Fraud Conference. Turner encouraged attendees to adopt a rule of three for self-evaluating each interview situation: following the interview, identify three things you did right, and three things you did wrong. By giving yourself an honest assessment, you will be able to improve your skills for the next one.

Turner reminded the audience that in an interview, the fraudster always knows more than the interviewer. After all, they are the one who perpetrated the scheme. The key is to take each bit of information they provide in stride – don’t express surprise, confusion or otherwise give away any “tells” to the individual that could lead them to believe that they are in control of the information.

“People will say things during an interview that you can’t imagine,” Turner said. “You need to be able to make it sound like you already knew it.” For example, if the individual unexpectedly confesses to something, proper responses would be “tell me more about how this started” or “walk me through what happened.”

Body language during this portion of the interview is important. Don’t show a visible reaction of surprise to anything revealed during the interview.  “Remember – we look at them, but they also look at us,” Turner said.

One of the most critical pieces of advice from Turner? “Don’t exaggerate or embellish, and never say something that isn’t true.” The fraudster will immediately clue in to the fact that you don’t have all the information and may only be fishing for leads. At that point, the interviewer is at a terrible disadvantage.

Another important thought that Turner wanted to share with the attendees is this: the question you don’t ask is much more damaging than asking the “wrong” questions. Don’t let a fear of making mistakes hold you back from asking the questions you need answered. You often won’t get a second chance.