Admission-seeking interviews, in which a professional interviews a subject whose involvement in fraud or theft has been reasonably established, are the most critical and challenging tasks for a fraud examiner. “NYPD Blue” this ain’t! In this column, Robert Hogan, an experienced fraud examiner offers his thoughts and experiences on admission-seeking interviews for those who are new to the field. One important thing to pay attention to is his preparation and thought process prior to the interview. While we each have our own style, techniques and research habits, Hogan has a lot of good suggestions to offer new and budding fraud examiners.
Conducting an interview can be a daunting task, even for an experienced investigator. As you learn proper techniques, don’t approach interviews as interrogations (as Hollywood often does). These interviews often end up being unproductive – or worse – detrimental to an open investigation. Keeping in the right frame of mind is the most important tool an examiner can utilize in conducting fraud examination interviews.
No evidence is stronger than the guilty party’s signed confession. Unfortunately, this is also the most difficult piece of evidence for any investigator to secure. As long as there’s the slimmest chance that suspects might get away with their misdeeds, they will refuse to confess. The admission-seeking interview process will allow you to break down the barriers to get those confessions. Before starting, it’s important to remember that this process should be reserved for subjects whose culpability is relatively certain to avoid undue stress on potentially innocent parties.
While conducting an examination of inventory discrepancies for a major electronics retailer, I identified a theft and fraud scheme that involved employees (mostly high school students) who would remove items from the inventory system and then physically take them out of the building and sell them to classmates and others. I analyzed the inventory system data and conducted interviews with third parties and accomplices. It was time to interview the suspected ringleader of the operation – a 21-year-old store associate we’ll call Bill.
In preparing for this interview, I resisted the urge to make a list of questions for Bill. Instead, I had an outline for the evidence and material facts that had been collected up to that point. In approaching Bill, I wanted him to confirm the facts that had already been established, but at the same time I wanted to leave the opportunity for him to offer additional information that I might have missed or he had concealed from me earlier in the investigation.