The Fraud Examiner

Interviewing 101: Analyzing Words in Speech

June 2014

The Fraud Examiner

During a fraud investigation, there are many factors that make a successful interview. Careful preparation, timing, choosing the right setting and tone are all important aspects to consider before sitting down with an interview subject.  Once an interview is in progress, however, some of the most critical work is just beginning, and it is during this time that a fraud examiner must be especially observant and focused. This article examines some verbal clues that can provide insight into the truthfulness of the interviewee.


Parts of speech

As detailed in the ACFE’s 2014 Fraud Examiners Manual (FEM), the words chosen by the interview subject can reveal “undetected tendencies” in the subject’s speech.

This principle applies to one of the most basic parts of a conversation: how the subject refers to him/herself. For example, when discussing the circumstances of the alleged fraud, an innocent percent will typically refer to himself as “I” – “I prepared the invoices, but I didn’t alter any of the amounts.” By contrast, a guilty person is likely to try to verbally imply some distance or “shared responsibility” through his statements. This means he is more likely to answer with “we,” as if to refer to a group, perhaps the accounting department, for example, as a whole – “we prepared the invoices, but we didn’t alter any of the amounts.”

As ACFE faculty member Don Rabon, CFE, president  of Successful Interviewing Techniques, explains: “Pronouns are very much like the sign post to what a person is saying.  [They] can be very critical for analyzing discourse, because in some cases people will refer to themselves in second-person pronouns, and, articulating themselves in the second person. 

“In some cases, the use of the pronoun "we" and "they" can be indicative.  "They" tends to be the most distant, psychologically, of all the pronouns.  "We" tends to show immediacy, which means an emotional or psychological attachment.  So, paying attention to those pronouns, can be excellent sign post to guide that person that's doing the analysis.”

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