The Fraud Examiner

Sentiment Analysis: How Word Choice Can Leave a Trail to Fraud

By Misty Carter, CFE, CIA

Trying to figure out what people think has always been interesting to most people. This is true in social settings and when getting to know someone personally. And this information can be especially useful when investigating fraud. While some people are not willing to open up and show how they really feel through conversation, they might express their feelings through social media sites, forums, blogs and even emails. Fraud examiners are beginning to gather and analyze this type of data in investigations. This technique is called sentiment analysis, and it has proven to be an effective method in detecting red flags of fraud.

What is sentiment analysis?

Sentiment relates to a person's feelings, attitudes, and opinions. Sentiment analysis (also known as opinion mining) is an analytical tool that involves creating a system to analyze documents and other data to examine the authors' emotions and opinions. It is focused on identifying what people think or how they feel about something. This type of analysis can assist fraud examiners in uncovering existing fraud schemes. It can also serve as a trending tool to look at areas of concern that might indicate individuals at risk for suspicious or fraudulent behavior.

How can it be used to detect fraud?

Sentiment analysis includes a process called keyword spotting that includes developing a list of keywords that relate to a certain sentiment. These words, known as affect words, are usually positive or negative adjectives because such words can be strong indicators of sentiment. Fraud examiners search for affect words in employee emails or other communications as part of their fraud detection procedures. For example, a fraud examiner might receive a tip that a manager is manipulating his division's reported sales to meet company quotas. In evaluating the merit of the tip, the examiner might run a list of keywords — flexible, unreasonable, temporary and worried — against the alleged party's emails and, if there are positive results investigate the issues further.

Sentiment analysis using negative keywords can also identify potentially disgruntled employees. Fraud examiners can identify warning signs of fraud by searching for negative keywords that indicate the three elements of the Fraud Triangle (pressure, opportunity and rationalization). Examples might include: ignored, exhausted, inconsiderate, harassed, passed over or biased.

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