A New Perspective Can Improve Objectivity


Zach Capers, CFE
ACFE Research Specialist

As a fraud examiner, the zeal for solving a case can sometimes overwhelm your objectivity, particularly in an interview setting. A fundamental and defining characteristic of fraud is that the act is concealed by its very nature. As such, fraud examiners regularly begin investigations acutely aware that the key information for which they are searching has likely been purposefully concealed or obscured to a frustrating degree. In the course of an intense examination, by the time an interview occurs, the examiner often has as much personally invested in his investigation as the culprit does in his deception.

Examiners who embark on an interview overloaded with facts and burdened with the weight of months of research run the risk of developing confirmation bias. This occurs when an interviewer seeks information from a subject to support his suspicions while filtering out information that doesn’t comport with his previously established hypothesis. In the focused pursuit of a particular detail or specific admission, crucial details can be overlooked, and seemingly mundane yet pivotal remarks might go undetected.

This phenomenon can also manifest in the misinterpretation of an interviewee’s body language. For example, a lack of objectivity in the interview room might result in the evaluation of a suspect’s crossed arms as defensive when in fact the person is simply cold. The pernicious effect of confirmation bias can lead to the contortion of evidence to fit preconceptions about the case, and in the most severe instances, exculpatory information can be ignored.

In the quest for pure information, examiners must be cognizant of the tendency to interpret a statement, rather than analyze the actual words that are used. If your subject lies, he does so purposefully. That purpose might be born out of a desire to avoid the consequences of his actions, or simply out of a perceived threat to his ego. Regardless of the reason, the fact is that people say what they intend to say and do so deliberately; therefore, it is often the case that the subject is telling you everything you need to know if only you possess the clarity to recognize it.

The ACFE’s new online self-study course, Written Statement Analysis, has been designed as a tool to provide examiners with a fresh perspective. The course will guide you through several strategies with which to scrutinize documents and transcripts, free from the pressurized nature of an interview environment and isolated from preconceptions. Furthermore, the course is useful not only for transcribed interviews, but can also be employed with countless documents, including emails, memos and letters.

The addition of a new tool, such as statement analysis, to your investigative repertoire can upend a myopic investigation while invigorating your research routine. Whether your analysis has hit a wall or you’ve merely lost focus, oftentimes looking at your case from a new angle is all it takes to regain direction and renew your objectivity.