7 Ways to Get at the Truth in a Workplace Investigation

Combined with training and experience, the right tools may turn out to be the investigator’s key to the vault

Posted by Dawn Lomer in on July 19th, 2011

A guilty fraudster can be putty in the hands of a skilled interviewer who is experienced in workplace investigations and has mastered the techniques for extracting the truth from suspects. But getting criminals to confess is not as easy as the characters on Law and Order would have us believe, says Greg Caldwell, an expert investigator and president of White Hat Solutions Corporate Investigations and Security Consulting.

There are many techniques available, says Caldwell, but there isn’t one single method that works best. An experienced interviewer knows how to match the tools to the person and the situation.

#1 Read the Suspect’s Behavior

A good interviewer looks for verbal and non-verbal clues. “You’re going to be listening to not only what they say but how they say it, how they’re sitting, how they’re reacting with their body language,” says Caldwell. “Everybody’s become an expert of the body language techniques thanks to television. If you look down and to the left you must be lying. But that’s not always true. It’s a gathering of all this information when you’re sitting across from someone.”

Although there are no easy answers, truthful suspects are generally more direct, says Caldwell. Most innocent people will react angrily to direct confrontation. “They will say you’re crazy I had absolutely nothing to do with it.” Guilty people tend to be more passive during the interrogation, he says.

#2 Use Positive Confrontation

Among the techniques for a eliciting a confession, positive confrontation is commonly used with a suspect you believe is guilty.

“Positive confrontation is essentially what it suggests: that you are convinced of the person’s guilt and you’re going to confront them with it,” says Caldwell. “You’re going to watch for a suspect’s behavior. Are they weak? Do they give unconvincing denials?”

#3 Cast Blame Away from the Suspect

Casting blame on another person or situation may get you closer to a confession. “You can offer them an accomplice: ‘Obviously you didn’t do this alone’. You can blame unemployment for causing the person to need the money. Or blame their poor pay. You can suggest the company makes all the money in the world and they can certainly afford it,” says Caldwell.

“What you’re really looking for is something they’re going to react to.”

#4 Establish Control

FREE Investigation Report Template

Prepare thorough, consistent investigation reports with our free report template.

Download Template

“During an interrogation, the interviewer should establish control of the conversation. You want to anticipate denials during the interview or interrogation,” says Caldwell.

Don’t allow interruptions. “Their mouth will be open like they want to say something… they’ll suddenly re-establish eye contact, or lift their hand while you’re talking like they want to almost raise their hand to talk,” he says.

#5 Use Objections as Opportunities

Many objections, if taken literally, are truthful. A subject may say “I like my job too much to do this” or “I would be too scared to do something like that.”

“It’s the opportunity you’re looking for because you can then say: ‘I’m glad you said that. I hope that’s true’,” explains Caldwell. “You can also follow up and say something to the effect that ‘this tells me this isn’t something you planned for a long time. This is just something that happened, and that’s why it’s so important to get this clarified because you do like your job’,” he adds.

#6 Keep the Subject’s Attention

There are many tricks to keeping the subject’s attention, depending on where you are in the interrogation. “

If they’ve shown some of the signs of remorse or dishonesty you can actually slide your chair closer,” says Caldwell. “Sometimes – rarely and probably only if there’s another person in the room and it’s the same sex – you can touch the person on the arm and offer some comfort. And you want to try and re-establish eye contact if they’re looking down.”

#7 Ask Alternative Questions

A few trick questions can get you to a confession more efficiently. For example: Did you take 20,000 or 30,000 or was it a lot less?

“Generally speaking it’s a good idea to exaggerate because a lot of people will jump on that and say ‘no I only took 500 dollars’,” says Caldwell. “It sounds silly but it does work.” You want to encourage the suspect to accept one of the better alternatives you’re giving, he says.

Presenting information in a way that the suspect can confess with just a simple nod of the head is effective as well. For example: “So you didn’t take 30,000 dollars you took 500 dollars, is that correct?”

There are many ways to gauge the truthfulness of an interview subject, but there are always exceptions, says Caldwell. “Someone can have a bad day. Someone may have just lost a loved one. And that’s going to affect all these tells.”

Even with all the tips and tricks available, there is no guaranteed method of getting people to tell you the truth. But combined with training and experience, the right tools may turn out to be the investigator’s key to the vault.

Dawn Lomer
Dawn Lomer

Managing Editor

Dawn Lomer is the managing editor at i-Sight Software and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She writes about topics related to workplace investigations, ethics and compliance, data security and e-discovery, and hosts i-Sight webinars.