The linguistic signals in evidence (part 2)

Last week, I commented about the truth about lies in what is written. This article seeks to touch upon the truth about lies in what is said. Liars usually work very hard at constructing a convincing story to make sure that what is said is plausible. A good liar will stick to the truth of

Home » David Rosen » The linguistic signals in evidence (part 2)

Last week, I commented about the truth about lies in what is written.

This article seeks to touch upon the truth about lies in what is said.

Liars usually work very hard at constructing a convincing story to make sure that what is said is plausible.

A good liar will stick to the truth of a matter so far as is possible, and tweak or bend the truth to his/her desire. Their lies however, conflict with the natural desire to tell the truth, and something gives; There is a tell-tale sign that gives them away.

In terms of physiological and psychological concerns, picture this:

A man is arrested at the crack of dawn, and taken to the Police station at Snow Hill in the city of London for the first time on an allegation of fraud.

He is likely to be white, and in his mid-30s. Average income, but spending and living well beyond his means.

He is likely to be tired, hungry, thirsty, and in shock. He wonders what the world thinks of him now that he has been caught (assuming he is guilty). He wonders what his wife and children think of him, and what his childhood friends and loved ones believe.

How much evidence do they have? What is real evidence, and what is conjecture? They will go through his most personal possessions, his gadgetry, perhaps a secret stash of pornography from his formative years which he never quite got around to getting rid of…All is now open. His life is now open to close scrutiny. Did he have an affair? Do drugs? Perhaps. What about the size and extent of the fraud. What do they know? What do they not know? Who else knew? Who may squeal to save themselves? Who may embellish to make themselves look good?

When will he leave? How long will the questioning last? Will his wife and family miss him?

So very many questions…

Pamela Myers, CFE, in her excellent article, ‘Listening to the words, detecting deception in what they say’, published in the Fraud Magazine, vol.27, no. 3, by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, identifies 4 characteristics of speech relevant to verbal indicators of lying namely statement structure, verbal leaks, vocal quality, and attitude. I borrow her sub-headings for the purposes of this article.

Statement structure:

Natural speech, flows. The conversation is easy to the ear. Truth is easier to say and comes across unselfconsciously.

An obvious difficulty with this is the person who genuinely believes their story because they have convinced themselves of the truth. In which case, the flow of conversation is hard to differentiate from a true story and so, one looks elsewhere to what is being said.

Someone who is not well-versed in lying may well falter in their flow of conversation. They are likely to over-stress what they want you the listener to believe as the truth. They try too hard to be and come across as honest. Such people may use the following expressions:

‘I swear’ ‘on my honour’ ”honestly’ ‘to be honest’ ‘Gds honest truth’ ‘that is the truth’

These are not expressions of truth, but are weakened assertions usually used to over-compensate for the story which is not, in all honesty, strictly true.

Verbal Leaks:

Parrot Statements:

A question, repeated by the interviewee word for word may indicate that the person being asked that question is stalling for time. Be careful, however, because repetition of a question which was not entirely the question, may be an indication of stress and shock, and they simply wanted to clarify what you were asking. Please remember that this is an indicator, and not a hard and rigid rule.

Question with a question:

A question answered with a question is done for a number of reasons. The person being asked, is stalling for time, or perhaps not wanting to answer at all, or perhaps searching for what information you know and have. On the other hand, giving some information may assist in building a degree of confidence in terms of mutual respect. If you, as the questioner are rude and abusive, you can expect little response from the person being questioned.

Guilt-trip questions:

This is an evasive question following a question by the questioner. Where were you born?, followed by This is a racial thing isn’t it? Does it really matter where I was born? Are you going to judge me on where I was born? The guilt-trip question is set to make you the questioner avoid continuing a line of questioning because the interviewee made the interviewer uncomfortable. Don’t fall for it. Don’t be dragged into this line of response.

Protest statements:

This is a protest of innocence. It may be perfectly acceptable to protest in such a way. It may also be an indication of a cover-up of a lie. It is akin to someone in Court providing a statement of mitigation such as: I am a good boy really. I have never been in any kind of trouble before. I give blood. I am a good father. I do a lot for charity.

Vocal quality:

Too quiet? Something is not right. Too loud? Something is not right. Too normal when a question is asked of someone who, if innocent with nothing to hide, would otherwise be shouting from the rooftops in disgust? Something is not right. A sudden change in the pitch of a voice! Indicative of something amiss. Too loud, or too quiet does not in itself indicate something wrong. You have to match the quality of the voice with the context in which questions are being asked for a more accurate indicator.

Attitude:

Speaks for itself. You expect attitude from someone telling the truth. You expect brevity and a control of emotion from someone who has something to hide.

David Rosen – Head of litigation and specialist in fraud law

Professor Rosen is a Solicitor-Advocate, Partner, and head of litigation at Darlingtons Solicitors, London, EC4. He is a Certified Fraud Examiner of the ACFE, and a working member if the Fraud Advisory Panel.

David Rosen • Fraud

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