16th August 2018 | Forensic Interviews | by Dr Alexander Schuchter

“The auditors came to me too and… I just told them anything, like out of a storybook for children. Nothing corresponded to the truth… but the [auditors] were happy. That’s the problem.

Statement by a fraudster | personal interview


What points should be taken into consideration when conducting forensic interviews? How are forensic interview techniques applied?

 

A professional forensic interview is not an interrogation. Naturally, the “severity of the questioning” will vary, depending on the circumstances and the way the interview develops. This is one aspect which makes forensic interviews irreplaceable. Even anonymous, written questionnaires do not come close.

If you suspect or stumble across a case of misconduct, a forensic interview can clarify the situation

  1. DISCREETLY,
  2. EFFECTIVELY and
  3. EFFICIENTLY.

Contrary to popular opinion, forensic interviews are not restricted solely to questionning suspects. They are also used to glean information from innocent, upstanding persons who are associated in some way with the perpetrator. WHY?

  1. Our experience shows that they can bring decisive information to light.
  2. They demonstrate a clear “tone from the top” – you communicate the fact that you are taking the matter seriously and that fraud will not be tolerated. Employees are relieved to see their company proactively combatting misconduct.

The aim of forensic interviews is to gain as much information as possible. In doing so, the following points must be taken into consideration:

Planning & Preparing

Existing Facts about Misconduct

The aim of a forensic interview is to glean as much information as possible, and, where necessary, to resolve any contradictions. Professional preparation is required for this. In order to conduct an interview successfully, it is vital to have a full picture of the current situation. Before the interview, the interviewer should:

  • gain an impression of the person they are about to interview,
  • conduct a preliminary assessment and
  • word their questions accordingly.

Fact: Forensic interviews create transparency where transparency is required. By researching in depth, an experienced forensic interviewer can steer the conversation and make the interview considerably more effective.

Interview Guidelines: Asking the right questions

In order to achieve the best possible result, interview guidelines are required. These serve as

  • an anchor for the interview
  • and help him or her to maintain a clear overview.

Although questions should be prepared in advance, the interviewer should remain flexible and, where necessary, adapt to whichever course the conversation takes. Aptitude, professional expertise and experience are required in order to handle respondents correctly. During the course of hundreds of forensic interviews – including more than 100 personal interviews with offenders – we have developed the necessary intuition for different situations.

Tip: Follow-up questions to answers given and so-called “control questions” can be very helpful. These involve asking the same question a second time, but with different wording, in order to reveal possible discrepancies in the answers given.

 

Clarifying the Parameters

Creating a fitting environment for the interview hugely impacts the flow of the conversation. On the one hand, respondents need to sense the serious nature of the situation. On the other hand, you do not want them to feel they are being interrogated. Hence it is advisable

  1. for C-level management to issue the invitation to the interview,
  2. to select a room within the familiar work environment* and
  3. to create an atmosphere of privacy during the interview.

*exception: interviews with suspects

Besides these external factors, compliance is required with any necessary legal steps, e.g., informing the works council where necessary. The same applies to compliance with corporate guidelines.

Developing an interview strategy

Conducting a forensic interview requires a high level of tact and intuition. The interview needs to find a good balance between depth and effectiveness. Active listening is of the essence. This involves:

  1. your personal body language,
  2. summarising & paraphrasing the ansers you receive and
  3. communicating an understanding attitude.

Further, never underestimate the importance of TIMING your questions correctly and bearing with pauses in the conversation. Forensic interviews should consist predominantly of open questions which require more than a simple yes or no from the respondent.

A tip from real life: Our experience shows that “why” questions and suggestive questions should be avoided (not least since these cannot serve as evidence in a courtroom). Faced with such questions, respondents frequently feel the urge to justify themselves – which may sometimes be intentional. But in general, such questions rarely serve to steer the interview in a meaningful direction.

 

To validate the truth of statements made, you should dig deeper, moving from general statements to specific details. In order to achieve the best possible result during the interview, the interviewer will need the following skills:

  • swift reactions with regard to forensic techniques
  • well-founded forensic methodological expertise
  • precision judgement in the field of forensics
  • a high level of flexibility with regard to the communication situation
  • relevant forensic interview experience

Forensic Interview Techniques

Four Phases in forensic interviews

Forensic interviews consist of four parts:

  1. Baseline
  2. Introductory phase
  3. Question phase
  4. Closure phase

The so-called “baseline” refers to the first meeting between the interviewer and the respondent. This is a relaxed conversation which serves to build up trust.

The baseline is important because it gives the interviewer an opportunity to observe the respondent behaving naturally. This enables him or her to recognise and interpret later deviations more swiftly. In the introductory phase,

  1. the interviewer and their colleague introduce themselves,
  2. explain that the interview will be recorded and
  3. state the reason for the interview.

Explaining the situation increases the likelihood of cooperation. During the question phase, the primary job of the interviewer is to listen. Ideally, the respondent should do 80% of the talking. In the closure phase, the persons present swap contact details for possible future comments or communication.

Expert tip: At the end of the interview, it often helps to ask the respondent directly whether anything remains to be said. By following this question with silence, the respondent is more likely to answer.
Additional tip: From experience, we cannot emphasise enough how important it is to present contact information in an attractive way to the respondent during the closure phase. On more than one occasion, decisive comments have been made by respondents after the interview was over.

 

Reacting to certain behavioural patterns

Once again, the rule of thumb here is: silence is golden! Silence prompts respondents to explain their behaviour. If the interviewer displays a sympathetic attitude, this also creates an atmosphere of trust and keeps the conversation on a relaxed level.

Our experience shows that if an expert is able to create a pleasant atmosphere, respondents are willing to share more information.

Tactics & Strategic Investigative Considerations

Forensic interview techniques can be mastered, helping the interviewer to handle difficult situations successfully. For example, it can help to repeat the respondent’s answers in your own words. Depending on the context, TONE & TIMING can be even more important than content.

Credibility & Authenticity

Verbal Warning Signals & Body Language

If you are going to recognise behavioural changes, you’ll need a comparison with the way the person normally behaves. Only when juxtaposed can you properly identify warning signals (red flags).

On average, and based on a range of indications, a professional forensic interviewer recognises between 95 and 98% of all untruths. There are hundreds of proven indicators which point to anomalies, e.g.,

  • certain postures
  • overt eye contact
  • selective memory
  • a change in tone of voice
  • repetition of certain questions
  • protestations of good character etc.
Caution: These signals do not automatically indicate an untruth in every instance. The veracity of a statement can be determined by seeing patterns of various anomalies as part of the big picture. A skilled forensic interviewer is able to react instantly and adapt accordingly when unexpected signs appear.

Statements which contradict known facts

It is imperative than an interviewer knows all the facts before beginning the interview. Respondents tend to skip past unpleasant details.

Ask HR to check personnel records

This measure can be particularly meaningful when interviewing suspects. We are aware that checking personnel records is not a customary inspection. To make this step easier, the person responsible in HR can be asked to check the records for certain specific connections.

Real life story: After asking HR to check the personnel records of three suspects, further evidence was found to support specific suspicions in advance of the interview. This enabled us to recognise possible contradictory statements from the respondents and gain an overall impression of the situation. This initial check even enabled us to convict one accomplice discreetly, swiftly and cost-effectively.

Forms of Documentation

Forensic Interviews & Minute Taking

The way in which minutes are taken should be agreed upon with the client or with the executive management. This is dependant on individual circumstances:

  1. purpose of the interview,
  2. undisrupted flow of the interview and
  3. level of work involved.

If a forensic interview is to be used as evidence in court, it must be documented in an appropriate manner. In this context, the legislation of the respective country must also be observed. In general, minutes are written up and signed. Voice recordings are used more rarely.

Tip: In general, it is advisable to take minutes of the interview openly and visibly, as this further underscores the serious nature of the interview. Our experience shows that this also keeps false accusations and libel to a minimum.

Last but not least

Conducted correctly, forensic interviews are one of the simplest and most cost-effective methods for regulating internal affairs. Forensic interviews techniques can

  1. Find and close loopholes in the system,
  2. identify possible successes,
  3. and help to prevent fraud.

Without doubt, forensic interviews pose considerably more challenges than conventional interviews. However, they can often help you to AVOID EXTENSIVE AND COSTLY DATA ANALYSES. In order to exploit the maximum potential for gleaning information, the skills, expertise and experience of a forensic expert are required.

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Dr. Alexander Schuchter

I have been working in forensic since 2008 – but not as a fraudster! As Managing Director of Schuchter Management GmbH, I support executives and companies.

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