Wrapping up our discussion of fraud investigations (which were prompted by this article in Fraud Magazine), here are some additional signs of deception to watch for when investigating potential fraud.
Lack of Detail
Truthful statements usually contain specific details, some of which may not even be relevant to the question asked. This is because truthful subjects are recalling events from long-term memory, and our memories store dozens of facts about each experience. At least some of these details will show up in a truthful subject’s statement.
Those who fabricate a story tend to keep their statements simple and brief. Few liars are able to invent detailed descriptions of fictitious events. Furthermore, a deceptive person wants to minimize the risk that an investigator will discover evidence contradicting any aspect of his or her statement. That means the fewer facts that might be proved false, the better.
A narrative consists of three parts: prologue (history leading up to the critical event), critical event (the main story) and aftermath (what happened after the critical event). In a complete and truthful narrative, the balance will be approximately 20 percent to 25 percent prologue, 40 percent to 60 percent critical event and 25 percent to 35 percent aftermath. If one part of the narrative is significantly shorter than expected, important information may have been omitted. If one part of the narrative is significantly longer than expected, it may be padded with false information.
For example, consider this account from a hit and run insurance claim investigation:
“I was driving east on Elm Street at about 4:00 on Tuesday. I was on my way home from the A&P supermarket. The traffic light at the intersection of Elm and Patterson was red, so I came to a complete stop. After the light turned green, I moved slowly into the intersection. All of a sudden, a car ran into me. The other driver didn’t stop, so I drove home and called my insurance agent.”
The subject’s statement contains four sentences of prologue, only one sentence describing the critical event, and only one sentence of aftermath. The prologue contains a credible amount of detail: the day and time of the accident, the driver’s destination, and the location of the accident. But the description of the critical event (i.e., the alleged accident) and the aftermath are suspiciously brief. A claims adjuster receiving such a statement would be wise to investigate whether the claimant made up a story to collect for damages caused by the driver’s own negligence.
Mean Length of Utterance
The average number of words per sentence is called the “mean length of utterance” (MLU). The MLU equals the total number of words in a statement divided by the number of sentences:
According to research by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, most people tend to speak in sentences of between 10 and 15 words. When people feel anxious about an issue, they tend to use significantly more or less words per sentence than the norm. Investigators should pay particular attention to sentences whose length differs significantly from the subject’s MLU.