The 10 Tell-Tale Signs of Deception 2

The Words Reveal

By Paul M. Clikeman, PH.D., CFE

Suspects and witnesses often reveal more than they intend through their choices of words. Here are ways to detect possible deception in written and oral statements.

The manager of a fast food restaurant calls the police late at night to report that an armed robber had entered the restaurant while the manager was alone in the office finishing some paperwork. The manager said the gunman had stolen the entire day’s cash receipts — a little more than $4,000. The manager had reported a similar robbery at the restaurant about six months earlier. No other witnesses were present at either alleged robbery. The restaurant owner learns from police investigators that armed robbery is extremely unusual in the surrounding neighborhood. Also, the owner knows that the manager’s wages have been garnished for the last year for nonpayment of child support. The owner hires you, a CFE, to investigate whether the manager is filing false police reports to cover his thefts. You begin your investigation by asking the manager to write a description of the evening’s events.


Linguistic text analysis involves studying the language, grammar and syntax a subject uses to describe an event to detect any anomalies. Experienced investigators are accustomed to studying interview subjects’ nonverbal behavior, such as eye contact and hand movement. Text analysis, on the other hand, considers only the subject’s verbal behavior. Because text analysis evaluates only the subject’s words, investigators can apply it to written as well as oral statements. In fact, many investigators prefer to analyze suspects’ written statements for signs of deception before conducting face-to-face interviews.

Text analysis is based on research originating in the 1970s. Psychologists and linguists studied the language and word choices of subjects in controlled experiments and found predictable differences between truthful and deceptive statements. Susan Adams, an instructor who taught text analysis (which she called statement analysis) at the FBI Academy for many years, described it as a two-part process (“Statement Analysis: What Do Suspects’ Words Really Reveal?” FBI Law Enforcement Journal, October 1996). First, investigators determine what is typical of a truthful statement. Secondly, they look for deviations from the norm.

The following section describes deviations that suggest a subject may be withholding, altering or fabricating information.


1. Lack of self-reference
Truthful people make frequent use of the pronoun “I” to describe their actions: “I arrived home at 6:30. The phone was ringing as I unlocked the front door, so I walked straight to the kitchen to answer it. I talked to my mother for 10 minutes before noticing that my TV and computer were missing from the living room.” This brief statement contains the pronoun “I” four times in three sentences.

Deceptive people often use language that minimizes references to themselves. One way to reduce self-references is to describe events in the passive voice.

  •  “The safe was left unlocked” rather      than “I left the safe unlocked.”
  •  “The shipment was authorized” rather      than “I authorized the shipment.”

Another way to reduce self-references is to substitute the pronoun “you” for “I.”
Question: “Can you tell me about reconciling the bank statement?”

Answer: “You know, you try to identify all the outstanding checks and deposits in transit, but sometimes when you’re really busy you just post the differences to the suspense account.”

In oral statements and informal written statements, deceptive witnesses sometimes simply omit self-referencing pronouns. Consider this statement by a husband who claims his wife was killed accidently: “I picked up the gun to clean it. Moved it to the left hand to get the cleaning rod. Something bumped the trigger. The gun went off, hitting my wife.” The husband acknowledges in the first sentence that he picked up the gun. But the second sentence is grammatically incomplete; “I” has been omitted from the beginning of the sentence. In the third sentence, “something” rather than “I” bumped the trigger. The statement also contains few personal possessive pronouns. The witness refers to “the” gun and “the” left hand where we might expect “my” to be used.

2. Verb tense.

Truthful people usually describe historical events in the past tense. Deceptive people sometimes refer to past events as if the events were occurring in the present. Describing past events using the present tense suggests that people are rehearsing the events in their mind. Investigators should pay particular attention to points in a narrative at which the speaker shifts to inappropriate present tense usage. Consider the following statement made by an employee claiming that a pouch containing $6,000 in cash was stolen before she could deposit it at the bank (I have emphasized certain words.):

“After closing the store, I put the cash pouch in my car and drove to the Olympia Bank building on Elm Street. It was raining hard so I had to drive slowly. I entered the parking lot and drove around back to the night depository slot. When I stopped the car and rolled down my window, a guy jumps out of the bushes and yells at me. I can see he has a gun. He grabs the cash pouch and runs away. The last I saw him he was headed south on Elm Street. After he was gone, I called the police on my cell phone and reported the theft.”

The first three sentences describe the employee’s drive to the bank in the past tense. But the next three sentences describe the alleged theft in the present tense. An alert investigator might suspect that the employee stole the day’s cash receipts, then drove to the bank and called the police from the bank parking lot to report a phony theft. (See another example in “Antics with Semantics” at bottom.)

3. Answering questions with questions

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Resume Fraud: Little White Lies Aren’t So Little Anymore Reply

Karen Bush Schneider in the The Greater Lansing Business Monthly

Mark Twain once said, “Honesty is the best policy—when there is money in it.”  Apparently, honesty doesn’t pay too well these days, judging by the rise in occupational dishonesty in the labor market.

The little white lies and exaggerations that job applicants used to include on their résumés are being replaced by high-tech scams that go way beyond mere puffery. Job hunters are not merely enhancing education credentials, they are creating them, along with employment histories, specialized licenses and job references.

The rise in résumé fraud can be traced to the rise in unemployment, coupled with tough competition among those competing in the labor market for what few jobs are available.  Job seekers who don’t have a degree or specialized skills are inventing them out of desperation. For the employer, this translates into a significant problem since applicants who lie on their résumés often become employees who misrepresent issues on the job.  It is estimated that résumé fraud costs employers approximately $600 billion annually.[1]

The statistics concerning résumé fraud are grim. One survey estimates that as many 80 percent of all job seekers submit applications and résumees that contain intentionally misleading information.[2] The misrepresentation involves work experience, criminal history, inflated past salaries and education credentials.[3] It is not confined to workers who seek labor versus managerial or administrative positions. Indeed, in a 2001 survey of more than 7,000 applicants for executive positions, it was found that 23 percent misrepresented personal information. Of those who misrepresented information, 71 percent lied about length of service, 64 percent lied about accomplishments, 60 percent exaggerated managerial experience, 52 percent identified mere attendance at college as a degree, 48 percent overstated job responsibilities, and 41 percent omitted negative employment experiences.[4]

The most common areas of falsification involve employment history and education/training. With regard to employment history, job applicants are falsifying not only their length of employment with employers and the reason for their departure, but also job titles, responsibilities and even the employers themselves. A recent trick has involved filling employment gaps with fictitious employment with companies that have closed or never existed.  Websites designed to aid occupational fraud provide job seekers, for a fee, with a 1-800 number an applicant may use on a résumé for employment verification. When a prospective employer calls the 800 number, it is provided with a glowing recommendation and confirmation of employment at the fictitious company.

Consider, for example, the services provided by  The site claims that “over 70 percent of college graduates admit to lying on their résumés to get hired. Can you afford not to know the techniques, tricks and methods they use?” The site then dismisses ethical concerns by telling potential customers that “companies … expect you to work like a slave and then treat you like dirt.” The site assures potential customers that “your loyalty should be to yourself, your family and your friends that look out for you and take care of you.” The site also observes that human resources managers assume that “EVERYONE embellishes, exaggerates, puffs up, and basically lies to some extent on [his/her] résumé. So if you are being totally honest, you are being penalized because they are going to assume that you embellished your résumé to a certain extent!” The website then offers a “powerful underground guide” designed to show job applicants how to fill gaps in employment history, add experience to their résumé, fake references, lie about age, get college transcripts from any university with any GPA the applicant wants, and rig their resume´ so it gets picked by automated human resources systems which screen résumés. The website even boasts that the résumé guide is “tax deductible.”

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The Confession – The “Textbook” Interrogation of Col. Russell Williams Reply

David Russell Williams (born March 7, 1963) is a convicted murderer, rapist, and former Colonel in the Canadian Forces. From July 2009 to his arrest in February 2010, he commanded CFB Trenton, a hub for air transport operations in Canada and abroad and the country’s largest and busiest military airbase. Williams was also a decorated military pilot who had flown Canadian Forces VIP aircraft for dignitaries such as Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, and the Governor General and Prime Minister of Canada.

On February 8, 2010, he was relieved as the base commander at CFB Trenton due to criminal charges. He was formally charged by the Ontario Provincial Police, pursuant to the Criminal Code of Canada, with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of forcible confinement, two counts of breaking and entering, and sexual assault; another 82 charges relating to breaking and entering were later added. On October 21, 2010, Williams was sentenced to two life sentences for first-degree murder, two 10-year sentences for other sexual assaults, two 10-year sentences for forcible confinement, and 82 one-year sentences for breaking and entering, all to be served concurrently. The life sentences mean Williams will serve a minimum of 25 years before parole eligibility. Since he has been convicted of multiple murders, Williams is not eligible for early parole under the so-called “faint hope clause” of the Canadian Criminal Code.

On October 22, 2010, Williams was stripped of his commission, ranks, and awards by the Governor General of Canada on the recommendation of the Chief of the Defence Staff. His severance pay was terminated and the salary he received following his arrest was seized, although he is still entitled to a pension. Subsequent to his conviction, his uniform was burned, his medals were destroyed and his vehicle crushed and scrapped. He is currently serving his sentence at Kingston Penitentiary, in the prison’s segregation unit.



Pamela Meyer: How to Spot a Liar Reply

On any given day we’re lied to from 10 to 200 times, and the clues to detect those lie can be subtle and counter-intuitive. Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting, shows the manners and “hotspots” used by those trained to recognize deception — and she argues honesty is a value worth preserving.

Editor’s Note:  A clear, concise and most importantly, accurate video by author Pamela Meyer.

Precise Statement Deconstruction of Alleged Murderer Elisa Baker Reply

Body Language Expert Blanca Cobb Analyzes Elisa Baker

The step-mother who confessed to killing and dismembering Zahra Baker now says she didn’t do it. We had body language expert Blanca Cobb examine Elisa Baker’s recent prison interview.

Editor’s Note:  While Blanca Cobb’s assessment is accurate, she uses statement deconstruction — not body language — to reach her conclusions.