Fraud and corruption are problems for any country and no country is truly immune to it. Despite the advances in fraud examination and investigation practices, many examiners and investigators encounter the obstacles in getting accurate information. Oddly enough, part of what complicates their duties are the people around the investigations because of how they can ‘contaminate’ the process. When results don’t come, it’s easy to play the blame game. This article will propose how there is a big problem with doing that.
While it is tempting to put the spotlight on the culprit all the time, in reality, that is not very useful especially when it comes to the real work of investigating and preventing fraud, bribery, and/or corruption in the future. Here, I want to make a point about how some parties (not necessarily in the investigation process) can affect the results of an investigation.
“A long-time colleague you know, who listens, shares jokes, supports, and eats lunch with you, is accused by the company of fraud and is currently under investigation. You and the other colleagues are called in one by one and told you will be interviewed; either as a character witness or as a potential accomplice.”
If this is a true account, right about now you may be feeling worried or some level of anxiety. Not because you’re guilty of anything, but simply because you are being put investigation with high stakes. Despite your best efforts to pretend otherwise, your heart rate will beat faster than normal. And if you were to take a polygraph test now, you’d probably trigger ‘false positives’ a few times. But wait, you’re not even guilty of fraud or corruption! How can you be so affected despite being innocent? Fear is one of the responses that polygraphs measure, but the machine can’t tell who or what that fear is about. Unfortunately, the stereotype is thinking fear equals guilt, which isn’t accurate at all. The point here is that an interviewee in fear can interfere with investigation.
Interviews and investigations can be affected in many ways and is best conducted when the interviewee is in a neutral state. As such, the challenge is handling the situation. There are a lot of things that can affect the investigation beyond the obvious, and one of those things is the way certain presentation of information can alter the emotions of the interviewees, as you saw. Simply knowing about certain things in the investigation may already affect the quality of the information obtained during the interviews. It’s a fine line but one that organizations NEED to address through better management of investigations and communication but currently does not.
Blame & Shame
In today’s society, much of the old ideas about blaming and shaming the accused or ‘allegedly accused’ into obscurity is still being practiced. In a larger context, the media takes an issue, spreads the information around, and keeps it in the public eye, spinning the wheel of blame and shame. In an organization, that role can be played by anyone. It can be just a bystander or witness who likes to talk (and spread half truths or misunderstood gossip). While it may not be malicious in intent, any information going out can make a difference. And this creates a shroud of misinformation and baseless claims and accusations.
The questionable accuracy of the information is a big one. However, the real trouble starts with when there is public attention. Because of the attention, this raises the stakes and may drastically affect the interviewees. It puts them in a very different state where their responses may be affected. It may even affect their ability to respond accurately, because it changes their beliefs and their emotions are fighting for resources. If you think, “Maybe it’s true. Something must have happened, and people who check these things think it was my colleague.” Believing that, your responses to the interview questions would reflect your beliefs.
If you are told that your long-time, friendly or helpful colleague was terminated from their last job because of a similar claim, you might totally rethink how you’d respond. And if you are told after that it was a bogus claim and someone else tried to frame your colleague, you may again rethink your responses. Your judgment would be affected because your emotions are playing up and this can even affect the way you recall your memories! The thing is, you won’t have all the facts at once and even if you did, knowing what happened that one time, won’t stop the next time there is a case.
Better Investigative Practices
So here’s my point. You’ve been told a person is guilty with limited information. Do you blame the person, the circumstances, or something else? You may still want to pick something to blame, but here’s the problem with that. As much as it makes you feel good inside that ‘the (as opposed to a) culprit was caught’, it doesn’t help you do anything better to prevent future instances of such cases happening again. Blaming is as effective as yelling at a building on fire. You learn nothing from it and the next time it happens, you’re likely to behave just as stupidly.
Organizations that are sincere about cracking down on fraud, bribery, and corruption, will make it corporate culture to take responsibility for what can be done to prevent it in the future instead. It should be clear by now but taking responsibility isn’t the same as taking or admitting blame. It’s about making real steps to help investigations be accurate and prevent further occurrences. Fraud and corruption is happening and is going to continue happening. By learning what you can do about it makes you sharper, prepared, and perhaps in control about the processes taking place during investigations and how you can be much more accurate during the interviews.
We have financial accountants and auditors to invigilate the honesty of the financial world, we have police officers, lawyers, and judges to watch over the law enforcement world, etc… The list goes on and on. The purpose of those jobs is to prevent such corrupt practices from ruining an organization or country. The only thing that separates us from being drowned by crime is our constant vigilance. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for organizations to prepare themselves with trained communicators and investigators. It takes practice, of course. However, it takes so little effort (or thought) to contaminate an investigation.
For more about better investigation practices and more about lie detection, keep visiting this blog. We will update the insights and gated resources with more articles.