JurisdictionUnited States


Elaine Carey

Katya Hirose

This chapter will set the stage for an effective interview. Forensic accountants are often called upon to interview witnesses, third parties, employees or others in the course of their investigation of a financial fraud. An effective forensic accountant must have good oral communication skills, good investigative capabilities and, when dealing with people, effective interviewing techniques.

An interview is an exercise in fact-gathering. A fruitful interview leads to human intelligence that can provide greater understanding of facts already uncovered in an investigation, can lead to new information, and can provide explanations for gaps and inconsistencies in a case. Most importantly, an interview can uncover the motivation(s) for the fraud in a way that facts and figures cannot. Often by understanding the motive, a fraud investigator can much more easily figure out the breadth of the fraud in terms of persons and entities involved and have greater certainty that all culprits are identified. The goal is to come to the interview well prepared, but not necessarily armed with a rigid list of questions to adhere to; a simple outline of key points to cover is sufficient.

An investigative interview can achieve several results such, as (1) answer primary questions developed during the preliminary stages of an investigation; (2) provide clarity to, and affirm or disprove, initial theories developed during the fact-gathering stage of investigation; or (3) obtain answers or explanations for irregularities identified during the investigation. As such, investigative interviews can take place at different times throughout an investigative cycle. Information developed through initial interviews may need to be fleshed out or clarified, additional people may be interviewed, or new lines of questioning may need to be introduced as new evidence is developed. That said, it is very important not to go into an interview "blind." Finding out as much information about the subject of the interview prior to commencing is crucial to a successful interview.

I. What to Prepare in Advance

It is unlikely that an interviewer will come without some sort of notes prepared for the interview. However, an important step that many interviewers forget is getting to know their subject, not just the subject matter of the case at hand. Who is this person? What are his or her interests, hobbies, habits? What factors may influence an individual to cover the truth or commit a crime? Is there any evidence to potentially contradict the individual's responses?

Particularly when dealing with a fraud case, it is important to understand motivating factors. When committing a fraud, motivation comes first, followed by opportunity, then rationalization.146 A good way to get to know the subject prior to commencing an interview is through open-source (publicly available) research, including social media research. Individuals are often much more likely to share information with social media connections than in any other context. One can get an indication of an individual's lifestyle, daily activities, close personal friends, associates or acquaintances, as well as background information such as nicknames, hometown, and religious, social and business affiliations.

II. Setting Up the Room

In order for an interview to be successful, some basic considerations of privacy and comfort should be taken into account. The goal of the interview is to have a subject comfortable enough to speak freely. As such, ideally, the interview should take place in a quiet location where the subject is less likely to feel threatened. Furniture in the room should be arranged in such a way that the interviewer has a clear view of the subject's body language (such as fidgeting) and gestures, as these play key roles in the detection of deception. At the same time, the interviewee should not feel as if he/she is "trapped" in the room as if under arrest, although the interviewer should sit the person in a place where it is clear that the interviewer is controlling the session.

In some instances, it will be very important that the interviewee — especially those that are whistleblowers — not be seen by colleagues or friends talking to the investigator, so an off-site venue may be required. In some places, this may mean moving the interview to a different town.

III. Additional Considerations

The interviewer should also consider dressing in a casual, unassuming manner so as not to exert any undue air of authority. Ideally, as a matter of best practices, two interviewers should be present while conducting the interview. Both individuals need not participate in questioning to the same degree; one can be the primary interviewer, and the other can take...

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