How to get the Opportunist Fraudster to Confess

By David Debenham

In our paper last month, we found that the difference between those who committed opportunistic fraudsters were more likely to be overconfident to pull off a fraud than those who might actually have the ability to do so, but who feared all of the “unknown-unknowns” that could catch them out.   These overconfident people falsely transfer their brilliance in one field into their abilities in fields they know nothing about such as fraud.  Their body language, vocal tone, and rates of participation suggest confidence because of this false transference. This means that these overconfident individuals speak more often, speak with a confident vocal tone, provided more information and answers, and acted calmly and relaxed as they work with their peers in the midst of perpetrating a fraud. In fact, overconfident individuals were more convincing in their displays of ability than individuals who were actually highly competent in their tasks, who, when questioned, become nervous when their conduct is called into question.  The over-confident do not say “I’m really good at this.” Because for them they are past that stage: Instead, they led their “ability” speak for itself as they explain in great detail what they do, and how they do it, in a calm and relaxed way.’  These status seekers who believe their competence at coding transfers into their ability to play poker, chess, or commit fraud, will want to demonstrate this by simply participating more and exhibiting more comfort with any task you put to them, and that is the key to catching them out.  [1]

The key is to enlist the fraudster’s advice in solving the various issues in your case, much as Columbo does in virtually every episode.   So long as you don’t appear to be as capable as the suspect (and how could you be considering their status and yours?) you can simply pose a serious of problems and let the fraudster solve them for you, all the while incriminating himself. Consider Columbo’s “Bye-bye Sky High IQ Murder case”. Genius accountant Oliver Brandt has been embezzling funds in order to keep his high-maintenance wife in fine frocks and tropical getaways. His business partner Bertie Hastings has just found out – and he must be killed.  Oliver shoots him and rigs an umbrella to take the murder weapon up a chimney. He puts a heavy dictionary on the arm of a chair, balancing precariously.  Oliver then starts a record player playing by pushing the start button, which eventually leads to the sound of two shots fired sometime later when Oliver is safely ensconced in a room full of witnesses who have just entered the adjoining room.  The sound of a body falling between the two shots alarms the witnesses.   The group runs into the room to see Bertie shot. In the confusion Bertie pockets the Dictaphone. Later Oliver recovers the umbrella and disposes of the murder weapon.  Columbo asks if the record had the shots. Of course not.  There were caps in the umbrella that were exploded as soon as the arm of the record player moved.  So too the dictionary was pushed off the arm of the chair by the movement of the arm of the record player, so in sequence it was cap explosion, dictionary fall (“the body”), and second cap explosion. At each stage Columbo suggests a hypothesis and the overconfident “high IQ” Oliver sets him straight, until at the end there is no more mystery to resolve.  Interview technique has outwitted the overconfident murder.   So too, for you.  Enlist the overconfident fraudster to incriminate himself.