The identity thief’s 10 most desirable items


Theft used to be more straightforward: you could identify your valuables, and keep them locked up. And in the worst case scenario, if someone broke in and stole them, you’d know about it instantly. Identify theft is a whole new ball game. We don’t know what’s valuable to a fraudster; we don’t know how to protect them; and often we have no idea when they are taken.
So what are the 10 most valuable items for an identity thief, and how can we protect them?
Ideally, a thief needs a number of things in order to steal your identity – and your money. Your full name, address and date of birth are highly useful. But add in any account numbers, passwords, PINs, or details about your borrowing limits, and they’re in the money.

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The Psychology of Lies: Behavioural Science Perspectives on Conducting Successful Interviews

There are plenty of myths about the “science” of lie detection despite what books on nonverbal behaviour may say. There is no scientific evidence that crossed arms or legs indicate a defensive person, or that deceivers touch their noses, Evert their eyes, or cover their mouths. Spotting a lie is an inexact science.

Can investigators improve their chances of discovering deceit during investigative interviews?

Why Humans Are Good Deceivers and Lousy Detectors

Humans are better liars than they are lie detectors. This point is evidenced in various academic studies, which suggest that most people are no better than 50/50 at detecting deception by observing verbal and nonverbal cues. Even professionals involved in fighting crime such as law-enforcement fair only a little better than chance at detecting a lie. In essence even if law enforcement as a whole was better at detecting deception than the general public, that isn’t a particularly impressive statistic.

Most people are no better than 50/50 at detecting deception by observing verbal and nonverbal cues. But there’s hope yet for lie detection science.

Many previous experiments are based on low-stakes lies. In the real world, lies that concern investigators or potential employers are usually high stakes—in other words, liars in the interrogation room have a lot more to lose than study participants.

As anxiety lies at the root of high-stake lies—if unmasked, the deceiver faces stiff consequences. But the researcher’s dilemma is that high-stakes lies—and the anxiety associated with them—are hard to ethically replicate in a laboratory.

How to be a Good Liar

Naturally, some people are bad liars; but professional investigators are concerned with the gifted ones. It stands to reason that to be a good lie spotter; the investigator needs to know what makes a good liar. Sometimes the investigator may need to be good a liar himself in order to go undercover or pretext.

Accordingly good liars are ultimately good actors. So how to lie convincingly is to “rehearse” in order to reduce anxiety; by creating plausible responses by interweaving deception with truth. In theory then good lying, like good acting, is an art that requires a plausible story, well-practiced.

There are, however, pathological types that make natural liars: psychopaths and pathological liars such as those suffering from Munchausen syndrome. Pathological liars may tell lies with ease, but they are usually unmasked over time by inconsistencies.

Psychopaths, on the other hand, are natural chameleons that mimic the behaviour expected of them but have little or no emotional attachment. In essence, psychopaths have little fear or anxiety but are natural actors. A “lack of stress” enables them as deceivers.

Like the psychopath that simulates love for another when it serves him, good liars uses a measure of control over emotional appearances to overcome discovery. The possibility that a liar will be unmasked naturally creates the desire to avoid the issue, but a savvy liar can take the offensive.

For instance, he may mimic anger or hurt in response to an accusation that’s true. The seeming natural response would be anxiety or embarrassment, but a good liar can turn the tables, emotionally speaking.

A final quality of good liars is self-deception. Self-deception reduces anxiety by justifying the lie.

Catching Liars through Cognitive Taxation

The idea here is that lying requires extra psychological effort at creating a plausible story, whereas the truth doesn’t, because the teller is simply recalling, not inventing. An interviewer can exploit this fact through several strategies (as summarized below):

1. Ask for details.

The more details the interviewee provides the more chance of inconsistency. This fact alone may cause the guilty interviewee to be reluctant about answering questions or to give short or vague responses. If the interviewee is reluctant or vague in responding to a question, the interviewer should pursue the subject further.

Borrow from the techniques of “cognitive interviewing”—developed to enhance eyewitness’ memories—because they are useful in encouraging the subject to report details. Such techniques include asking the subject to describe his story with richness and imagery and to reassure him that no detail is without significance or is too trivial.

While inconsistency, vagueness and hesitancy can be signs of deception, details provide the practicality of more information that can be cross-referenced and validated.

2. Ask unexpected questions.

Just as the would-be-liar rehearses responses to anticipated and expected tough questions, the interviewer should try asking “unexpected questions” as a counter-measure. To be successful, the interviewer must be able to develop relevant questions that the interviewee doesn’t anticipate. Liars produce fewer details when responding to unanticipated questions than truth-tellers.

3. Conduct an information-seeking interview rather than a confrontational interview.

Law enforcement methodology is to progress from interview through to accusation. Basically, this is a presumption of guilt from the outset that incrementally increases pressure on the subject to make a confession.

In contrast the information-seeking interview is one in which the interviewer aims to build rapport and plays a sympathetic role in order to coax out facts. Information-seeking approaches yield more information and cues to deceit than confrontational approaches.

4. Strategic Use of Evidence

The non-accusatorial interview is the asking of open-ended questions and presenting evidence late in the interview. This does reveal more inconsistencies and contradictions than when any evidence is introduced early.

Furthermore, when the interviewer asks formulated indirect questions specific to the evidence without revealing the interviewers own knowledge of that evidence, the ability to detect deception significantly increases. (Such questions are also introduced at a late stage in the interview.)

Catching Liars through Emotional Leakage

Micro-expressions betray a person’s true feelings, but you almost need a video camera running in slow motion to see them although a person can either be trained to see them in real time or be very experienced through conducting many interviews.

Unfortunately individuals have different baseline behaviours and different levels of response. For instance, one person may be naturally anxious in most situations, while another may become anxious when asked questions that he believes may falsely incriminate him. There are also liars who show little anxiety because they are well rehearsed in their deceit, are self-deceived, or suffer pathological conditions.

A guilty person facing the possibility of unmasking should be anxious, but so, too, could an innocent person in fear for his freedom…remember that there are exceptions to every rule.

Parting Wisdom

Unfortunately, a popular belief on nonverbal behaviour and lie detection has managed to leak into texts on police interviewing and interrogations.

Nonetheless, behavioural science is making headway, and investigators should pay attention. An interview with a suspect relies on a psychological strategizing that aims to unmask the truth. Deceit betrays itself by behavioural and narrative inconsistencies.

Looking for incongruences in a subject’s story and behaviour is common sense, but investigators can improve their chances of discovering lies by aligning their strategies with advances from the behavioural sciences. Watching for involuntary micro-expressions and the theory of cognitive load are two such advances that can aid an investigator’s tactics and observations.

The investigator must consider all possibilities when interpreting the significance of a statement, pause, contradiction, gesture or hesitation. The goal shouldn’t be to become a psychological X-ray machine, because that’s currently impossible.

Instead, the investigator should aim to acquire verifiable intelligence, and/or, if the intelligence merits it, a true confession.

Frank Nesbitt MA MEWI


Good Phone Usage: Investigative Interview Techniques and Tips for Investigators

Although some situations call for an in-person interview, there are many instances in which an investigator must interview witnesses by phone. In those situations, establishing rapport up front dramatically increases the probability of a successful interview.

The Process

Once a witness is identified, it is necessary to do an extensive pre- screening to determine whether she/he meets legal and ethical guidelines, and to decide if their knowledge or experience is of relevance to the investigation. Then telephone.

It is never easy or ideal to cold-call a potential witness as that first call may be awkward. The subject might be breached at an inopportune time, or the witness may initially be hesitant to speak openly about sensitive information with a stranger, especially after identification of oneself as an “investigator”. However thankfully from experience, most people involved with a fraud investigation are intelligent, well-spoken, and (often) eager to speak freely about what they know.

Given the nature of fraud cases, most witnesses are more comfortable speaking from the comfort of their home or office. Even though the people called may never have met the investigator and may not be aware of the investigation, most are willing to help and share their observations or sentiments freely.

Remember, witness interviews are not interrogations. Generally speaking, the witnesses contacted are not under suspicion.

Here are a few pointers to assist with the process of cold-calling and interviewing potential witnesses:

1. Prepare.

Before picking up the phone, know the facts of the case, the players involved, and the pertinent questions that are needed to be answered. It’s also critical to properly vet a potential witness before dialing, to estimate when may be the best time to reach that person and through what channel (i.e., home, work, mobile).

Of course, there’s no way to know whether the subject is tied up in unexpected meetings or visiting a sick relative. The key is to be patient, sympathetic, and respectful of witnesses’ time, throughout the process. These are likely busy people with families and responsibilities, and a good investigator needs to be flexible enough to work around the witness’s schedules.

2. Build rapport.

Don’t be surprised if a witness that has just been cold-called is initially hesitant or wary. After all, they have just been caught off guard by a stranger calling and identifying themselves as a (fraud) investigator seeking information.

When identifying yourself be as open natural and forthright as possible. Explain the reason for why you’re calling and share any information held that prompted that call. Experience, has shown that the more comfortable and informed witness subjects are the more they will trust the investigator and in return the more forthright their responses will most likely be.


3. Be normal.

No matter the focus of the investigation, remember that quite simply you’re having a conversation with another person, asking for their help, and trying to learn something that wasn’t known or needed to be corroborated prior to picking up the telephone. Reciting a prepared script or reading from pages of direct questions will only distance the investigator from the person called and likely distract from listening to the answers or responses.

If the investigator sounds formal and tetchy then the witness may begin to feel as if standing in the witness box at court. Keep the questions brief and the delivery natural. Make the call a conversation, not an interrogation.

Use and ask open-ended questions that prompt the witness to tell a story, rather than asking or demanding lists of facts and figures. (e.g., “So, why don’t you tell me more about your former position with XYZ Company….how did things begin to change before you left?”)


4. Listen!

Studies have shown that most humans don’t listen as well as they think they do. Fatigue, multi-tasking, and mental drifting can affect cognitive ability to fully listen to responses which will ultimately see the conversation break down.

If an investigator doesn’t listen carefully, they are not really digesting the information being shared, and therefore not fully participating in the conversation. It’s a possibility to miss a contradiction in the witness’ answers, and also to miss those important details that might help develop potential and effective follow-up questions.

Even if answers might seem off-topic it’s important to let the person respond fully and further develop their rapport with the investigator. Remember, the more time initially spent on the telephone with the subject the more likely that person will agree to follow-up interviews later or even to give a written statement.

If time is limited on either side or the witness appears to be discussing something that’s not relevant to the case, gently interrupt and “nudge” the person back on track.

Careful listening during telephone interviews can be more challenging than in-person conversations—there are no advantages of visual contact and/or the possibility of watching for physical changes that might indicate deceptive responses. That’s why audible attention is doubly important during telephone interviews. Listen carefully—to what is said, and also to what isn’t. Not only a witness’ responses, but also any pauses, and changes in the tone of voice may lend a hand in detecting deceptive responses…and confer important information.

Frank Nesbitt. MA MEWI


10 ways to beat CryptoLocker

Protecting your files from CyptoLocker and other malware starts with a few sensible precautions

So what are our top tips?

Back up your files. If you use an external hard drive, don’t leave it connected to your PC unless you are backing up. Alternatively, pay for an online back-up service – but bear in mind you may still be vulnerable if your backed-up files are mapped as a network drive. Check with your provider if you are unsure.

• Create files in the Cloud and upload photos to online accounts like Flickr or Picasa.

• Switch to a spam- and virus-filtered email service. Google Mail, for example, does not allow you to receive or send executable files (that can install viruses) as email attachments, even if they are hidden in zip files. (It also does not allow you to send them).

• Don’t go to online porn sites, which are often the source of malware downloads. Take care when clicking on adverts; never open Twitter links and attachments from people you don’t know or trust.

• Make sure your operating system is up-to-date with the latest security.

• Install the latest versions of your internet browsers and update add-ons such as Java and Adobe Flash.

• Get reputable anti-virus software and ensure you update it frequently.

• On Windows 7, double-check that you have set up System Restore points or, if you are using Windows 8, configure it to keep the “file history”.

• Act quickly. If you do accidentally download a dodgy attachment, bear in mind it is likely to take some time for the encryption to take place. If you immediately download and run an anti-virus programme, such as the free anti-virus toolkit available from Sophos, it could destroy the CryptoLocker before all your files have been encrypted – however, you will permanently lose affected files.

• Encrypt the files you particularly want to keep private, such as documents containing your passwords or personal information, to prevent criminals from reading what’s in them.