Detecting deceit with micro-expression analysis

By Michael Reddington, CFI; John Delaney, DBA, Educator Associate, CPA, CMA, CIA

Fraud Basics: Fundamentals for all

A bank, which was a victim to a recent fraud, called in Dave Zulawski, CFE, CFI, to interview bank personnel. The initial investigation indicated the bank's collection manager of 20 years, George, was fraudulently selling vehicles the bank had repossessed. A previous audit had identified 60 vehicles that hadn't been sold through approved auctions in the two months prior to the interview. Further investigation showed that someone was selling the vehicles to an out-of-state dealership or to nonexistent companies. The bank was losing an average of $10,000 per vehicle that wasn't sent to auction.

In this column, we describe how Zulawski obtained a confession from George utilizing a valuable interview tool: micro-expression analysis.

Many researchers have written about how a person's physical and verbal behavior can betray them when they lie. In recent years, the relationship between micro expressions and detecting deception has been explored in great detail. Paul Ekman, who began his pioneering research into micro expressions in the 1950s, raises an imperative point when he says micro expressions tell you that an emotion has been concealed. They don't tell you how or why it was concealed, and they must be evaluated in the context in which they occur. (See "Emotions revealed" by Paul Ekman, St. Martin's Griffin, 2003, p. 215.)

Micro expressions are fleeting facial expressions linked to real emotions. They're the result of an individual either consciously or unconsciously suppressing or repressing an emotion. They can appear, and disappear, as fast as one-fifth of a second. (See Ekman's "Emotions revealed," page 15.)


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