Diversity & Inclusion

Overcoming implicit bias in anti-fraud investigations

Everyone has personal biases, but letting these biases color our views of a suspect can affect the integrity of fraud investigations. Here we explain what unconscious biases are and what fraud examiners can do to overcome them.

Before Elizabeth Holmes was convicted of fraud in 2022, the Theranos CEO was known as a young, charismatic, highly educated woman who dazzled millions with the expectation that her blood-testing technology would revolutionize health care. She garnered high-profile investors and appeared on magazine covers that heralded her billionaire status. But Holmes’ story eventually unraveled, and her technology was exposed as a fraud. Holmes fooled so many for so long because she relied on people’s perceptions of successful entrepreneurs. She emulated her hero, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, down to his signature black turtlenecks. As Financial Times editor Gillian Tett wrote, Holmes, as a rare female CEO in a male-dominated industry, had a “halo effect,” especially for people who wanted to see women succeed in tech. (See “What Elizabeth Holmes taught me about gender bias,” by Gillian Tett, FT Magazine, Dec. 4, 2019.)

People might’ve been willing to overlook red flags about Holmes because she appealed to their biases and confirmed their worldviews. Everyone has a lens through which they approach the world, developed through culture, personal experience and other factors. Our personal experiences make us who we are, but fraud examiners must ensure these experiences don’t harm the integrity of their investigations. As the Fraud Examiners Manual states, “… an interviewer should lack bias.” (See “Characteristics of an Effective Interviewer,” Fraud Examiners Manual, Section 3: Investigation, 2022 Edition.) But working to overcome bias isn’t always easy. How can fraud examiners ensure that their biases won’t influence their investigations? As with most skills, it’s something you must develop and requires that you first recognize you have them.

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