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In a world full of data and technology, don’t forget the value of the face-to-face approach

In a world full of data and technology“Verbal communication between individuals should never be underestimated.”
A. Barbour, Louder Than Words

In a world increasingly dominated by data and technology, being able to analyse large volumes of information quickly and more efficiently means skills and software in analytics and forensic technology are in ever increasing demand.

However, there are occasions in forensic investigations where information gathering and filtering techniques will only tell half the story – where only asking the right questions or understanding context over data content will reveal the truth.

An email trail or unusual transaction may raise a red flag, but to get the complete story, using the right objective and non-confrontational interview techniques can help obtain an admission, contradict an explanation given by an individual or even confirm an innocent explanation.

There is nothing as powerful as full admission, and the outcome of an interview can inform critical decisions for our clients such as instigating the recovery of funds, referring a matter to law enforcement or terminating a person’s employment.

The case studies below outline two different outcomes of interviews conducted by Deloitte Forensic teams in Brisbane. Both followed document reviews, both involved interviews of suspects, and both demonstrate why keeping an open mind is vital.

Case Study 1

The client had concerns a finance employee who controlled the cheque distribution process was embezzling funds by using business cheques and writing them out for cash. There was limited oversight and the employee was also manipulating a debtor report to hide the stolen funds. 

A partial admission was made by the employee, regarding the theft of some $30,000 before the forensic team were engaged. On appointment, our team undertook a detailed document review of bank statements and cheques and identified patterns and cash cheques indicating an actual value misappropriated of approximately $250,000.

Armed with the above information and documents, an interview of the employee lead to a full admission – not only confirming that funds had been stolen, but also with a higher value, reasons why the employee had committed the offences, and how they had managed to misappropriate the funds for so long undetected.

None of this additional information could be obtained from the cheques or bank statements reviewed. The outcome of the interview assisted our client and helped lead law enforcement to interactions with other regulatory bodies which uncovered previous and similar offences, and our work was ultimately used in relation to formal criminal investigations and criminal charges for fraud. 

Case Study 2

A letter sent to the client’s management team by an anonymous whistle-blower alleged that an employee had stolen intellectual property from her previous employer and was using it in the client organisation for ‘malicious’ purposes. 

A review of the employee’s email account uncovered documents belonging to her previous employer that were being used and sent to suppliers, some of whom had questioned the reasons for using information relating to another company.

The email audit told one story, however it wasn’t until an interview was conducted that the situation was properly understood.

The employee explained that she had used the documents to help her, and subsequently her employer, in her new role. The previous employer was in the same industry and had a more ‘mature’ structure therefore the employee had used templates to actually help herself in her new role, as the former employer was also a customer and supplier of the client, i.e. services were often sold by the client on behalf of both entities. This helped understand the intent and context of the emails, and although wrong, her actions were not necessarily malicious as could have been construed from the emails alone. A separate interview with the employee’s manager also revealed that the matter had already been dealt with, and disciplined, in house.

In conclusion, it is clear that utilising all information available in any investigation can provide a more complete understanding of circumstances and background to events.  Relying solely on electronic sources of information and documents is, however, only one part of what can often be a complex puzzle.  Putting documents to a person and eliciting an explanation or perhaps an admission in relation to the creation of critical documents is undoubtedly the most powerful of all outcomes.

Author

David Morgan
Client Manager, Risk Services
Tel: +61 7 3308 7560

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