How To Question Scammers
Scammer Interrogation Techniques You Should Know (And Why Not All of Them Work)
When a scammer is questioned about a scam, it is a pretty good assumption that the criminally-inclined will always lie! It's what scammers do!
“I didn't do it” “I am Not a scammer”
The irony is that real people / good guys — people who are actually innocent and being truthful — will tell the exactly the same story – “I didn't do it”.
How do you tell which one is telling the truth?
And, if you apply pressure techniques, how do you keep the innocent ones from breaking down and sounding more like a scammer?
In court, a confession is the most trusted evidence a prosecutor can present
In some cases, a confession will explain away inconsistencies, contradictory information, and later recanted versions of the confession.
If he/she/it said it, he must have done it
A satisfied police interrogator will congratulate himself for solving the case, when in fact, he may have ruined an innocent person's life, allowed a real criminal to continue committing crimes, and cost the government a lot of money for a wrongful prosecution.
Later, when the truth finally comes out, the repercussions spread farther, perhaps even crashing a good cop’s career.
The same is true when interrogating scammers!
Are interrogations successful? You bet! Sometimes!
But remember, they can also fail spectacularly.
When investigators began bringing in suspects for the Lindbergh kidnapping in the 1930's, they got over 200 confessions. Sometimes people will confess to please the person asking.
When asking people to reveal if they are a scammer, real people may make themselves sound like scammers too! A lot has to do with your own attitude and how much they care.
However, there is a BIG difference between scammers and real local criminals!
In the case of local criminals, you guard against false positives. Meaning that it is better to assume innocence - always - until you have absolute proof. In the case of scammers, you assume they are a scammer until they convince you they are real. But this requires them to prove the absence of something.
Assuming someone is a scammer causes no harm if you just walk away. On the other hand if you really don't know and then report them, that is a bad thing, and we all want to avoid that. So it is important to learn the skills of scammer detection and not simply make assumptions about people that you report.
Throughout this website we share the skills you need for proper deduction and identification of scammers. We are not going to go over that again, except to explore questioning techniques you can use to your benefit when you think you have found a scammer.
The Basic Scammer Interrogation Techniques:
1. The Traditional Police Method - We’ll beat the truth out of you!
Historically, confessions were a simple matter of applying the so-called "third degree." Depriving the subject of food, water and sleep, applying physical discomfort, beating him with a rubber hose so as not to leave marks and even threats or intimidation eventually brake a subject or cause them to accept whatever story the interrogator believes is true — simply to stop the questioning. The intimidation would also continue a bit longer, however, in order to get the subject to sign a paper saying he had not been coerced and his statement was voluntary. With the paper in hand and a blindfold over the statue of Lady Justice’s eyes, the admission would seal the suspect’s fate.
Don't you wish you could beat scammers with a rubber hose?
But the same applies when questioning a scammer. At first you assume everything is real, then you spot a red flag. So you use the "third-degree" to demand answers. Unfortunately, many times this puts the scammer in a defensive position and they shut down the questioning by threatening you with "don't you trust me?"
In other words, they reverse the situation by threatening the thing YOU want - the relationship, affection, etc. This puts the questioner on the back-foot, and shifts control from the victim to the scammer!
2. The Reid Technique - We can tell you are lying by the way you act!
The most popular modern technique for interrogation — the one that has been taught in most police academies since the 70s — is the Reid Technique, named after the Chicago policeman who developed it in the 40s. It relies on a careful building of rapport, tests for reliability on known answers to control questions, and observation of body language to identify anxiety, which, according to Reid, is a signal for lying.
Unfortunately, we now know that the Reid technique relies on outdated and discredited science and unqualified psychology. 40 years of extensive psychological research has debunked the idea that anxiety connotes lying. Anxiety is a normal reaction to being in a high stress situation. Conversely, there are many liars who can look you in the eye and tell you with conviction anything they want you to believe.
Scammers are professional liars. That means that under the right circumstances they can lie your pants off!
3. Good Cop, Bad Cop Method - Hey buddy, you can trust me!
Even small children have heard of the good cop, bad cop routine, when their parents team up on them - one nurturing, one angry and threatening - to find out who ate the cookies (after they have already found crumbs on their mattress). In a high pressure situation, many people will open up to someone offering compassion, and even go along with suggestions to ensure that the presumably nice person will continue to protect them.
Actually, scammers use this on victims by bringing in a second actor into the conversation. The second actor reverses the situation and applies pressure on the victim, while the "good scammer" can claim it is not their fault - they are just being pressured for whatever lie they are telling you. But you can also do this to a scammer, by bringing in a friend into the conversation, and letting the friend have separate unsupervised chats with the scammer. This is kind of like when you invited that boyfriend home for the first time, and your Dad had a conversation with him while you were getting ready! If you don't have a friend, then create a new bogus profile of your own (do what scammers do - get another Gmail account and create a fake Facebook profile pretending to be a friend of yours).
4. The PEACE Method - Lies are like a house of cards!
A new interviewing technique is gaining acceptance as an effective way to discover the truth without creating false witnesses. The PEACE (Preparation and Planning, Engage and Explain, Account, Closure and Evaluate) method is being applied by professional police forces around the world.
It resembles a journalistic approach, and is very straightforward. It assumes that a liar will gradually build up a series of false explanations (story details), and the more the subject lies, the more he has to juggle it all in his mind. Eventually, an inconsistent detail will break down the whole fabrication. Sound familiar? This is scammer central!
As Laurie Halse Anderson says in her crime novel The Impossible Knife of Memory: “The trick to surviving an interrogation is patience. Don’t offer up anything. Don’t explain. Answer the question and only the question that is asked so you don’t accidentally put your head in a noose.”
Except scammers have a weakness that you can exploit. A normal criminal uses the clock to their benefit - meaning time is against the interrogator. Scammers though, are in the opposite position. They will spend huge amounts of time building a victim up - grooming them, but once you start questioning them, they revert to clock watching. They will press hard to get back to the narrative and continue the fantasy. They have been trained that if they lose control of the conversation, they lose the scam victim.
This means that the scammer will want to get your questions out of the way very quickly and back to scamming you! So by simply showing patience and pressing your points slowly and carefully, the scammer will trip themselves up. But this also depends on your ability to keep all of the story versions straight in your own head. So one of the processes associated with this is to do the interrogation in writing - meaning CHAT or EMAIL! By asking questions in a chat thread or email chain, you have the history - the past statements that you can compare. Trust us when we say that scammers are sloppy, even the best make mistakes.
Also remember that scammers work in teams. This means that each team member will not know exactly what the other team members have said!
5. The Suspect’s Viewpoint - On the other hand!
The suspect, whether innocent or not, must realize that they are playing a game of perception. They don’t want to appear to have anything to hide, and want to be seen as cooperative as possible, so in real interrogations by the police, this can lead to abuses against their rights. For example: the person questioned may waive their rights (Miranda rights in the United States - to stay silent unless their attorney is present) because they will be told by authorities that they don’t need that protection if they have nothing to hide. Innocent people bite on that lie almost every time. They may have faith in the justice system and - if actually innocent - they figure the truth will come out and justice will prevail. Unfortunately, in our modern criminal justice system that is a bigger mistake for innocent people that most imagine.
Yet sometimes, the facts may be so clouded and convoluted, or the alibi (“I was watching TV alone at home, nobody was with me but my pet Llama”) will not be enough to save them. Justice will not prevail because nobody is willing to look farther for the truth once they have an admission.
Now in the case of scammers, the scammer never tells simple "truths". It is almost always an epic saga of Shakespearian story telling. Their "mother's father's brother's sister's dog's trainer was in an accident and needs a brain transplant, and you the stranger across the wires are their only hope!"
But, when you start with "emoting" with them about all of this, they can't help themselves. They want to draw you in, so they will fill in the details. As the interrogator, you should just keep the dialog going without heavy questioning in the early stages, just let them talk. It will get more fantastical as it gets going, because they believe you are already hooked!
"They had an accident, but UFO's stole their bank account with the help of a Ghana Police officer from Mars!"
One of our favorites was a "women" traveling in Chad "was trapped as a sex slave in her hotel by the managers because she could not pay her hotel bill after her money was stolen." What man would not want to come to the rescue for that? Similar stories appeal to women victims too, such as: "I am in the United States Special Forces fighting in Lower Volta on a secret mission and I can't log onto Amazon to by my son a gift (who has two left hands), who recently lost his mother to a rare hammerhead-worm attack in New York City." Yet it never fails to amaze that they have regular access to the Internet and Skype!
Discovering a scam is a multi-layered process. It starts with having your eyes opened. With seeing a red flag, and then realizing there is a trail of them. Then you turn to the interrogation process to get your answers.
However, there are some very important parts to this - and some lines you should never cross!
- Never let the scammer know that you have discovered the scam - keep them in the dark! Don't teach them their mistakes.
- Never "bait" the scammer with silly traps and tricks you want them to perform out of entertainment value or revenge. They will figure it out that they have been discovered.
- Never openly accuse the scammer - when you do this is creates a new opportunity for the "yes, I am a scammer, but I really love you" scam. Meaning the scam will shift from one lie-track to another and suck you back in!
- Always report the scammer - this helps others spot the scammer early through Google searches - report them here on this website or on www.Anyscam.com
- If you lost money ALSO report them to your local police, but only if you lost money. The police are not very sympathetic if you fell in love with a scammer.
- If you have been traumatized by the experience treat it seriously, you were not at fault - you were targeted and victimized. We offer online support groups - contact us if you are interested.
Those of you visiting this page are here because something raised a red flag.
Try some of these techniques on your scammer or suspect-scammer, and please give us your feedback?
Are there other interrogation techniques that you have tried that we haven’t mentioned here?
Good hunting and stay safe!
Managing Director and In-House Investigator
Romance Scams Now [RSN]
the Scam Avoidance Education & Scam Victims' Assistance & Support division of
the Society of Citizens Against Romance Scams [SCARS]
Miami, Florida, U.S.A.
Our Thanks to the Forensic Outreach Team for much information in this and some borrowed language!
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