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Interviewing Suspects of Fraud: An In-Depth Analysis of Interviewing Skills

Article excerpt

Whereas much of the limited research concerning the actual investigative interviewing of suspects has involved police interviews, almost no research has involved other agencies who regularly undertake criminal investigations (for example, those various government agencies that conduct investigations regarding benefit fraud). This study examined a sample of 142 of the more demanding interviews, (both from audiotapes and transcripts of actual interviews with suspects) and it revealed that, while investigators generally displayed ethical interviewing standards and tended to use open questioning techniques, few interviews were skilled. Shortcomings were particularly found in terms of rapport development, summarizing, flexibility, and how investigators brought interviews to closure. Given this frequency of ineffective interviewing, it is recommended that further training of interviewers is required and that additional research is required into the reasons for the mediocre performance.

KEY WORDS: Law enforcement, interviewing, interrogation, fraud, benefits, public sector.

Interviewing is believed to be one of the most common law enforcement activities (McGurk, Carr, & McGurk, 1993). It is also perceived as one of the most important (Milne & Bull, 2006), Indeed, Milne, Shaw, and Bull (2007) refer to interviewing as being at the heart of the investigation process. Despite this regularity and significance in criminal investigations, relevant research, while becoming increasingly prevalent over the last fifteen years, still remains at insufficient levels. Where studies have been conducted (both in the UK and elsewhere in the world) the focus has centered almost entirely on police officers' interviewing quality (e.g., Baldwin, 1992, 1993; Clarke & Milne, 2001; Moston, Stephenson, & Williamson, 1992). Thus, we are rather ignorant concerning those other organizations that increasingly also investigate criminal activity (Button et al., 2007; Walsh & Milne, 2008). For example, there are numerous government departments in Britain that are charged with the responsibility for investigating suspected criminal infractions in the area in which they possess administrative jurisdictions.

For the purposes of this study, the area of social security benefit fraud was examined, since more sanctions (prosecutions, cautions, and other formal penalties) are conducted yearly in this domain in the UK than in all other official organizations combined (except for the police). For example, in the period 2001-2008, the number of sanctions delivered annually has been between 30,000-55,000 (Cook, 2006; Walsh & Milne, 2008; Department of Work & Pensions, 2008). These figures suggest that at least 100,000 formal interviews with suspects occur each year investigating approximately £0.8 billion benefit fraud (Department of Work & Pensions, 2008).

The two organizations accountable for payment of social security benefit in the UK (and for safeguarding the propriety of the system) are, firstly, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), a central government department whose Fraud Investigation Service (FIS) conducts investigations into suspicions of false social security benefit claims. These benefits range from payment to certain client groups such as the unemployed who are actively seeking work, those who cannot work because of their illness or disability, and those who head single parent households. The other organization consists of the range of Local Authorities (LAs) throughout Britain, responsible for administration of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit (the former relates to support for those on low incomes to help pay for rent for the property in which they live, while the latter concerns assistance with local taxation needed to help pay for services such as schools and the police, fire, and refuse collection services). Due to their regular overlapping responsibilities, encouragement is made, where applicable, for the two organizations to investigate alleged benefit frauds jointly in line with the Scampion Report's recommendations (1999). …