Face-to-face, on the phone or online, how you can tell if a person is lying to you: Internet Scambusters #335
Today's issue is a bit different: it's about how to tell if someone is lying to you.
Lying is at the heart of pretty much every scam. Often, our gut instinct lets us know when something is untrue but there are lots of other giveaways as well.
It may be in body language, tone of voice or just protesting innocence too strongly.
Assuming you're already aware of some of the most common clues for lying used in scams, this week we've put together a list of 12 additional "lying signals" you can be on the lookout for.
On to today's main topic...
12 Ways to Tell When Someone is Lying
(In Addition to the Ones You Should Already Know!)
When it comes to lying, scammers take the biscuit. After all, it's at the heart of pretty much everything they do. A scam is, quite literally, a deception. And a deception is a lie.
So wouldn't it be just great if we could always tell when people were lying to us?
Well, there's a whole science and probably a library of books built around the subject.
And we have machines -- polygraphs or lie detectors -- that are supposed to be able to show when a person is lying.
However, these are certainly not foolproof. Saying whether someone is lying or telling the truth is about as risky as forecasting next week's weather!
Plus, of course, it's one thing spotting that someone is lying when you meet them face to face and quite another when you can't see them -- either on the phone or online.
So, while recognizing the limitations of lie detection, we've put together a list of 12 clues and signals you can use to test your suspicion that someone is lying in a potential scam situation.
Again, these signs are hardly foolproof, but we believe you'll find them helpful.
Let's look at face-to-face meetings first.
- The most obvious giveaway when someone is lying is lack of eye contact. They'll look everywhere but at your eyes; their own eye pupils may expand (dilate). In fact, they may turn their whole body away from you.
- In addition, they may use expressions that don't match what they are saying, giving away their anxiety or guilt. Often, they use just their mouths to express humor or sadness but the rest of their face doesn't change. And they can switch off their phony expressions in the blink of an eye, whereas genuine expressions tend to fade slowly.
- The rest of their body language may be uneasy -- like stiff or jerky -- and they may touch their face (especially the nose) or throat, fiddle with their hair or rub the back of their neck (though this is also a sign of embarrassment or discomfort).Now, let's move on to common voice signals of lying. These may happen in face-to-face encounters or over the phone -- and there are lots of them. They include:
- The voice becomes rapid and/or high-pitched. It may be unsteady too. Scammers may speak in a single tone (monotone), spluttering out their words, and fail to emphasize pronouns like "you" or "I" as we do in normal conversation. They may omit the pronouns altogether.
- Language becomes stilted. They may use full-out phrases like "do not" where most people would say "don't." Or they'll repeat a particular phrase when denying it -- such as instead of saying "I didn't see it," they'll say "I did not see your PIN number."
- They pause and stumble if you ask them detailed questions on the subject about which they're lying. They might claim to have forgotten the answer or try to change the subject, maybe even asking you a question instead.
- You may hear noises in the background which contradict where or who the person claims to be.Finally, let's examine how to expose people who are lying online. This is the most difficult area, since you have no visual or verbal cues to help you.It's actually the subject of a government-funded study (called "The Dynamics of Digital Deception" -- and that's just the short version!).This should be no surprise because, with the growth of Internet fraud, spurious email and perilous chat rooms, it's probably the biggest lying arena of them all.
We know for sure, from research, that lying is rampant in online dating and friendship services, from the modest fib about age and looks (weight for women, height for men apparently) to dangerous lying about gender and intentions.
Again, some of the points we've listed above about verbal cues to lying apply here -- and some of our online tips below may also apply to speaking and face-to face encounters. Here they are:
- Sometimes they'll change their answers, give vague replies or totally sidestep the issue, especially if you ask the same question by email or in chat rooms at different times. It's a good way to test them.
- Curious use of language. Often grammar is poor (see our scam language article) and explanations are long-winded. Research shows that in two-way "conversations" liars use "sense" words like "see," "hear" and "feel" more than would be normal. Check out our article: Know the Lingo -- How to Get Wise to Scam Language.
- They become exasperated, sarcastic or even aggressive if you challenge their statements or claims, or if you persist in asking them questions.
- Scammers and deceivers will often add in extra detail in an effort to convince you. Strong, long-winded protests of truth and innocence are a powerful pointer to lying.
- And finally, an offbeat one -- the use of spoofs and downright lies passed off as genuine stories on websites. You can usually spot these from the name of the site, by checking out other stories on the same site, or Googling the supposed subject.
We've taken it as a given, especially with online usage, that claims that seem too good to be true, stories that are sensational, pretexts for seeking information that should be confidential, and selfless claims to be just doing you a favor, should be highly suspect.
Remember though, now you have all these tips, that the scammers are just as well aware of them as you. So they try to get around them by, for instance, forcing themselves to make eye contact and otherwise controlling their body language.
But very few, if any, are smart enough to be able to get them all right at once. So keep your eyes peeled and your ears flapping for those signals. And above all, follow your hunches. They're usually right.
Time to close -- we're off to take a walk. See you next week.