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Insurance Cheats Running Out of Time as University Embarks on Lies Study

Published: 29th September 2010 09:51

 Dr Sharon Leal Insurance cheats stand a greater chance of being identified and truth-tellers vindicated as a result of new research into detecting lies.
Dr Sharon Leal, a research fellow at the University of Portsmouth, is an expert in detecting deception. She has recently embarked on a £112,000 study, funded by a leading insurance fraud investigation firm, to establish 'ground truth' about how liars behave when making claims.
Her research and experiments will come to an end in 2012 and are expected to give insurance fraud investigators the first evidence-based techniques for spotting liars to replace the gadgets and gut instincts they have traditionally relied upon.
An investigation into a claim can be triggered for a range of reasons, including a large claim on a new policy, or the investigator having a gut feeling that something doesn't add up. A common trigger for an investigation is when the claimant cannot recall specific details surrounding the incident, such as what the other person was wearing or how many people were in the vicinity at the time.
Dr Leal said: 'Insurance fraud has been on the rise since the recession began and insurance companies are very keen to find a way of beating those who cheat.
'There is a saying, "needs must when the devil rides", which basically means when times are tough, people are more likely to break the rules. That is certainly true in the case of insurance fraud.
'People think if they are telling the truth it will shine out, but it doesn't. Insurance investigators waste time and money when they chase innocent people. Under these circumstances some innocent people withdraw their insurance claim because they can't cope with the stress of being investigated.'
Insurance fraud investigators have always relied upon a range of tools and instinct to identify liars, including recording telephone conversations and then running them through a voice stress analysis machine to decide if the person is telling the truth. They have also looked for signs such as nervous fidgeting, not looking at the questioner directly, and blinking a lot.
But the gadgets and interviewers' instincts are wholly unreliable, according to Dr Leal.
She said: 'Contrary to popular belief, motivated liars do not fidget, avert their gaze or blink nervously. They are usually calm and have planned their lies down to the last detail. Also, many people do not see anything wrong with making a false claim and if they don't feel nervous or guilty, it follows that the techniques that rely on these factors will ultimately fail.
'Even the majority of experts overestimate their ability to spot a lie. They might as well toss a coin in the air - their record of finding the cheats would be the same at about 50:50.'


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