Remote forensic interviews

By Charles L. McGimsey, CPA/CFF, and Natalie S. Lewis, CPA/CFF

Auditors and investigators can conduct effective forensic interviews remotely. These tips can assist in overcoming hurdles presented by the virtual environment.

Perform a technical check. Do an advanced setup call with the interviewee to make sure the wireless connections, sound, and visuals work properly. During this check, avoid asking questions to be covered during the interview. If possible, have an IT or administrative person handle this.

Practice beforehand with demonstratives or other visuals. These documents may be screen-shared, but their presentation should be mastered in advance. Organize and clearly identify all documents you plan to use. Consider the security of documents to be shared. A remote interviewee may be able to photograph a document without the interviewer's knowledge. Practice sharing your screen to ensure any extraneous information displayed on your device (e.g., emails) is not inadvertently provided to the interviewee. Have another member of the team test this by connecting as if he or she is the interviewee.

Prepare to record. Ask counsel if recording the interview is appropriate. Inform the interviewee if the session is to be recorded. Have alternative devices (cellphone, extra laptop, or tablet) and/or platforms (Zoom, WebEx, Teams, etc.) available in case the original setup malfunctions. Establish at the start of the interview how participants should respond if the virtual connection is lost. Make sure the interviewee understands how the controls (e.g., video, mute, etc.) work, but request that the interviewee refrain from using these controls once the interview begins.

Position the camera. The interviewee's body should be seen from the midsection up. Nonverbal cues may be missed if the camera includes only the interviewee's face. Both the interviewer's and the interviewee's video should be turned on. As in all forensic interviews, pay particular attention to all nonverbal cues, which may include attempts to mute the sound or obscure the camera view. While a document is being shared on the screen, some virtual setups eliminate the interviewee's image entirely, rendering the interviewee's immediate reaction unobservable. Make sure your setup allows the interviewee's picture to be viewed, and possibly enlarge this image compared to a default (small box) setting.

Team up for better results. Having at least two forensic investigators participate in the virtual interview may be well worth the added cost. The main interviewer may ask questions and observe the interviewee's reactions, while the second interviewer controls documents to be screen-shared and takes notes.

Monitor the participant list and note if any unidentified caller appears. At the beginning of the interview, ask the interviewee if anyone else is in the room or listening remotely. Toward the end of the interview ask the interviewee if he or she has communicated with anyone while being interviewed. If the answer is yes, ask what was discussed.

— By Charles L. McGimsey, CPA/CFF, and Natalie S. Lewis, CPA/CFF, principals with the Forensic and Litigation Services Team at Windham Brannon LLC. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Jeff Drew, a JofA senior editor, at Jeff.Drew@aicpa-cima.com.

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