Interviews by videoconference, ally or villain?

The year 2020 was undoubtedly a year of many challenges, especially when it comes to urban mobility and the difficulty of bringing people together, at least physically.

As a solution to this challenge, online meetings have become a compulsory, appropriate way out. There was no option, but little by little, the advantages began to appear. Here in Brazil, many people have happily reported the hours saved by commuting, especially due to the chaotic traffic we have in the big cities in our country. However, what about the subject of Forensic Interviewing? Could we use a contact as distant and impersonal as a computer screen to talk to victims, witnesses and even suspects of corporate fraud? Yes we can! And I say more, we must!

It is obvious that, as forensic interviewers, we must always have the investigation planning and, consequently, the interview in hand. The complexity of the case, the risk of frustrating our onslaught and the objective of the demand must always be in our minds. Imagine a forensic interview that aims at not only a confession, but also the immediate recovery of the property. How to collect the company’s assets while distant? Will we trust the interviewee so that when he disconnects from our meeting, he takes the patrimony and gives it to someone from the place? What if he just goes to the exit and leaves? We see that, in the face of certain cases, in fact, the virtual approach has its limitations. However, there are also many characteristics of success in this type of contact.

In one of the webinars held in the year 2020, together with forensic interviewers from other parts of the world, we were discussing a very appropriate feature, while we talked about the advantages of a forensic telephone interview, we debated that telephone compliance interviews bring in the interviewee the feeling that the case is not serious, because otherwise the interviewer would have come in person. Well, the approach by videoconference has the same particularity, generating a feeling that the demand “is not that serious”.

However, other extremely positive elements are observed in this approach because, in the same way that it reduces the feeling of seriousness of the case, at least for the interviewee, it brings to the interviewer a series of additional advantages, especially when compared to the approach by telephone.

The first, of course, is the fact that you can see the interviewee, often even better than in person! Is it possible that I am asked how it is possible for a computer screen to have the ability to reproduce a visualization better than physical presence? But believe me, often the cameras coupled with technological devices provide us with a zoom option that allows us to capture from a macro view of the interviewee, to subtle details of facial micro expressions.

The second of them is in relation to the time and money saved, at the end of 2020, I conducted more than 50 interviews in just one week in 4 different and distant states, at least 1500 miles between them. All of this, at the cost of only a few coffees made in the kitchen of my own residence and with zero cost of flights, accommodation, food and taxis around these places.

The third one is, without a doubt, my favorite: Screens! That’s right, screens and screens and more screens, lots of additional computer screens attached to the main monitor on which the interview is taking place. With these additional screens we can freely search the entire set of elements of the case, categorized in infinite ways and explore each one of them with the interviewee, without any being lost in time. There were cases in which the interviewee pointed out where evidence would be on his corporate HD and I, while conducting the interview, found it on the same HD, which was already copied and in my possession on Shield Compliance servers.

I also emphasize that having additional screens not only gives us the advantage of having the elements of the case in front of us, they also bring us unlimited and instant access to the entire universe of knowledge that the world wide web provides us with. Once an interviewee told me that he was from a city in the interior of a distant state in our country, I “threw” the name of the city on the monitor next to it and discovered the main cathedral in the locality, so I returned to the interviewee with the name of cathedral and he immediately smiled and started talking about what was the source of pride for the entire city, “the wonderful cathedral that generations of his family had built”, “my grandfather didn’t even see it done poor”, said he. Rapport, was solidified among us, thanks to a simple click on a computer screen laterally positioned in the comfort of my office, located in one of the rooms of my house.

However, I confess that not everything is flowers, “connection problems” can happen, especially when the interviewee starts to realize that his deviations have been discovered, it is one of the many escape tactics, trying to end the connection for fear of compromising with the situation.

In the face of almost 1 year of practicing online interviews widely, I managed to crystallize some relevant tips to reduce chances of having problems in this type of approach:

1. Warn the interviewee that the process will always happen with the shortest possible time, this prevents him from becoming reactive to the process, being anxious, stopping to attend the company on the day or even if he does not connect to the reserved virtual room. I know that this particularity is also practiced in face-to-face contact, but many customers (companies) neglect this element, as they believe that they should send an “invitation” to the interviewee’s email, doing it well in advance;

2. Align with the people in charge of the locality to be ready for the presential measures that are necessary. Often the property can be returned, the confession must be scanned or even the physical document must be filed with the company. There are still many cases in which an interviewee reports misconduct by another person or others, in these cases someone on site, in person speaking, will be of great value for the sequence of investigative work, organizing people and schedules so that the case can be followed up.

3. After the process, align with someone from the locality to also be vigilant for suspicious and / or undue conduct, which may arise as actions to prevent new discoveries or even to try to hide others involved.

Today, after more than a year of conducting interviews, mostly online, I say that I am a fan of the sport. Even so, according to the sensitivity of the case and the situation, I choose the personal approach. Right now, as I finish this small contribution, I am preparing to embark for another state in my country to deal, personally, with a case of sexual harassment. I reasoned that interviewing an employee who is the victim of sexual harassment by the boss should be done in a personal way, to confirm the seriousness with which the company treats the case and visually demonstrate the secrecy with which a case that normally brings such shame will be dealt with. After all, it will be just her and me in a private room, without computers or other connections, which would certainly bring you greater embarrassment.

Online connections are here to stay and I consider them very welcome, I believe that this is not the case of this or that method and that they should “fight each other” in search of the best approach over all the others. I believe that the fundamentals of our work, as well as all others and the very essence of our progress as human beings, lies in our ability to adapt and progress, in the face of the circumstances that are before us.

Best Regards!

André Costa de Almeida, OAB/SP: 314.283, cfi, pdpe, cpc-a, mba

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