WSJ: How to know if someone is lying to you via email

Look for inconsistencies, noncommittal statements

In-person interaction is slowly being replaced by texts and emails, mediums that lack the physical indications we generally use to determine truthfulness. In the Wall Street Journal this week, Elizabeth Bernstein shares expert tips for spotting a lie—even when the liar isn't physically present. 

When lying, practice makes perfect

According to Tyler Cohen Wood, the cyber branch chief at the Defense Intelligence Agency's Science and Technology Directorate, most people are bad at lying because the "majority of people prefer to tell the truth." So even when they're lying, "the truth is going to leak out," she says.

Cohen Wood—author of a new book called "Catching the Catfishers: Disarm the Online Pretenders, Predators and Perpetrators Who Are Out to Ruin Your Life"—offers some clues to look for in online communication when trying to catch someone in a lie:

  • Watch for "distant" language. When a person omits personal pronouns or their role in a story, he or she may be trying to distance the other person. For example, one may text a friend, "I had a great time last night, did you?" and the friend may reply "Last night was fun."

Being honest gets more difficult as the day wears on

  • Be wary of unanswered questions. The other person may change the subject to avoid committing to an answer or hurting the other person's feelings, or to hide a secret.

  • Pay attention to noncommittal and qualifying statements. People are more likely to use noncommittal statements—"maybe," "probably," or "pretty sure"—and qualifying statements—"to be honest" or "I hate to tell you this"—when they are lying.

  • Look for emphatic or repetitive language. When a person keeps repeating the same thing in different ways, he or she is trying to make you believe them (Bernstein, Wall Street Journal, 5/19).

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