Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Thursday 14/08/2003Finance and insurance company HBOS has announced it's going to be fitting lie detectors to its phones, in order to help detect fraud. What an interesting idea, given that voice-operated lie detectors have such an abysmal reliability record, but the company's keen -- if the detectors flash their lights, then the operator switches over to a new script designed to examine claims far more closely for fraudulent intent.

Thursday 14/08/2003
Finance and insurance company HBOS has announced it's going to be fitting lie detectors to its phones, in order to help detect fraud. What an interesting idea, given that voice-operated lie detectors have such an abysmal reliability record, but the company's keen -- if the detectors flash their lights, then the operator switches over to a new script designed to examine claims far more closely for fraudulent intent.

When it comes to voice-stress analysers -- as these things are known -- what people say is not always what they mean. The courts don't accept VSA evidence, but nonetheless law enforcement officers are keen on them: when a suspect is confronted with a machine that says "you're lying," it can often break down their defences and make them change their story. While it's undoubtedly true that people do reflect their mental state in the tone of their voice, it's also true that any confrontation with authority is going to be stressful -- so what does the test show?

I've also found phoning insurance companies to be very stressful: it's something you do when something nasty has just happened, you're worried that there's some reason they'll find to deny your claim -- or even that you'll be thought a fraudster. The idea that there may now be a faulty robot mindreader hooked up to the system will calm my nerves not a jot -- who wants to go through that, especially after some personal trauma?

And here, I suspect, lies the real reason for HBOS' decision: deterrence. Doubtless some of those planning fraud will be deterred from phoning up, which is of course a good thing: doubtless others who are just scared of falling foul of the porky machines will be too nervous to risk making a justified claim. Fewer claims makes for a happier insurance company -- shame about the customers.