The Bait Question in the Age of Computer Technology

Written By: Reid
Nov 01, 2013
The bait question is one of the oldest behavior provoking questions. It is a specialized question designed to introduce the possibility of incriminating evidence during an interview in an effort to entice the suspect to change an earlier response. Consider that a young girl was abducted and forced into a vehicle. After several hours the abductor released her on a country road several miles from town. The investigation leads to a suspect who is presently on probation for a similar abduction. Furthermore, the suspect's vehicle fits the general description of the vehicle described by the victim. During the course of the suspect's interview the investigator may ask the following bait question:

I: "Joe, we are in the process of dusting the inside of your car for fingerprints. Certainly we will find your prints as well as fingerprints from friends or relatives who have been in your car recently. Is there any reason we will find that young girl's fingerprints in your car? (Pause) I'm not saying that you abducted her or forced her in any way. Perhaps she asked you for a ride and, being a nice guy, you gave her a ride somewhere. That would explain why we would find her fingerprints inside your car."

J: "You know, she does look a little familiar but I don't remember giving her a ride." (Suspect sits back in the chair, dust's lint from his shirtsleeve and crosses his legs.)

Earlier during the interview the suspect was adamant that the victim was never in his vehicle. However, now that the investigator has introduced possible evidence that would contradict his earlier denial, his response indicates that he lacks confidence and is fearful. This is typical of the guilty suspect. Some guilty suspects will change their earlier position as a result of the bait question, e.g., "Now that you mention it, I did give her a ride in my car." Most, however, will offer a qualified denial or otherwise exhibit behavior symptoms indicating lack of confidence or uncertainty.

The innocent suspect, of course, is not at all worried about the evidence implicating him in a crime he did not commit. When the innocent suspect is asked a bait question he is likely to offer an emphatic and confident denial, e.g., "No you won't. She was never in my car!"

As this example illustrates there are four important parts to a bait question:

Commit the suspect to a denial within the area of the bait, i.e., that the victim was never inside the suspect's car.
The bait evidence has to be credible to the suspect. Through television and other media exposure all suspects are familiar with fingerprint evidence.

The evidence should be presented as a hypothetical question, e.g., "Is there any reason why...?" During an interview the investigator does not want to lie to the suspect and say, "We found her fingerprints inside your car."

If possible, the investigator should offer the suspect an innocent explanation for the evidence such as giving the victim a ride in the car. This is referred to as a "face-saver."

Computer and internet technology introduces many possible sources of evidence to use in a bait question. Thanks to television shows like CSI or NCIS, which frequently utilize computer evidence, the average suspect readily accepts the credibility of such evidence. The information provided by Edward Snowden alleging widespread abuse of internet surveillance by the NSA further establishes the credibility of this evidence in the suspect's mind. The following are examples of possible bait questions centered around computer technology:

Cell phone

"If we were to review the internal record of cell phone calls you (made or received) last Friday, is there any reason those records would show that you (called victim on the night of her death)? Maybe someone else called (victim) using your cell phone."

"Your cell phone carrier tracks which cell tower processed your call. If we were to review their records from last Saturday night, is there any reason they would show you using a tower in (the area of the crime)? Perhaps you were in the area even though you had nothing to do with committing this crime."

"Your cell phone records reflect not only who you called, but also the date and time of the call. Is there any reason those records would reflect a call to (person) at around 8:00 pm last Saturday night? Maybe he was on speed dial and you called him accidentally and immediately hung up."

"Most cell phones have an internal GPS which helps find the nearest cell tower. It also reveals the location of the cell phone. If we were to check your cell phone records for last Friday night is there any reason it would show that you were near the liquor store that was robbed? Perhaps you loaned your cell phone to someone who was in the area of the liquor store."

"When something like this happens people always pull out their cell phones and take photos or videos. We are in the process of reviewing some that have been submitted by people trying to help the investigation. We use face recognition software that can quickly scan faces to look for a match. Is there any reason we would see you in the crowd near where this bomb exploded? Just because you were there doesn't mean you had anything to do with this incident."

Laptop, PC

"A person's emails are stored permanently in a computer server. So even though an email is deleted, it can still be recovered from the server. When we check that server is there any reason it will show that you have sent or received emails from (victim)? Perhaps it was an error or you mis-clicked on a stored email."

"Even though a person clears their search history, it is still possible, through the search engine provider, to recover that information. Is there any reason those records would show that you have (searched or downloaded) information about (poisons, bomb making, etc.)? Perhaps you were doing research for a paper or heard something in the news and wanted to learn more about it."

"Just as everyone has unique handwriting that can be matched to a particular person, there are also unique aspects of key-stroking. These can be reconstructed and statistically analyzed to authenticate who entered information on a keyboard. If we were to have the password analyzed in this fashion, is there any reason those results would show that you were the person who entered the password? Maybe you entered the password, stepped away from your desk, and someone else actually sent the email."

"When you log on to the internet there is a record that your computer used a particular server located in a particular geographic area. If we were to check the locations of servers your computer used last Saturday, is there any reason those records would indicate your computer was in the (Maryland) area? Perhaps someone else used your computer to log on to the internet in Maryland."

Video Surveillance

"There are thousands of closed-circuit video surveillance cameras located in public places and private businesses in this city. We are in the process of reviewing a video located in the parking lot behind the apartment where this happened. Is there any reason it would show you entering that apartment complex last Saturday night? Maybe you went there to visit someone else or to ask directions."

"I'm sure you've seen cameras on stop lights at intersections. They are there to identify vehicles that run a red light. The videos are digital and low light so we can zoom in on a license plate, even at night, to identify the owner of the vehicle. We are looking at the red light video last Friday night of the intersection of Sunset and West Ave. Is there any reason we would identify your vehicle going through that intersection around 9:00 or so? I'm not saying you had anything to do with this robbery, maybe you were driving through that intersection for a completely different reason."

"I'm sure you're aware of the NSA, right? They have these surveillance satellites miles above the earth that can show small print in newspapers. The satellites are primarily used for military purposes but, because the NSA is funded through our tax dollars, they also use the satellites for domestic purposes such as tracking forest fires, flooding and bad traffic accidents. There was a pretty bad accident last Friday at 3:00 pm on I-94 and we are getting the satellite images from the accident area. You told me earlier that you were staying at a Holiday Inn right off of 94 and that you were in your room at 3:00 pm that afternoon. From that video we will be able to see the cars in the Holiday Inn parking lot. Is there any reason we would not find your car in the lot? Maybe you left the hotel for a short period of time to pick up a late lunch or get a coffee."

Database Records

"All rental car agencies are computerized and there are databases that store rental information, including driver's license information and photographs. If we were to check those database files would any of them show that a car was rented from LAX airport last Saturday evening using your driver's license? Maybe someone rented the car using your driver's license."

"Especially since 9/11, airline companies keep careful flight records of who books a flight, passenger information, frequent flier numbers and all sorts of other information. If we were to check airline records, would we find that you have scheduled a flight out of the United States in the near future? Perhaps you have been planning a vacation to some foreign country for a long time."

"Even independent Ma and Pa hotels use computers when they make reservations. Those computers leave an electronic record that can be traced. If we were to check hotel records in the Las Vegas area for the night of March 15th 2013, would any of them indicate that you stayed there that night? Perhaps you were in Las Vegas gambling or seeing a show last March and had nothing to do with (crime)."

"With a person's social security number and other basic information, it is very easy to access financial information. If we were to check your financial records, is there any reason we would find that you made large (withdrawals, deposits) around this time? Perhaps someone owed you a large sum of money and finally paid you back."

"All credit card companies are under Federal regulation and must maintain certain records. With the right background information we can pull up anyone's credit card information - what their current balance is, what purchases they made, when and where they made those purchases. If we were to look over your credit card information is there any reason it would show that you made purchases in the Madison area last July 18th? I'm not suggesting that you were involved in this crime. Maybe you were in Madison for some other reason entirely."

A guilty suspect will not exhibit symptoms of uncertainty and anxiety when responding to a bait question unless the suspect is truly concerned that the evidence may implicate them in the crime he committed. Even the least educated criminal suspect understands how computerized our society is. This fundamental knowledge (accurate or not) suggests a number of possible credible bait questions centered involving computer technology. As illustrated, when asking a bait question the investigator should spend time developing the credibility that the evidence could exist and offer an innocent face-saving excuse for the evidence. Only about 20% of guilty suspects change their earlier position when responding to the bait question - the investigator should not expect the guilty suspect to make an admission. Rather, the bait question is asked to identify behavior symptoms of guilt or innocence.
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