By Tayiba Ahmed
In this day and age, where it is easy to post things online while remaining anonymous, we face a lot of issues regarding anonymous messages being sent to people, fake online accounts, and people accused of defamation, liability, or slander. How interesting would it be to learn about how investigators deal with such cases? Fortunately for us, Dr. Tharwat El-Sakran, a professor in the Department of English at American University of Sharjah (AUS), recently became a certified fraud examiner (CFE), licensed by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) in the USA. Dr. El-Sakran will soon be teaching a course dealing with forensic linguistics.
Dr. Sakran’s journey to receiving this qualification is an interesting one. He developed an interest in the area after he found out about forensic accounting through his son. “One of my children was studying for a master’s degree in accounting, and he was doing a course in forensic accounting. He often came to me to ask for help, sometimes with language issues. While helping him, I, too, developed an interest in the field. I started reading and, to my surprise, I found that there is a new field within my specialty called forensic linguistics. So I started reading more about it,” he said.
The professor travelled to America in 2014 to take an extensive course in the subject, and upon his return, delivered the first course in forensic linguistics at AUS. To get further training in the area, Dr. Sakran also travelled to Aston University, one of the leading universities in forensic linguistics in the UK, while on a sabbatical last semester. Upon researching and reading more about the subject, Dr. Sakran came across information regarding fraud and certification. “I developed an interest in this area too, because there is a lot in common between the work of forensic linguist does and that done by a fraud examiner, in terms of suspicious things, suspicious texts, anonymous texts, and analyzing people’s language for example,” he explained.
When the professor found out about the US-based Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, he applied for the certification and received the study material. Dr. Sakran took about four months to prepare for the exam. However, it was not easy as the professor did not have much experience with finance and accounting, which the exam deals with. “Often, I sat at a computer for nine hours watching tutorials because I was determined to get the certification,” he said. His hard work and determination eventually paid off, as he received his certification last April.
Next semester, Dr. Sakran will be teaching forensic linguistics at AUS in a course entitled Seminar in English. According to him, forensic linguistics is very much required these days because technological advances have made it easier to communicate with each other without even being known. The course will be a great opportunity for students to learn about the issues related to fraud since they are so relevant to us. “It mainly focuses on analyzing people’s language. There is a strong belief in the field that each of us has a DNA even in terms of our language too. The belief is that we have some unintentional features in our language that can escape our attention while writing, even if we try to control them or change them on purpose. By comparing the previous writings of the suspect with what we call the questioned text – the one we are analyzing right now – examiners can decipher if the questioned text actually belongs to the suspect. We don’t actually prove that people are guilty or innocent, but we can give probability of how much the writer of the note is the suspect or not, based on the language features that we analyze,” he said.
According to Dr. Sakran, his certification allows him to help train police officers, cadets and security personnel. He said that it is important to understand that the language used when interrogating males might differ from the language used when interrogating females. Similarly, the language used to interrogate children should differ from the language used to interrogate adults.
Tayiba Ahmed is a student at American University of Sharjah.
Visit www.aus.edu for more information about American University of Sharjah.