How To Tell If Someone Is Lying In Email Or Online

Joshua Lockhart 25-04-2013

How To Tell If Someone Is Lying In Email Or Online Email LogoEmails and online correspondence are great mediums for liars. Namely, they don’t have to see the person that they are lying to. Body language doesn’t play a factor, and no one can notice the slight quiver in their voice. They can say whatever they want while appearing as confident as someone who is telling the truth.


In short, you don’t have to be a good liar to tell a convincing lie on the Internet.

However, there are a few ways to tell whether or not someone is telling a big, fat fib. Below are some of those ways to figure out whether or not someone is pulling the virtual wool over your eyes. Are the determining factors perfect? No. Neither are lie detector results. Nevertheless, they are a good start if you have a quick mind and generally know people fairly well.

Abnormal Changes In Syntax

How To Tell If Someone Is Lying In Email Or Online email

One signal that I have found to be a determining factor as to whether or not someone is lying in email or online is their syntax. Any sudden changes or awkward patterns that deviate from their norm may be a way for you to tell that they are in fact lying. It’s pretty simple, really.

The most obvious change in syntax Write More Good: 7 Free Online Tools To Ensure You Use Proper English Improper use of English is one of my pet peeves. I’m not a full-blown "grammar nazi" (a colloquialism for someone very strict with grammar) but it does irk me. An exception can be made for... Read More are shortened sentences. This typically follows normal, fluid email threads or conversations. Why? I’m no psychologist, but I’d assume that they are either thinking on their feet or do not want to waste any more time. Particular situations (based on my experience) may include owed money or scheduled meetings. On the contrary, a liar may spend a great deal of time crafting their web, concocting the perfect tale that takes up a great deal of page space to make it clear that they “aren’t lying” when they actually are.


Basically, take note of their sentence and response lengths. Any sudden changes could be a sign that you need to get out of that conversation fast.

Another qualifier is that of negation. Generally speaking, liars online and offline will flip their language around. “Exciting” becomes “not boring” and “happy” becomes “not sad”, so pay attention to this. It may get you out of some bad circumstances.

Varying Response Times During IM

How To Tell If Someone Is Lying In Email Or Online facebookseen1

As already mentioned, liars have the advantage of not having to physically speak to the person Have Better Social Conversations With Replies And More For Google+ [Chrome] I will say that Google+ has moved out of the shadows and is a viable social network for a lot of specific purposes. The Google+ experience is growing on me. That’s why I really liked... Read More that they are telling their tales to when chatting online. If your intuition tells you that a person is lying, pay attention to their response times. Fast, short replies that don’t answer many questions could mean that the individual is – again – thinking on their feet. Long, drawn-out response times could mean that they are trying to come up with the perfect response that answers all your questions.


This certainly ties into the abnormal changes in syntax, so in this case, use both notifiers in conjunction with each other.

You can also take advantage of the technology itself. Services like Facebook and devices like the iPhone show whenever a user has read a message and when they are responding. Take note of the timespan between when they’ve read a message and their response, and using features that show them physically typing, you can key in on their “speech” patterns. Does it appear as if they are stumbling over words, backspacing, rewriting, etc.? How does this compare to earlier conversations?

Status Updates Simply Don’t Line Up

How To Tell If Someone Is Lying In Email Or Online facebook1

This is one of the most common occurrences, and it’s happened to me more than once. If you’ve ever received a text from your friend that says, “I’m sorry, but I can’t make it because I’m sick”, and then you found a status update written at the same exact time about the fun they are having at the waterpark, you know exactly what I’m talking about. This just isn’t cool.


Likewise, you can get a bit more involved with this. Pay attention to pictures that they post days after saying they have a conflict. Furthermore, look at their multiple social media accounts! What they tell you on Facebook Clean Up Your Facebook Account Before You Go Looking For Work By now we’re all aware that it’s important to be professional online, that employers have the ability to do background checks based through our social media accounts. And also that many people, though they know... Read More may be totally different than what’s on their Twitter profile.


Calling a liar out is tough, but finding one out is even tougher. Using these tips, you may be able to make it happen, but don’t jump to conclusions. For instance, your friend who is sick may still Tweet about being able watch a movie with his girlfriend in the comfort of his own home (rather than go snowboarding with you). This is totally understandable. However, be wary at the same time.

Are these good tips for being able to tell if someone is lying in an email or online? What other tips do you have for us here at MakeUseOf?

Related topics: Email Tips, Online Etiquette.

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  1. Kalin
    September 30, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    Though these tips can be helpful, they shouldn't be considered rules. Ideally, you shouldn't even be entirely conscious of using them. Intuition, context sensitivity, familiarity, and common sense are all you really need. Details like these fall under one or more of those categories.

    People lie in person too. Whether in person or online, if someone makes a point of telling you how successful they are, they're probably either lying or an egotistical braggart you don't want to be around anyway. If they're evasive, there may be something they don't want you to know. If they contradict themselves on details about themselves and their life within a fairly short period of time, they may be lying or may have lied before. If they say they're "fine", they're either not fine at all or they don't want to be talking to you at the moment. Et cetera.

  2. Govertz J
    April 26, 2013 at 10:31 am

    English isn't my birth language, and I could easily construct sentences where I write not boring when I should have used exciting.
    When I'm chatting in english, it sometimes takes me forever to answer, because I have to think about every word I write.
    Those mistakes doesn't mean that I'm lying, they shows that I'm not that confident with the language.
    Before you judge some one a liar, you maybe should se if the nationality of that person is from an english speaking country.

  3. Alex Downs
    April 26, 2013 at 3:57 am

    My thoughts are regarding a liar using smaller shorter responses, because like in real life someone who is lying gives small brief deals; this way they have less to remember. Now mind you easy one can easily reread the old lies, but the issue is that it's still a matter then finding a more intricate lie to cover up the finer details express. Plus, one could simply chalk it up to the fact that brains are hardwired a certain way and the guise of the internet doesn't simply eliminated an entire way of thinking. People who are paranoid in real life are likely to be paranoid online for example. This was an informative article because I love discussing the art of lying and how to expose it.

  4. null
    April 26, 2013 at 2:44 am

    Renamed Article: How to Lose a Friend or Start a Needless Fight in 3+ Easy Steps

  5. Vivek Patel
    April 25, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    Obvious is a long gone thing nowadays.

  6. Gynosaur
    April 25, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    Here's a tip: Don't "Friend" your boss, clients or co-workers or create a separate facebook or twitter account for that purpose.

  7. Zhong J
    April 25, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    This form is popular in phishing scams, someone would write in a professional language and inform you on certain events that occurred and try to leak your information to them. However, if you can think why and who it is then you can determine pretty well if it's a legit person or not. Scammers are naive in the way they tried to persuade you into entering information that you already know cannot be send safely online and if you do your research, then you won't become its victim.

  8. null
    April 25, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    If your friend has to lie to you, maybe the problem is your strange jealous rages when he chooses his girlfriend over you?

  9. Humpster Sameasabove
    April 25, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    most people on the net lie,want to impress me find the ones that tell the truth lol

  10. dragonmouth
    April 25, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    Was this article necessary? So people lie online. Big, fat, hairy deal. Welcome to reality, bunky! Are you going to jump off a bridge because of it? If you're contemplating it, better seek professional help RFN and you definitely need to choose your online "friends" better.

  11. Scott M
    April 25, 2013 at 11:27 am

    I agree with Suze.While I don't instantly assume someone is feeding me information that is compromised in their favour I do keep in mind the idea that is a possibility and always watch for the self promotion and grandiose claims made by some.It is only good sense to remain wary.

  12. Suze
    April 25, 2013 at 10:29 am

    Q. How do you tell if someone is lying to you online?
    A. They are typing.

  13. macwitty
    April 25, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Well if the y say they are in a waterpark at the same time as they tell you that they are ill - then they must lie in one of the message. But you can't be sure it is in yours. Then we have to remember that people nowadays schedule postings.

  14. Kevin Williams
    April 25, 2013 at 7:22 am

    Trying to tell if someone is lying by email and social media is a really, really bad idea.

    I have dealt with a lot of people online for a very long time (since before there WAS a world wide web).

    People usually have completely different ways of communicating using email, chat, Facebook, and in person as well as when using the various types of user interfaces at their disposal. You cannot seriously even consider any comparison between them. And, that's with someone you know in person and talk to every day in real life. Someone you don't know in real life may have a whole host of reasons that they change the way they communicate at different times. To give you an example, I once had a girlfriend of 4 years who suddenly thought that something was VERY wrong with me because one day I made ONE typo while typing in text (after 4 years I suppose that was a tribute to how carefully I check before I hit enter to try to avoid that). But, we spoke every single day and usually spent the night at one or the other's residence together. So, if even she could misread it, then this kind of evaluation is a really, really bad idea.

    Also, I type MUCH faster than I can talk. People frequently tell me that I speak very, very fast (so fast that they often cannot understand me). This should make sense if you consider that I have spent the vast majority of my life typing, much more than I have spent talking. That said, if I switch back and fort between my tablet and my desktop in the middle of a conversation (which I am likely to do, since typing on a tablet is a HUGE PAIN, but carrying my desktop around is an even bigger pain), then you might think that I'm lying by the description that you give above.

    How about trying a different tack: Giving people the benefit of the doubt, don't try to look for lies at every turn (most people won't lie unless they feel like they need to do so -- with you, and only you, in most cases), and try to surround yourself with honest people. And, if they feel the need to be dishonest once in a while realize that it is themselves that they harm, not you, personally.

    It works like this with me: I don't lie because I don't have to, it's too much work and I'm just too darn lazy to keep up with it. If someone doesn't like what I have to say that's their problem. I honestly don't care and they know it. I tend to assume that anyone around me is the same way and I don't put them into situations that make them feel like they need to lie. For example, I don't lend money to my friends (I may GIVE them money if they need it on the condition that they give it to someone else who needs it when they recover but I never check), so they never need to lie to me about money.

    I have found that this method grants one a great deal more peace than trying to find ghosts and goblins where none reside.

  15. Dickless
    April 25, 2013 at 3:14 am

    Wow, amazing job... if someone says they are sick yet their online status says they are at a waterpark, that means they are lying? I would have NEVER thought of that.