How to Detect Lies in Text Messages

Texting is so convenient that, according to a Vermont State Highway Safety Office (SHSO) report, more than 80% of Americans send text messages on a regular basis, collectively sending over 6 billion texts per day! But texting also makes lying easier for deceitful individuals and harder to detect for people who are being lied to.

Detecting lies in text messages involves careful observation of the content and reading between the lines. Being vague or giving too many explanations are common telltale signs of deceitful texts. The same is true for SMS messages that dodge the topic or first-person pronouns. Some lying text senders deliberately say that they are not lying at all.

Without the involvement of body language like eye movements and hand gestures as well as the voice, it can be hard to tell apart text messages that are telling the truth and text messages that are trying to deceive you. But the good news is that there are certain clues that you can look for when you are having doubts about the honesty of a texter.

So, before your smartphone notifies you of another SMS, read on. Below, I will talk about some of the things to look for in text messages to determine whether the senders are being honest or being devious.

They also apply to emails and chat and instant messaging, too.

detecting lie via text messages

11 Things People Do When Lying in Text Messages

1. Take Longer to Respond Than Usual

According to a study conducted by Brigham Young University, text responses that are filled with lies take 10% longer to create than those that contain nothing but truths. Other than the fact that it can take a while to compose deceptive messages, liars also tend to edit their messages more.

So, in other words, if the person you are communicating with via SMS is taking a longer time to respond than usual, there is a possibility that he or she is in the process of concocting a believable lie.

This becomes more obvious if your messaging app features ellipses.

Seeing those ellipses for a long time could mean that the person on the other end of the platform is busy typing and retyping his or her deceitful message in order to make sure that it’s going to look convincing. Given that liars tend to give overelaborate responses, which we will discuss in a few, taking time to reply can be a red flag.

It doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that someone who fails to respond to your text message ASAP is lying. Maybe he or she is busy with something else other than creating a lie.

2. Give Overelaborate Explanations

There are many different reasons why people lie. They range anywhere from exercising power over others, avoiding embarrassment, maintaining one’s privacy, avoiding an awkward situation, obtaining admiration or a reward to protecting the feelings of others or deliberately hurting others emotionally.

No matter the purpose of lying, one thing stays true. And it’s none other than all liars want to be convincing.

Here’s a lie that some liars tend to believe without any doubt: the more detailed the lie, the more believable and compelling it sounds. However, it can result in the exact opposite. This is especially true if the individual is not particularly known to send long and descriptive text messages in the first place.

One of the things liars do to sound convincing at the expense of sending long and often overelaborate replies is that they embellish insignificant details in order to make sure that the SMS message’s unsuspecting recipient will focus on those things rather than important ones, which liars will try to dodge at all costs.

If you sent a question with less than 10 words and the recipient replied with a 10-sentence paragraph, you have every right to be suspicious — even if you were not suspecting anything when you asked the question via text.

3. Exhibit Unusual Vagueness

While deceptive people tend to send mile-long SMS messages, other liars have a penchant for sending very few details. Perhaps it’s because they swear by the adage less talk, less mistake. Or maybe they have yet to come up with the perfect lie, and a vague answer via text messaging, they believe, would suffice for now.

vague text message

Mark Twain once said that if you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.

He could never be more correct — according to a dissertation submitted to the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), lying is a more cognitively effortful undertaking than telling the truth. Not only because it entails suppressing the truth but also involves coming up with a lie and telling that lie in a believable manner.

Telling the truth based on a fact does not require any fabrication of made-up information. On the other hand, stating a lie requires you to remember the falsehood as well as to whom you tell it.

In order to avoid devoting effort to planning and executing a lie, some liars resort to vagueness.

Being vague, no matter via text messaging or any other communication avenue, is actually smart: it can save them from having to pile lies on top of each other as well as let them off the hook easily if worse comes to worst.

4. Dodge the Topic

Just because some people lie doesn’t mean they enjoy doing it. As mentioned above, being deceitful involves additional cognitive load — it can be stressful not only mentally but also physically.

It’s for this reason why a polygraph is useful when it comes to detecting deception. The machine used comes integrated with sensors that monitor all sorts of physiological processes, from blood pressure, respiratory rate to sweating. Any significant changes in them can be associated with stress as a result of being deceptive.

Changing the topic is common among liars who wish to steer clear of the stress caused by lying.

In some instances, they switch it up deliberately. When asked about last night’s whereabouts through text, for instance, a liar who’s doing his or her best to avoid lying would probably reply something like, “OMG, speaking about last night, my cousin called at 11 pm yesterday and invited us to attend her wedding next month!”

There are times, too, when they will answer a question with another question, usually after giving a brief answer — “I just dropped by a bar last night. Have you already tried this cocktail called Red Seal of Shimoda?”

5. Attempt to Dodge the Conversation

Sometimes, it’s not just an SMS question that a liar will attempt to dodge but the entire text conversation itself. And this is worse than evading the topic because it’s you that he or she wants to avoid.

BRB — nothing should make you more suspicious than getting this reply after asking a pressing question.

upset reading text

Ending the conversation through text messaging abruptly is the digital version of refusing to make eye contact with you. And it’s no secret that some liars, including especially those who feel uncomfortable doing the deed, avoid looking people in the eye for fear that those so-called windows to the soul will give them away.

When a deceptive person removes himself or herself from the conversation, chances are that he or she wants to give you the space or time to change the topic or forget about the matter.

There are instances, too, where the individual will want some distance in order to avoid liability.

In any case, it’s possible that you will not get the answer you want from someone who doesn’t want to discuss it, which is why it’s a good idea for you to consider searching for the truth in any other way.

6. Steer Clear of First-Person Pronouns

Telling the truth makes us feel better. It also allows us to earn the trust and respect of others. And this is why it’s not uncommon for truth-tellers to subtly declare ownership of the truthful statement.

On the other hand, liars will usually try their best to remove any association they have with a lie.

And it’s exactly because of this why the lack of first-person pronouns, such as “I” and “myself” in a text message may suggest that the individual you are exchanging SMS with could be stating untruths. Instead of saying “I took my dog to the vet,” someone who is hiding something might instead go “the dog was taken to the vet.”

Besides using very little to no first-person pronouns, a report by the American Psychological Association (APA) said that, according to the experiment of a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, liars also tend to use more negative words (sad, hate, worthless, etc.) and fewer exclusionary words (but, except, nor, etc.).

So, if the text message is written from a third-person point of view, it’s possible that you are being lied to.

7. Become Non-Committal

For most people, lying can be extremely uncomfortable. That’s because not only might the truth come out in the open sooner or later but also cause them to lose the faith and trust of those that they lie to.

To keep accountability to a minimum, some deceptive individuals avoid fully committing to their lies.

This is when the use of non-committal words or phrases steps into the scene, especially in text messages. In some instances, the likes of “I guess”, “possibly”, “likely” or “might have” could indicate that dishonest people are attempting to distance themselves from the fibs sent via SMS.

In case the truth got revealed, they could easily say they’re not so sure about what they said in the first place, thus saving them from experiencing the full repercussions of being deceptive.

Still, it’s important to consider the fact that it’s possible for the person on the other end of the messaging app to be really not 100% certain about things, which is why it seems like he or she is not committing to such a story.

8. Claim to be Honest Excessively

Liars will do just about anything and everything possible to convince the people they are texting that they are telling nothing but the truth. So much so that, in some instances, deceptive individuals desperate for some trust and good faith will let you know that they are being honest and that you should take their word for it.

defensive texting

According to a Simply Psychology article, phrases such as “I want to be honest with you” or “here’s the truth” can be telltale signs that the liar is doing his or her best to sound compelling.

Especially if you are not accusing the person of lying, be wary if you receive a text containing such.

It’s also not unlikely for individuals who lie to tell others that it’s never their habit to lie or they were raised by their parents to be truthful at all times. But as a general rule of thumb, if someone is overemphasizing his or her trustworthiness in text messages or elsewhere, chances are that the person is not one to be trusted.

9. Resort to Defensiveness

Whether you give hints or blatantly say that you don’t believe what a liar is saying, expect that the individual will suddenly turn into defensive mode. Nothing can make someone deceitful unhappier or angrier more than his or her lie not being bought despite spending a lot of time and energy to make it sound convincing.

Keep in mind that the stress of a liar is high, which is what a lie detector machine monitors exactly in order for it to work as an accurate and reliable, though not completely foolproof, truth-telling instrument.

And when doubted, the person becomes even more stressed, at times winding up irate and defensive.

It isn’t surprising because, according to a 2022 article by Verywell Mind, defensiveness is commonly elicited when a person feels hurt, ashamed, guilty, helpless or attacked, all of which a liar may feel when not trusted and believed.

So, if a little innocent question elicits a furious SMS reply, be wary!

10. Leave Loopholes Everywhere

Research says that most people have a hard time telling whether or not a person is lying either through text messages or by means of other modes of communication not because the lie is told flawlessly. Rather, it can be blamed on the fact that they tend to miss mistakes in the fibs that deceptive people say.

Yes, liars make mistakes — they are bound to, especially when telling one lie after the other.

Looking for inconsistencies is an effective way to determine if the sender of the SMS message is lying. It’s not uncommon for a liar to give details that seem to be constantly changing or events whose sequence appears to shift.

One more thing to look for when attempting to expose a liar is tense hopping. Since the individual is preoccupied with coming up with a completely or partially made-up story, his or her tenses tend to be all over the place. Things that happened in the past sound like they’re happening in the present and vice versa.

11. Try to Suck Up After Answering

In an attempt to prevent people from asking more questions and digging deeper, some deceptive individuals will immediately follow a lie with some sweet talking.

Whether the compliment given is an obvious truth or just another lie, the goal of liars is to make you feel nice and happy, thus leaving you with no choice but to do what they want, which is for you to stop being nosy. Sucking up is also an attempt of them to keep the ramifications to a minimum should the lie be exposed.

After replying to an alleged fact and then the person suddenly states the fact that he or she misses you or you have the most beautiful eyes on the planet, be very suspicious — especially if it’s rare for him to sweet talk.

But there are instances, too, when liars become extra sweet and kind not to keep the persons they have lied to stop pestering them but to make up for the guilt and shame they are feeling inside for being deceptive. Owning up to the lie, what they don’t realize, is often the best way to enjoy liberation.

Just Before You Analyze Whether or Not a Text is Truthful

Eye movements, facial expressions, hand gestures, posture — these are non-verbal communication cues that people observe when trying to determine whether or not they are being lied to.

Another thing that we rely on when identifying deception is the sound of the voice. As a matter of fact, according to a report by Forbes, scientists have discovered an in-built mechanism the brain uses in recognizing a certain sound signature associated with veracity, and we pick it up automatically with or without our knowledge.

It’s not that easy for a lot of people to tell if the person before them is truthful or deceitful.

Things can get complicated if the communication is done through SMS sending. While it can be so much harder to detect dishonesties in text messages, it’s not at all that impossible. By considering the tips and tricks shared above and considering the sender’s characteristics and behaviors, you can turn your smartphone into some sort of a lie detector machine.

Disclaimer: The content is intended for informational purposes only and does not contain advice on criminal and investigative questions and inquiries. If you need professional help, please check with your state authorities.

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