A criminal prosecutor says this is the No. 1 sign you're talking to a phony

Catch me if you canParamount Movies/YouTubeLeonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale, Jr., a con artist, in ‘Catch Me If You Can.’

Sometimes you don’t know you’re dealing with a phony until the damage is done.

That’s why Wendy Patrick, deputy district attorney and team leader in the Sex Crimes and Human Trafficking Division for San Diego, and frequent contributor to CNN and FOX, wrote the book “Red Flags.

She wants to help people spot a phony — someone who is insincere or deceitful — before it’s too late.

“I read red flags for a living — around the clock,” she writes.

Over her 20 years of detecting and prosecuting criminals, Patrick told Business Insider she’s picked up on one telltale sign that you’re dealing with a phony: it’s called “counterintuition” — or “when the optics don’t match the topics.”

When someone speaks to you and their eyes, smile, and cadence all line up, then we tend to trust them on instinct, she says. But when someone speaks to you and their actions don’t match what they’re saying, you may get an uneasy feeling because your counterintuition is kicking in to alert you that this person might be a phony.

“Even with the most polished speakers, a verbal-visual mismatch triggers distrust,” she explains.

A common example, Patrick says, is when a beautiful, smiling newscaster is reporting the details of a horrible tragedy. Her words don’t match her demeanour, and it makes us uneasy. “It’s because instinctively we recognise that it doesn’t fit.”

One exception is polished manipulators, she warns, because they are sociopaths and don’t have a conscience — meaning they can easily cover up their true intentions. “They don’t have the kind of moral net that would enable them to behave according to societal norms,” she says.

But excluding chronic manipulators, Patrick says people can help protect themselves from phonies by making sure that their mannerisms match their message. “Trust your gut feeling when what they’re talking about doesn’t match their demeanour.”

NOW WATCH: ‘Shark Tank’ Investor Explains What Your Clothes Say About You

NOW WATCH: Ideas videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.