FraudJournal Blog

April 13, 2013

What Makes a Fraud Investigator a Professional – Experience or Education

Fraud Fighters Become Cool!

As the economy continues to sequester most of us, fraudsters seem to be engaged in an all out frenzy of activity. Today you can’t seem to get away from reports of economic losses caused by embezzlers, identity thieves and scams on the vulnerable. This has resulted in a public outcry of “not on my watch.” And the response is government agencies, such as the IRS and FBI, are hiring people proficient in IT and financial fraud. Companies now search for individuals trained in fraud-risk-compliance. So who are the next wave of fraud professionals? Where are they coming from? And, how does this effect those of us already in the trenches?

First, the next wave are a mixed set of young professionals and re-established professionals. Many are students who have been drawn in by television shows such as CSI, NCIS, Bones and the numerous real-life drama shows on forensics and assorted documentaries. Others are established professionals that are either looking forward to making a career change, enhancing their current position or putting out a shingle as self-employed. What was once a profession of unknown behind the scene investigators has become the “now” profession. I am often asked about fraud fighting and how to get into the field. Most of my answers tend to result in raised eyebrows or dropped heads of frustration once they learn that the road requires not just a degree, but years of work and life experience and a high level of intuition and common sense. It’s not glamorous and a win every time. There are no hero medals and it’s tedious and requires high attention to detail. Something which I find many young professional are frustrated with in the beginning.  If you Google what it takes to be an expert, you find it takes close to 10,000 hours of practice or work experience for anyone to become considered an expert in their field of choice.

Second, quite a few colleges challenge this by advertising they can get you there with a degree in forensic accounting, criminology or fraud expertise. Many students are now able to earn their business or accounting degree with an emphasis in fraud. Some earn a certificate or added credential/degree in fighting fraud. I endorse educating the masses on how to thwart the creativity of thieves but it does not replace experience.

Learning the theory of detecting, deterring and defending against fraud provides a good base from which to launch the beginning of a career through internships and mentored case work. Expertise allows one to think outside of the box because experience has repeatedly engrained their understanding to a level that is second nature while maintaining their ethics to work within the required rules and regulations. And with time and diversity of experience, either across the board or in a specific arena of understanding, there remains the levels of novice, advanced, master and expert.

I Have a Point – Honest…

Here is my point; fraud work is a field that requires not just classroom education but repeated experience, careful mentoring and the passion to roll up ones sleeves, get into the dirt of the devil’s activity and all the while remain clinical. It is about making a difference while serving the public.  As individuals seek out the next trend in careers, they look for what brings income while raising peer acceptance. Young professionals seek out the career goals that take them forward in both income and position. And those that are stymied by hiring freezes and worse sudden income loss seek out ways to reinvent or augment the current situation. This means that there are many more people focusing on the world of fraud fighting but lack the necessary level of skills. This concerns me.

This is not about being competitive. It is about the safety of the public including those impassioned to enter the field of fraud fighting. There is a high level of liability that fraud work brings. Technology growth is constantly challenging our knowledge base not to mention the ever-growing level of global connection. The subtleties of culture, ethics and business models come with job maturity and work diversity. Knowing when someone is being polite by not looking you in the eye verses being nervous and avoiding eye contact can change the way investigative interviews are conducted. One must also consider the sequestering  of public agencies and enforcement officers resulting in the near stuttering to a stop of processing growing crimes.

Grassroots Solution?

I would like to challenge state and local government agencies to consider establishing internships for professionals (with proper vetting of course), to handle the back load of financial crime work. I would like to see a community grassroots approach of the educational system with the work programs that allow work experience that offsets educational costs, which would provide serious young professionals the opportunity to gain real-life lessons-learned experience. By establishing a contractual agreement of a time period for and vetting, we could put many individuals into the field with both mature and novice experience together. Establishing a certification program that also requires work experience for credentials and a mentoring process that signs off on professional understanding will provide both work, education and strongly enforced ethical standards for work ethics and case work. It takes the overwhelming level of paperwork and case load to a more manageable level and helps ensure that new professionals are properly trained and given the diversity of case experience.

What are your thoughts? How would you provide a means to education coupled with mentoring and job opportunities while maintaining the high level of expected ethical standards? Sound off!




  1. Incredible story there. What occurred after? Thanks!

    Comment by thecommoditycodehq.Com — April 15, 2013 @ 5:21 PM | Reply

    • Hello Vickie – If you are referring to whether any grass-roots programs have begun, yes they are in process. These programs are the result of the combined efforts of law enforcement, local legal entities and local colleges and professional organizations. It is a great beginning and I look forward to reporting success soon. There are already some reports of a couple of smaller counties in South Dakota and Nebraska that have been using this type of program for about a year with good success.

      Comment by fraudjournal — April 15, 2013 @ 5:29 PM | Reply

  2. I am obviously in the novice category and love the idea of mentoring programs. I have loved all the people I have connected with and all I have continued to learn since completing my fraud certificate, but that doesn’t really touch the real life work.

    Comment by Samantha — April 15, 2013 @ 9:54 PM | Reply

    • Samantha, you are correct. Real life experience in fraud investigation does not match text book theories, scenarios and occasional behind the scene assistance. Real experience comes from the roll-up-your-sleeves work. The recent sequestering within government and private companies has brought most opportunities to a near stand-still. However, there remains those of us still pushing for opportunities to hire individuals seriously looking for an opportunity to gain some real life experience detecting, deterring and defending against fraud. Don’t give up. Opportunity knocks when you decide to take a break and eat popcorn. Carol

      Comment by fraudjournal — April 18, 2013 @ 8:57 PM | Reply

      • Thank you Carol. I won’t give up. 🙂 I keep learning and I keep myself available. Thanks as always for your support, Sam

        Comment by Samantha — April 26, 2013 @ 5:30 PM

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