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!

 

March 23, 2013

“What’s your fraud IQ” (Journal of Accountancy) Mar1.2013


The recent news articles and discussions regarding the over testing or improper testing of students to measure their progress in the basics brought to mind how much education each of us as fraud fighting professionals maintain to continue our professional certifications; those lovely alphabet letters that follow our name. As a fraud fighter, I tend to feel that these letters mean little without the experience and ability to apply said education to my professional work. I could have lots of alphabet soup after my name, but without the ability to apply this knowledge to each case and think outside of the testing box, I have just become adept at passing tests. Which brings me to my point, and I do have one, once we take the path to become credentialed, how do we know we are or have maintained our ‘fraud IQ’?

The ongoing issues regarding the students’ continual testing and preparation for the testing are important; “when does an education become a required process instead an education of how to apply knowledge?”  And so I ask myself, am I honestly building my skill sets or am I just meeting my requirements to maintain my CPE credentials. If tested, would the result be a true measurement of my abilities or instead my ability to accurately recall information. Can you accurately measure an individual’s ability to apply information by the methods of current testing?

I think the article of “Whats your fraud IQ” posted in the Journal of Accountancy dated March 1, 2013 is an interesting way to find out how you test. How would you approach these questions? How would you redesign this test? How much do you really remember? Should CFEs test like Auditor’s – in case work scenarios? What to do you think? Talk amongst yourselves.

 

March 12, 2013

Should Forensic Accountants Be Considered Private Investigators?


I must say it is nice to see Forensic Accountants become acknowledged by the general public as a potential solution to detecting, defending and even more importantly deferring, as much as possible, fraudulent behavior in the workplace and home. Even shows such as NCIS have given a nod, however slightly, to Forensic Accountants (often noted as FA). Most Certified Fraud Examiners (CFE) have some working knowledge of accounting and this has become more emphasized in our annual training. And many private investigators have to review financial information in order to follow through with their engagements with clients. Which brings me to my question for the general fraud community, should Forensic Accountants become Private Investigators and licensed within their state as is required by some states.

While most states have specific regulations that professionals who “investigate” as a profession must be registered and licensed as private investigators, FAs and CFEs for the most part have not been included in this group. Recently, private investigators have raised their voices to urge any and all individuals that claim to or state they investigate be required to follow state law and become licensed as a private investigator.

I agree that investigative work requires knowledge of state laws and regulations to keep both investigator and the general public safe from unqualified professionals looking to merely increase revenue and try out new trends of services. CFEs are required by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) to maintain training and must pass a 4-part exam and submit recommendations prior to being allowed to take the exam. This includes: Investigation, Financial Transactions, Criminology, Law.

Having said this, many CPAs have become FAs in order to build a more diversified portfolio of services such as fraud prevention, fraud risk consultations and forensic accounting. I do have concerns with CPAs who provide forensic accounting services that are not CFEs. Not because they are educationally lacking in work financial knowledge or work experience, but there are legal ramifications to consider when performing investigative accounting. The rights of both sides of the case, claimant and defendant, have legal rights of process and must be acknowledged according to the rules and regulations of the law.

And so I ask, “Should Forensic Accountants and Certified Fraud Examiners be considered Private Investigators”, and if so, “Should Private Investigators be required to be certified in bookkeeping or accounting 101 before handling financial case work”? There is the opportunity to collaborate in wonderful ways, but do we think this will be the end result or is this a turf war? The question has some merit. What do you think?

 

October 10, 2011

Calling All Detectives…Elder Exploitation Really is a Crime


First, I want it on the record that this posting is about one or two individuals who felt elder exploitation was not a crime, but rather a family matter. Whether or not they thought about their response in detail it still makes one wonder just the same; what are you thinking?

I have been assisting from time to time on a particular elder financial exploitation case, where the children are exploiting their mother. And here is the kicker. We are having trouble getting the detective to accept the case because this is a family matter and law enforcement are about catching and putting the bad guys in jail; not resolving family matters. This individual was sure elder exploitation was a crime to prosecute. The prosecuting attorney who is willing to take the case, can only wait until a detective processes the case and forwards the case for prosecution. And now once again, another elder exploitation case is pending. Pending a detective to accept the case and apply the necessary due diligence to present the case to the prosecuting attorney.

Now in defense of law enforcement, their fraud case backlog is huge. And I really do mean its a big problem. The people needed to process the cases, with the right skill sets, are few and far between. Funding is next to nothing, all cases are prioritized for the level of community threat, and frankly, elder exploitation is not sexy. Unless there appears to be a possible hastened death situation, their priority is child abuse, murder, rape and the war-on-drugs.

Having said this, let me explain some items that you might not know. First, before any case can get to court, it must first receive a case number from the police department that has jurisdiction in the case. This how it gets tracked, noted, filed and if necessary transferred to the proper jurisdictions. No case number, no detective to process, no litigation.  But I digress, the issue is that the detective felt there isn’t  new laws that make it a crime to exploit an elderly person. It was a family matter to be litigated privately. This individual was also surprised to find out that in WA, there recent changes to state law which gives law enforcement and attorneys the ability to better prosecute for elder exploitation and abuse. This means even if there is not, law enforcement are now able to check in on a vulnerable adult and if necessary, take steps to insure their safety from potential harm whether financial or physical.

The recent set of economic setbacks to all local, county and state agencies has greatly reduced the number of qualified staff able to work the high case load. I understand why the fraud case loads are continuing to back up and that they are as frustrated as the rest of us that there is not enough time in a day to process these cases. I and my fellow fraud fighters understand that public servants need to keep the rapists, murderers and drugs off the streets, but I am concerned that I continue to hear from my colleagues this type of response from veteran detectives/law enforcement officers. Really? This is really how you feel?

I am willing to consider that these few individuals were not thinking clearly; that maybe that cup of coffee was not fully loaded with enough caffeine to engage critical thinking. But this response tends to come from older and more experienced law enforcement personnel, and this concerns me. Why? Because they the men and women that the younger professionals are watching and learning from as they strive for excellence to become viable law enforcement professionals.

As the “Boomer” generation continues to age, their level of vulnerability is going to grow exponentially. This means that they are prey for healthcare fraud, ID theft and of course, abuse and exploitation from friends and family.And they are going to need all of our help.

So my challenge to all of you who continue in the fight against fraud and abuse… please help our law enforcement officers & detectives to believe that elder abuse and exploitation is really a crime worth punishing. That the next vulnerable adult they investigate may be the relative of a friend or neighbor; that they just  might save someone from loosing their home and quite possibly their life.

Thank you for listening.

August 22, 2011

Is Ethics Hard-wired or Learned


I was reading a posting in LinkedIn by Fernando A., in the ACFE group, titled “Pants on Fire! Children and Lying“. The link led to a site called delanceyplace.com 8/18/11 – children and lying. The article a study into the frequency of children telling lies and whether this was indicative of a future problem. It seems that children who lie well are cognitively more advanced and are able to hide their tracks better. They tend to grow up and be more capable of dealing with complex situations, such as employment that requires quick problem solving or outside of the box thinking. The article suggested they might become bankers; I wondered about other financial positions that have recently been in the headlines for manipulation of funds and factual information.Then I thought about the recent trends in education for forensic accounting and fraud investigation. And what about learning to understand the federal tax code and recent gloable accounting issues.

Today’s generation is faced with making choices for more than which college to attend or job for a career. They have become a self-monitored social network of information and ideas. They want their lives to have impact, their efforts to matter, and their path to move at the rate that technology limits them. And I ask myself, what were they like as children? How did they interpret whether to help each other to obtain the advancement they rationalized as necessary to reach either their own goals or their family’s goals. I mention family because so many children now have been pushed through the process of high grades for college and then a better future. Does all of this push to succeed on a fast track impact their view of ethical standards?

Last week I was talking with a college professor who teaches at North Seattle Community College. They have created a new Certificate of Fraud to help students prepare for a career in fraud fighting. One of the topics discussed was about how students’ views of ethical behavior is changing nationwide. Does this generation of students feel differently about sharing information and taking risks that a previous generation might see more black and white. And if so, will that impact how they investigate fraud?

I don’t have an answer, but it poses the question of whether the “perceived need” to commit a fraudulent act will need to be redefined into less black and white and into more levels of grey. I hope not, but as those of us currently in the trenches age, and others come into the roles of leadership, what do they interpret ethical behavior to mean.

So now I am back to whether or not ethics is hard-wired or learned at an early age and how does that affect the fight against fraud. Employers are already being challenged by young professionals on what they expect as employees. Perhaps this generation of young professionals will need to show the veteran fraud fighters what they see as the solutions to a potential fraud wave looming in the future. Elder abuse and exploitation, cyber crime, and white-collar crimes will continue to rise as there is a shift in which population is taking the lead.

My vote is on this upcoming generation of professionals to take everything to the next level with technology and all its trappings. And I still ask, what were they like as children? Were they good liars too?

April 11, 2011

Fighting Fraud By Connecting and Detecting Globally


As the world gets smaller from people traveling more, gaining greater access to information via the internet, movies, television and cellphones, we seem to be sharing at a rate that astounds and thrills the number crunchers. We now share everything from secrets to solutions, inventions to investigations, and things that shouldn’t be mentioned let alone take place. This includes new ways and means to commit fraud including establishing complex webs that challenge the best of us in fraud investigation, as well as ways to counterfeit almost every product manufactured. But as fraud fighters, we are learning how to use that to our advantage. As much as the internet causes us to throw our hands up in the air in frustration we also have shouted loudly with joy when a fraudster unwittingly leaves a trail for us to follow. And we thank them for that.

The best way each of us can reduce the risk of fraud is become educated, connect with each other and work together as transparently as possible. The more we leave the old ways of hoarding our tips and tricks, the stronger we become in unity. By now, most cities, counties and states as well as federal agencies are beginning to understand this and the old network of closed doors is opening up to free-share ideas and solutions. But even better than this is that a new level of young professionals have grabbed onto the possibilities and are both teaching and putting into place ways to be more efficient and effective in the fight against fraud. I applaud all of you who work to share your concerns and network to find solutions. In my effort to continue sharing, I have listed below some sites I have come across recently for you to review and share with each other. I by no means participate in them, or receive any benefit from them. Nor do I present them as the perfect find, but I do find the information to be interesting and provide some ideas to pursue for further consideration and self-education. Keep up the good fight and continue to stay true to your morals and ethics as we all continue to be challenged in life as times become more difficult and trying of faith and patience.

http://blogs.gartner.com/avivah-litan/2010/12/15/2011-threats-and-trends/

http://threatmetrix.com/threatmetrix-announces-fraud-prevention-trends-for-2011/

http://news.hostexploit.com/cybercrime-news/4794-changing-internet-fraud-trends-highlighted-in-ic3-2010-report.html

http://www.publishingtrends.com/2011/04/bloggers-weigh-in-on-the-kindle-swindle-and-new-fraud/

http://www.nlets.org/press/internet-crime-trends-the-latest-report

November 8, 2010

Fraud Victims – When Do They Get Their Day In Court?


I have recently received several responses from victims of fraud asking what it takes to get their cases heard in court. Their plea for help is painful to hear and all of us that investigate and work fraud cases understand that this is not  a small problem, that it is part of a bigger picture. So how do we answer these cries for justice when the there are so many obstacles to overcome?  Let’s talk about the obstacles in getting cases to court.

THE MANY FACES OF FRAUD

Fraud comes in as many forms and is committed by as types of perpetrators as you can imagine. Unless the perpetrators are strung-out drug addicts, they look just like you and me. They are our neighbors, friends, family members and business partners as well as con-artists out looking for a ‘mark’ or victim. They are rarely like the characters pictured in CSI, NCIS and other crime shows. And the timing from start of a case to asking the questions, getting the information and forensic reports back, getting the proper warrants and subpoena’s to get the fraudsters booked takes place is in not hours or days, but months of hard work and focus. Many investigators go out of their way to help fraud victims, but these are not the stories we hear about. This is especially true in elder abuse and exploitation cases, and crimes against children.

WHY DO THEY SAY THEY CAN’T HELP ME?

First, the levels of creativity and focus by fraudsters is undeniably surprising. Most of us that are in the trenches regularly mumble to ourselves that if fraudsters could focus their attention and creative problem solving skills towards the problems of humanity, we may just solve some serious world problems. But they don’t and have all day and lots of connections to find latest, greatest and often complex methods to get ahead of the rest of us. This means the battle to catch and try them involves constant learning, adapting current skill sets and gaining access to new technology. Ask any government office which version of software or hardware they are using and they hang their head and sigh.

The economy has not helped this situation at all. Most law enforcement departments are being hit with increased demands to process fraud cases, but are trying work them without an increase in manpower. I have heard some detectives have an ongoing case load of 15 cases on their desk at one time, and it’s growing. I recently spoke at a conference for law enforcement training about forensic accounting to give them the necessary steps to get ahead of the curve and understand the information they have to process in order to properly document and forward their cases to prosecution. It’s a start, but it’s costly and what ever money that is left over in the budgets is being funneled to keep the lights turned on.

That does not mean they are totally in the dark either. Most government agencies, offices and law enforcement personnel have begun to team up to go after fraudsters. The days of jurisdiction issues is coming to a close. Technology is allowing quick and efficient means of shared information. But it is starting in the areas of better funding and this means not all law agencies are going to be at the same level of technology and manpower. This also means it is going to take more than a village to catch a thief; it’s going to take counties, states and a nation to effect change. And don’t forget you the public. When the public cries out for justice; there is nothing more powerful than a grassroots movement to tell both politician and government that they are not happy with the situation on hand.

BUT I DID EVERYTHING TO HELP THEM AS ASKED!!!

In fraud cases, the victims are required to prove they are victims. This is because there are no physical signs that are tangible proof that a crime has occurred. A rape, murder or sexual assault has tangible evidence that can be processed and documented. But in financial crimes, evidence needs to be documented and verified by professionals. Officers of the law including detectives have not been trained (up until recent years) to work financial crimes. This is added training on top of their required training to physically and mentally deal with their original daily tasks. This is why they ask for victims to provide as complete and documented a case as possible. They are required to verify all that you provide before they can move it forward.

Recently, law enforcement agencies are starting to establish a ‘fraud department’. Most often this new department is manned by a detective or officer that is interested in financial crimes. This also means that funds now must be shared with a new department and all personnel must be educated on the protocol for financial crimes. This is not an easy task and can take a while to get all the necessary technology, training and directives in place. But I am seeing changes and the successes are getting noticed. Hopefully this will show the way for other agencies to begin changes necessary to take cases and move them up the system for prosecution.

YOUR DAY IN COURT

I wish I could say all victims will get their day in court. The courts are inundated by cases. Prosecutors are also overwhelmed. And anytime you involve professional experts, the process can get lengthened based on the complexity and level of detail the expert needs to present to educate judge and jury of the facts. Most jurors do not have any background on fraud or accounting for that matter, and the details need to be exact, simple to understand, and relevant; meaning no rambling on about debits and credits.

It is also expensive to take a case to court. The costs can be more overwhelming than the loss in some cases, and sometimes it destroys the victim more than the fraudster. But that doesn’t mean that prosecutor’s don’t want to take the cases or that detectives don’t want to process the cases. The bottom line lately, is just that. Time and costs are continuing to be obstacles. But again, steps are being taken to make change. In larger areas of population, both law enforcement and government agencies are collaborating on education and establishing standards of protocol to handle fraud cases. This is KEY to bring the necessary change and produce results. Nothing can happen without all agencies and personnel being on the same page to fight crime and provide its citizens the personal rights of safety and freedom from abuse.

YOUR COMMUNITY NEEDS YOU

Having said that, it is also up to the public to report crimes and to hold their own accountable. Often, fraudsters are able to move about society freely because they have been protected by those close by them, or because victims have not reported their crimes. As scary as it sounds, if you don’t file a report, it doesn’t get on the books and into the system. Often law enforcement will check with each other and if they find out they are familiar with that name or their system pulls up that name (even if they were not convicted), the officers have a suspect with a possible fraud pattern. It adds bite to their efforts to stop the thief.  And, there is nothing worse to hear than other victims come forward after the fact, when the fraudster could have been stopped years ago. In order to truly stop criminal fraud, there has to be a grass-roots effort. This includes to understand where the line of ethics and moral standards begins. This includes setting examples at home and work that casual theft, aggressive behavior, and entitlement are not acceptable in our society.

IN CONCLUSION

I realize this is a lengthy post. But I felt it necessary to let those that follow my blog and are victims of fraud, that we do hear the cries of frustration, anger and resentment. That we know there are cases not being handled as quickly, and sometimes, at all. And that what they hear are more than excuses; that there are real obstacles that are being hurdled as we speak, and that change is coming. We are all part of this problem and it will take all of us to resolve it. The public needs to send a message that entitlement is not a right or excuse to take another’s property or livelihood. That is comes with penalties. That as a whole, we the public, in this nation will not tolerate such behavior and empower those dedicated to detect, deter  and defend against perpetrators of fraud, the funding, manpower, and tools needed to protect and take care of our fellow citizens.

August 24, 2010

Fraud & Forensics: Times are changing…are we?


Most of you are familiar with the CSI shows on television. And you have read articles on fraud examiners catching the Madoff’s of the world lately, but most of you don’t know the process forensic accountants, fraud examiners, and law enforcement go through to quantify or qualify the information for their clients and the court. It’s not a glamorous process and it doesn’t happen in sixty minutes let alone sixty days. It’s a tedious and detail oriented process that requires pulling hundreds if not thousands of bits of information into one historical reference, and the process has been in place for a very long time. But Dylan was right, times they are a-changing.

The recent shifts in technology have made the amount of data exponential, and this means the time to manage and analyze have also become exponential. Cases now span years instead of months. Imagine an embezzlement case over five years with one hundred clients and their historical information. So how do you provide your clients with a work product using what I call the F.E.E. principle: Focused, Efficient & Effective?

In my usual internet nosing around I found this article “Follow the Money – Find the Fraud” by Tracy L Coenen, at Sequence Inc from the Wisconsin Law Journal, written by Tracy Coenen, CPA, CFF in June of this year. It’s a article about how we each must consider the complexity of our case. What are we faced with? How can we wade through mounds of documents and data and deceptive efforts to get to the facts and then put all of that into a format that educates the facts to both judge and jury. I think this article will help you ponder this thought and hopefully consider some new ideas. There is a lot out there to choose from, but in the end it is about the truth and the best and most efficient way to get to that truth. Facts speak loud, but they rarely shout ‘here I am’.

I would also like to add that technology does NOT replace the ability to interview and investigate, but it does allow us to more efficiently get to the facts to build a case and prepare that case for litigation. Remember, fraud examination and forensic accounting is not about technology it’s about the truth of the situation; the prima facie evidence necessary to present a case if you choose to go to trial.

TIP: CFF means Certified in Financial Forensics – see link above.

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