26 Jul

Management’s Judgment and Financial Statement Fraud

With thousands of detailed accounting rules, how can there be financial statement fraud? There are areas of the financial statements that rely heavily on the judgment of management. They make estimates and decide how to apply the accounting rules. This leaves the door wide open for abuse.

Many accounting entries are pretty simple. It’s easy when the company buys a small item, gets an invoice for it, and pays it. We can record the amounts and the dates pretty simply based on that information.

But it gets more difficult when the situation is not so black and white. For example, when a company sells a long-term service contract to a customer, when is that revenue recognized? The revenue usually is going to be recorded over time, and the way to calculate this can vary.

Who is to say that management won’t decide to recognize the revenue using a schedule most beneficial to that company? There may be reasons for wanting to recognize that revenue sooner or later, and management has the ability to manipulate the situation.

24 Jul

What is Money Laundering?

Money laundering is fun to talk about. It just sounds cool to begin with. And the whole process is fascinating to me.

It is important to know that money laundering is not a fraud scheme. It is a crime that is committed to cover up other crimes, but it is not the same thing as fraud. The primary purpose of money laundering is to take money that has been received from criminal activities (dirty money) and make it appear legitimate (clean money).

Dirty money can come from illegal activities such as drug dealing, prostitution, robbery, bribery, illegal political contributions, tax evasion, or fraud. The laundering process hides the real origin of the money and makes it look like it came from a legitimate source. Read More

23 Jul

Pay Support or Go to Jail?

Last week Dukes of Hazzard star John Schneider asked a judge to send him to jail because he can’t pay the spousal support he owes. Schneider apparently owes over $150,000 in alimony to his ex-wife Elly Schneider. He was previously sentenced to 3 days in jail for contempt for his failure to pay, but was let out right away because of jail overcrowding.

The court set certain conditions for him to avoid additional jail time, including paying Elly half of the earnings he is owed from Maven Entertainment, filing certain tax returns, and making certain financial disclosures.

But John would rather do time behind bars because he says he can’t pay. He says he’s taken out all sorts of loans and can’t do it anymore. When they divorced, he was ordered to pay nearly $19,000 per month in alimony. Read More

19 Jul

Keeping Forensic Reports Simple

Making complex transactions easy to understand is no small task, but it is part of the job of any good fraud investigator. You can find the most earth-shattering proof of fraud, but if you cannot articulate your findings in a report that others can understand, your investigation results are not worth much.

Use graphs, charts, and tables to help illustrate your points. Even though you may not need a graph or chart to demonstrate your findings, consider that the reader of your report might benefit from it. Remember that people learn and comprehend in different ways, and that fact could be very important if your case ever goes in front of a jury.

One juror might understand your written words best, so it is important to make the report very reader-friendly with short, well-organized paragraphs. Other jurors might understand the most by listening to your court testimony, which should support and reiterate the written report. Other jurors might be most receptive to pictures or charts that demonstrate what you have found. Read More

09 Jul

Rules For Getting Through a Tax Audit

Tax audits are scary, especially if you’ve got unusual income or deductions. The assumption is that at the end of the process, you’re going to owe the government money.

You can help yourself in the audit process, however, by following 4 simple rules:

  1. Shut up – You may think you’re helping by talking and volunteering information. You’re not. Even truthful answers can hurt you when talking to an auditor. The goal during an audit is to provide information but NOT raise additional issues or questions. There are right and wrong answers to the auditor’s questions, and the taxpayer often does not know the difference.
  2. Hire a professional – A competent professional will know those right and wrong answers. She knows how to be consistent in answer and not contradict information already provided. She knows what documents will support the position you’re taking in the audit, and she can give the best explanations. Let her answer questions for you.
  3. Prepare your documents – If you’ve done a good job of keeping records, this will be easy. Start pulling together documents right away, but don’t turn anything over until your attorney or CPA has gone through them. Do NOT volunteer extra data or documents to the auditor. Give him only what he needs to answer the questions that were asked.
  4. Do not let the auditor on site – Whether you work from home or in an office, you do not want the auditor there. They could overhear something or see something they shouldn’t. All meetings with the auditor should take place at your attorney’s or accountant’s office. It is much easier to control the documents and the flow of information this way.
05 Jul

Determining Income in Divorce and Child Support Cases

When attempting to calculate the income of a party in a divorce or child support case, it is important to remember that income is not determined simply on the basis of historical earnings. It is necessary to also consider the future prospects for income, and how the income scenario may change following the divorce. For example, one of the spouses may encounter a job change with a related change in earnings. Even if a change is not the result of the divorce, it still must be considered as changes in earnings may change a spouse’s ability to pay support.

In evaluating historical income, it is necessary to consider whether historical income was abnormally high or low for some reason. For example, suppose a business run by the spouse had lower net income in the past because there was a substantial investment to increase the capacity of the business. The investment included operating expenses and depreciation of fixed assets, which lowered historical earnings, but created an opportunity for the company to generate higher income in the future. Thus, the projection of future earnings must not rely solely on the historical earnings, but must consider the future prospects for income. Read More

02 Jul

Questions for New Clients

What questions do you ask a new potential client?

Nearly all of my work comes from attorneys, on behalf of their clients. I have two clients: the attorney and his/her client.

My questions are pretty much the same no matter which of them I’m talking to on that first phone call. The most important questions I ask are things like:

  • What kind of case is this – I am looking for some specifics of who is involved and what is going on.
  • What do you need me to do – Are they really in need of a forensic accountant, or do they need someone else, like a private investigator? Are they looking for services that I provide? For example, I trace funds in a divorce, but I do not provide business valuation services.
  • When does the work need to be done – I do most of my case work in 60 to 90 days. That’s great for clients, but it also means that there are cases I can’t take because I’m already at capacity.
  • Can you pay my fees – This might sound impolite, but I have to earn a living. This is where I explain my fixed fees and the deposit I require. I may ask about their budget to ensure that we are on the same page. (Even though I can’t quote a fee this early, I often get a feeling for a range of fees.)

Figure out the questions that are most important in your practice, and be ready to ask them of any potential new client.