Tracy Coenen teaches about some basic signs of financial statement fraud.
An independent financial statement audit done by external auditors is the most extensive attest service provided by auditors, and it is still limited. A review of financial statements by an independent auditor is even more limited in scope.
Reviews amount to auditors looking at account balances and determining whether or not the balances look reasonable. They will perform some analytical procedures on the financial statements to further analyze the numbers. On occasion, they may ask to see some details about accounts and their balances, but this happens on a very limited basis.
When a company discovers an internal fraud, it’s not uncommon for owners and management to look for a party to blame. After all, someone should have known that a fraud was in-progress, right? Often, the blame is cast in the direction of the auditors.
The auditors are an easy target. Not only do they usually have professional liability insurance policies to fall back on, the auditors initially seem like the logical culprit.
Management often believes that the auditors worked very closely with the financial information; therefore, they should have discovered the fraud.
Alternative Title: Marc Nochimson, CPA makes the case FOR publicly identifying audit partners. (You really need to know if a goof like this was the engagement partner!)
In 2013, Marc G. Nochimson, CPA entered into a settlement agreement with the Securities and Exchange Commission based on his improper professional conduct as the engagement partner for the Medifast Inc. audits from 2006 to 2008. You may recall that in 2010, Medifast sued me (and several others) for negative opinions we expressed about Medifast.
Among the negative opinions: Medifast’s increasing revenue is the result of an endless chain recruiting scheme. Medifast doesn’t disclose certain figures that would allow consumers and investors to fully evaluate the company and its business. Sam Antar criticized Medifast for its revenue accounting. Others criticized the company’s revenue and business model. Indeed, Medifast did overstate it income, resulting in a civil penalty and a cease and desist order from the SEC.
As time goes on, it appears more likely that our criticisms of Medifast were spot on. It also appears that the professionals affiliated with Medifast did not meet professional standards.
Sam Antar is a legend in the fraud industry. He was the CFO of Crazy Eddie, an electronics retailer which pulled off (for a time!) a massive fraud in the 1980’s. He was interviewed by CNNMoney while attending the New Jersey securities fraud summit as a keynote speaker.
Antar said during the interview:
“We are in the golden era of white-collar crime. My biggest regret is I should’ve been a criminal today rather than 20 years ago.”
Francine McKenna is an investigative reporter who focuses her writings on the auditing profession. She blogs at re: The Auditors, and also writes for financial publications such as Forbes, The Financial Times, American Banker, and more.
In February, Ms. McKenna wrote about the auditors of AgFeed, a Chinese company involved in an elaborate accounting fraud. In March 2014, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged the company and its top executives with fraud:
With the bulk of its hog production operations in China, the executives used a variety of methods to inflate revenue from 2008 to mid-2011, including fake invoices for the sale of feed and purported sales of hogs that didn’t really exist. They later tried to cover up their actions by saying the fake hogs died. Because fatter hogs bring higher market prices, they also inflated the weights of actual hogs sold and correspondingly inflated the sales revenues for those hogs.
Almost two years ago, I wrote about a PCAOB proposal that would require companies to rotate auditors every 5 to 10 years. The theory was that forcing companies to change auditors regularly would make audits better, because fresh eyes on the books every few years would mean a more skeptical audit.
My position was that it doesn’t matter how long an auditor worked on the same engagement. Instead, the problem is audits themselves. Audits have never been designed to detect fraud. Thus, audits rarely find fraud. I wrote previously:
Even with all of the publicity surrounding the issue of financial fraud in the last decade, most auditors, investors and other professionals still do not “get it” when it comes to detecting fraud. Traditional financial statement audits were never designed to detect fraud. The audit is simply a process by which auditors check the company’s math and application of accounting rules.
Fraud is rarely detected by financial statement audits because they are not designed to do so. Occasionally, fraud is detected by auditors, but they could increase their chances of finding fraud if they changed their audit procedures.
It has been almost four years since the massive fraud committed by Sujata Sachdeva against her employer, Koss Corp., was uncovered. A year after the discovery, Koss sued Park Bank for failing to find the fraud. The company says that Park Bank should have known that a fraud was occurring when Koss employees with proper authority withdrew funds from the Koss bank account and had Park Bank make out cashier’s checks with the funds. Koss says that Park Bank should have realized that the endorsements on the cashiers checks did not match the payees. (For example, a cashier’s check made out to N.M. was endorsed by Nieman Marcus.)
If you know anything about fraud, you know how absurd these claims are. It is the company’s responsibility to prevent and detect fraud. This is not the first time that the company made silly claims against parties it was suing in order avoid taking responsibility for Michael Koss’s own mismanagement of the company. Mind you, the company was sanctioned for its own part in the fraud, including lack of oversight, inadequate accounting controls, failure to reconcile accounts, and failure of Michael Koss to review figures before certifying the financial statements.
Yesterday Financial Executives International (FEI) ran a guest post by me on their Financial Reporting Blog. The introduction is below, and you can read the entire article about the expectation gap between auditors and the users of financial statements here.
One of the greatest problems with the process of traditional financial statement audits is the expectation gap, which is commonly defined as the difference between what auditors do and what the clients, investors or the public expects. There are also gaps in understanding as to the role of other parties in the financial reporting supply chain, including financial executives, internal auditors, and audit committee members, and how those parties interact with auditors and each other, and the public’s expectations thereof.
Let’s look at the first part of the Expectation Gap, that between auditors and their clients. The audit engagement letter and other pieces of correspondence from the auditors to the client state that the company is responsible for preventing and detecting fraud. In spite of this, management often points the finger at the auditors for failing to uncover a fraud scheme.