Divorcing spouses who own one or more businesses need a detailed financial analysis in order to properly evaluate these interests. A Business Lifestyle Analysis may be performed to determine the true income of the company and find out where the money is really going. Tracy Coenen talks about how she analyzes the detailed accounting records of a business.
I often get asked how someone will know if their spouse is hiding income or assets in a divorce. Sometimes it is obvious when a document is discovered or information is leaked by someone in the know. But what if you just have a “feeling” that something isn’t right?
In working with divorcing couples, I’ve found that there are often some telltale signs of trouble. A gut feeling with some objective information is often enough to warrant further research and investigation. What are some of the common clues that I have seen to indicate hidden income and assets?
- We are suddenly poor: The income-earning spouse has an unexplained decrease in compensation and/or you have gone from regularly having extra money to suddenly having a low balance in your bank account. Beware of the possibility that your spouse is deferring income… having commissions, bonuses, or other compensation withheld until after the divorce is over.
Defendants in criminal cases such as tax fraud, money laundering, or embezzlement often need forensic accountants to help evaluate complex financial situations. Should you provide expert witness services to criminal defendants? Tracy discusses the work and some of the issues that should be considered.
You thought only people experience identity theft. Only individuals become victims of dumpster diving or poor computer security. Someone gets a credit card in your name, and you’ve become a victim. You didn’t even consider that a company could have an “identity” that could be stolen.
Corporate identity theft is becoming all too common, and one of the most troubling aspects of it is how little owners, executives, attorneys and business advisors know about it. Without a basic knowledge of even the existence of corporate identity theft, people are powerless to prevent it.
It can be perpetrated in a number of different ways, but each type of corporate identity theft has one thing in common. It can destroy the reputation of a business quickly.
The type of corporate identity theft people think about most often is the use of a company’s credit profile, either to fraudulently obtain credit for themselves or to make purchases in the name of the company.
Tracy Coenen discusses the early stages of a financial investigation related to a divorce. When couples are divorcing, it is not unusual for a business to appear to decline. Tracy talks about the types of things she looks at to determine whether there is evidence of hidden income or other manipulation of the finances.
When the IRS believes a taxpayer has unreported income, they will use alternative methods to attempt to determine the true income. One of those methods is the Expenditures Method. Tracy Coenen explains the basic methodology in this video. Note that this method of calculating income can be used in a variety of cases that involve allegations of hidden income including divorce, money laundering, and income tax fraud.
The unthinkable has happened. We have good employees. Our people are honest. They don’t steal from us. They’re like family. We trust them. So it goes when a company discovers a fraud from within.
Then what happens?
After the initial shock wears off, it’s time to start investigating the situation. The company must know who did it, how the fraud was committed, and what controls can be put in place to stop fraud from happening again. This is all accomplished with an effective fraud investigation.
Companies should have in place a standard set of guidelines for managers to follow when fraud is suspected. Most supervisors and managers have not dealt with on-the-job fraud, so they need guidance when evaluating fraud allegations. Fraud investigation guidelines may also help guard the company against employees’ claims of selective treatment.
What on earth do fraud and infidelity have in common? Quite a lot actually. While there may be no scientific studies available that analyze the correlation between financial fraud and infidelity, anecdotal evidence obtained while working in the field of fraud investigation for more than a decade suggests there is a correlation.
A discovery of a corporate fraud has often led to the discovery of a secret addiction like gambling, alcohol, or drugs. Digging into the financial records of a suspected thief finds a spending problem, a secret source of income, or theft from another party. Discovery of fraud has also led to a spouse finding out about infidelity and the existence of a love child.
The reasoning behind the theory that fraud and infidelity are often related is simple: Fraud does not happen in a vacuum. It takes a certain mindset to be able to commit adultery and to be able to commit fraud. I have rarely seen extremely deceitful acts being confined to simply one part of a person’s life.
When we think of on-the-job fraud, we tend to think in extremes. One extreme is the teenage punk with orange hair and a nose ring, and he’s stealing cash out of the register or letting his friends have free chips and soda. The other extreme is that of the wealthy executive who runs off with millions by extracting lavish gifts and manipulating the company’s financial statements to boost the stock price and enhance his bonus.
The problem with these extremes is that they fail to consider the majority of thefts that go on within companies. Most occupational fraudsters steal between $10,000 and $500,000 from their employers. While these dollars can be significant to companies of varying sizes, they only represent the dollars directly taken by the employee.
A company’s cost of fraud goes far beyond the initial sums of money stolen by a dishonest employee. These costs range from some tangible negative effects, to other less tangible results throughout the company. One way or another, they all cost the company time, money, productivity, and potentially customer relationships.
The idea of performing a “fraud examination” sounds interesting to many. They don’t necessarily want to deal with the numbers that a forensic accountant wades through, but they like the idea of someone sleuthing and digging through records.
I’ll admit that the work I do is pretty darn interesting. Each case has its own intricacies and unusual spin.
In contrast, the idea of an accountant performing an “audit” on a company’s books doesn’t sound half as exciting. I’ve done both, and from my perspective, audits are far less noteworthy. They’re both necessary evils in the business world, and it’s important for executives, attorneys, and consultants to know the difference between the two. Buyer beware of what services a client is really buying.
Defining an Audit
There are many different types of audits that are all properly named, but they must be differentiated from one another. A typical bank audit for lending purposes is generally a limited scope examination of certain financial statement items. Each bank has its own guidelines for performance of those audits, and generally they are aimed at verifying the value of collateral.