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.
Private and public records offer a wealth of information to fraud investigators
On Balance – The Magazine for Wisconsin CPAs
Without information, a fraud investigation goes nowhere. There are abundant sources of information on people and companies, and as the Internet continues to expand, so does the accessibility of the information.
Doing a thorough fraud investigation often goes beyond just analyzing documents produced by the client. The best forensic accountants and fraud investigators are able to find additional sources of information to help crack the case. There is plenty of art to finding clues in an investigation, and it all starts with knowing what to look for and where to find it.
Fraud investigations rely heavily on the availability of private records. In the typical business fraud case, helpful internal records could include financial statements, tax returns, sales and receivable records, expense documentation, proof of payments to vendors, or other information from a company’s accounting system.
A few months ago, I was asked to beta test PerfectAudit software by Ocrolus.The software has used other names such as AuditGenius (auditgenius.com now forwards to perfectaudit.com) and Medicaid Genius. Promotional emails are being sent from the domain perfectauditpreview.com, which forwards to perfectaudit.com. The company is currently marketing to service providers in the divorce arena, and they say that firms such as Met Life, RGL, and Duff & Phelps are using the site for divorce cases.
The website bills Perfect Audit as a “game changer” for those who depend on data from bank statements and credit card statements. It’s a great concept! PerfectAudit will use OCR technology to pull the data off the statements, put the data into a searchable database, and you have access to data that is guaranteed to be 100% accurate.
But the product is terrible and doesn’t even come close to doing what they say it does. Here is what they say it does:
One of the last places you’d expect to find fraud is in a law practice. Like accounting, the practice of law is a profession in which ethics are of utmost importance. Accountants and lawyers are often too trusting of their fellow professionals, and therefore leave themselves open to the risks of fraud.
The issue of fraud isn’t limited to a law practice of a particular size. Larger firms experience fraud because there are so many people generating so many documents, that it’s easy for a fraud to get lost in the shuffle. Small firms become victims of fraud primarily because management puts too much trust in one or two employees and fails to properly supervise them.
According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, the average workplace fraud costs $175,000. What would a theft of that size mean for your practice? Could your law office sustain such a fraud? The average workplace fraud goes on for two years before it is discovered. Could that be happening in your law firm?
What is at the heart of almost every securities case, whether the case is pursued by the government or a private party? It is a trail of money. The difficulty in prosecuting or defending a securities case is the fact that there is voluminous financial data that must be culled, analyzed, and presented in a way that proves the case.
For the last three decades, securities and financial fraud cases have been evaluated by forensic accountants using manual processes. The financial investigators compared accounting data with source documents, ultimately trying to prove the source and use of funds.
This is complicated, especially in large cases (which are the ones the government most often cares about), because there can be a multitude of involved people, entities, bank accounts, and brokerage accounts. The process of understanding and organizing the flow of funds is complex, and it can take months or even years before plaintiffs or defendants know exactly what happened to the money.
Cutting-Edge Forensic Accounting
The world of forensic accounting is moving in a new direction, however. Fraud investigators are slowly beginning to use technology to analyze large volumes of financial data much faster, more efficiently, and more accurately than they have been able to do using traditional investigative techniques. The shift has been moving at a snail’s pace, however, but this provides significant opportunities for parties to litigation who are willing to embrace change and harness the power of cutting-edge technology.