Financial Statement Fraud: The Damage Inflicted

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Financial statement fraud impacts any person or organization that has a financial interest in the success or failure of a company. A manipulation of the company’s reported earnings or assets can affect a bank that extends credit to the company, a shareholder who invests money in the company, and those organizations that enter into contracts or agreements with the company.

The manipulation of financial statements also affects employees. It has the power to put employees out of work once the fraud is exposed or collapses. It also has the power to enrich employees – mostly those involved in the fraud, but potentially those who are not. Good financial results (actual or fabricated) can be linked to promotions, raises, enhanced benefit packages, bonuses, and the value of stock option awards. Continue reading

FInancial Statement Fraud: How It Is Done

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Financial statement fraud happens is one of the most costly types of fraud. It is a significant problem because people inside and outside the company rely on the information provided in the financial statements. They assess the financial results and make predictions and decisions about the future of the company based on those results.

Upper management or company owners are the ones who are usually responsible for financial statement fraud. Executives are entrusted with entire companies. They have access to nearly all data and employees, and they can exploit this access to commit and conceal fraud.

The power the executive has by virtue of her or his position in the company is closely linked with the high cost of financial statement fraud. Power and access within a company make it possible for larger frauds to be committed and covered up. Continue reading

Searching for Assets in Divorce

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Potential clients in the process of divorce often contact me because they are concerned about hidden assets. Often the spouse had a history of financial dishonesty throughout the marriage, or his or her behavior became suspicious around the time divorce was filed. It is not uncommon for there to be a sudden lack of money once divorce is filed. Previously, it was easy to pay the bills and pay for vacations and other extras. Now it’s hard to find money for even the basic necessities.

When a spouse is suspected of hiding money and other assets, professional help is required. But what kind of help?

It depends. There are two types of help that you can get for this aspect of a divorce case. The first is a forensic accountant who will essentially trace money through accounts, follow the paper trail, and determine if there is any missing money. This work is heavily rooted in the documentation you obtain. I can’t trace the money without the documents. Continue reading

Financial Investigations With High Volumes of Data

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Cases with high volumes of bank data, such as money laundering, high net worth divorce, securities fraud, Ponzi schemes, tax fraud, and white collar crime, present special challenges for forensic accountants. High volumes of financial data can be overwhelming. How do you manage the data? How do you ensure the integrity of the data? How do you get usable intelligence from the data? An attorney’s results in such a case will be directly related to how well the expert can put that data to work and make it mean something to the case.

Getting the Data
The process of discovery can be long and agonizing for everyone.  There is often a push and pull between the parties in the discovery process, as opposing counsel rarely wants to voluntarily give up damaging financial data.  It often takes several rounds of requests to get the information we seek.

Counsel has to be careful to ask for the right data in the right format. Not properly identifying the information we are seeking can lead to denials that the information exists.  One of the goals in discovery is to be specific enough that we get targeted data, but general enough that we still get other important data we didn’t know existed. Continue reading

Fraud Investigations and Fire Drills

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Fire drill training in grade school always included the mantra, “Stop, drop and roll.” This was the prescribed course of action if a child was on fire. Professionals sometimes refer to tragedies in companies as fire drills. When a major internal theft occurs, it is akin to a fire, and needs to be met with swift action.

Where there is smoke, there might be fire. Numerous red flags can point to internal theft: missing or altered documentation, unexplained accounting entries, excessive customer complaints about account balances, and disregard for policies and procedures.

While one red flag alone does not necessarily mean a fraud has occurred, numerous questions increase the suspicion of internal fraud. It is important to quickly identify the red flags, determine who might be responsible, and take quick action to extinguish the problem. Continue reading

Fraud in Churches

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There may be nothing more disheartening in the world of fraud investigation than a church employee caught embezzling. Unfortunately, there are fairly regular news reports of financial fraud at churches. Fraud hits churches hard. Many churches operate on shoestring budgets to begin with. A sizable fraud can put a church on the brink of financial collapse.

And it’s appalling to think this is happening in a place that many view as the most sacred and the most likely to attract honest people. Unfortunately, churches and other non-profits aren’t immune to fraud. In fact, they often set themselves up to be even more vulnerable to fraud than your average business.

Diverting Donations

Historically, churches were often run largely by pastors who had little to no business training. But the time has come for churches to get serious about operating like real businesses. Continue reading

Using Bank Statements in a Divorce Case

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When there are suspicions of hidden income or secret investments or bank accounts, an analysis of known bank accounts can reveal helpful details. Tracy Coenen explains how bank statements and credit card statements can be used by a forensic accountant in a divorce case.

Conducting Internal Fraud Investigations

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Fire drill training in grade school always included the mantra, “Stop, drop and roll.” This was the prescribed course of action if you were on fire. Professionals sometimes refer to tragedies in companies as fire drills. When a major internal theft occurs, it is akin to catching on fire, and needs to be met with swift action.

Where there is smoke, there might be fire. There are numerous potential red flags that might point to internal theft – things like missing or altered documentation, numerous unexplained accounting entries, excessive customer complaints about account balances, and disregard or override of procedures.

While one red flag alone does not necessarily mean a fraud has occurred, the presence of numerous red flags increases the suspicion of internal fraud. It is important to quickly identify the red flags, determine who might be responsible, and take quick action to extinguish the problem. Continue reading