13 Dec

Large Data Sets in Financial Investigations

Complex financial investigations involve large sets of data, numerous accounts, multiple players, and lightning fast movements of money. Being able to accurately document these movements of money is the key to the financial portion of a case, whether it involves embezzlement, bribery, misconduct in office, money laundering, or divorce.

Forensic accountants can quickly become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data that needs to be analyzed. Even with all of the modern technological tools available, many of the tasks in financial investigations are still done manually. Why? The format of accounting statements and reports varies so much that there is no single solution that can help capture that data. Instead, fraud investigators turn to manual data entry much of the time. Read More

29 Nov

Financial Statement Fraud: Revenue Overstatement

By far the most common way that executives manipulate financial statements is through the overstatement of revenue. The reason is simple: It’s the easiest way to improve the appearance of the company’s financial condition.

Revenue can be inflated by doing things such as:

  • Booking fictitious sales
  • Holding the books open at the end of a period
  • Recognizing legitimate sales early
  • Shipping items not ordered by customers and booking the sales
  • Booking revenue before it has been earned on projects in progress
  • Recording sales for items produced but not yet shipped, or only partially shipped
  • Booking sales but delaying shipment to customers (bill-and-hold schemes)
  • Not properly recording allowances for returned goods

Revenue overstatement is detected by examining revenue patterns and looking for irregularities. Unusual changes in cost of goods sold might signal a problem, as companies that book fictitious revenue do not always book corresponding expenses. Revenue overstatement may also be suspected when a company has consistent cash flow problems, even in light of apparently increasing sales and profits. Read More

13 Nov

Divorce Financials: Lifestyle Analysis in Family Law Cases

This article was originally published in the American Journal of Family Law (Volume 32, Number 2 / Summer 2018)

Determining the income of the parties to a divorce or child custody case is critical, as it affects spousal support and child support. It may also affect the division of assets, particularly if there are income-producing assets to be divided.  In each of these instances, properly determining the income of the party is critical to getting a fair and equitable settlement, maintenance award, or child support award. Until you have accurate numbers, the attorney may find it very difficult to decide what is fair or in the best interest of the client.

It is not unusual for a closely held business to suspiciously suffer from declining revenue and profits once a family law case comes to fruition. The spouse in control of the business may state that the economy is negatively affecting the business, or that other conditions such as competition or changing technology are the cause for a decline in the financial condition of the business. Is it a coincidence that a thriving business just happens to suffer a decline at the precise time that a family law case is initiated? Of course it is no coincidence, and the numbers must be investigated to present a true financial picture to the court. Read More

31 Oct

Finding Hidden Income and Assets

Cases of financial fraud often focus on the core issue of where the money went. Successfully carrying out a fraud scheme involves not only taking the money, but covering up the fraud and hiding the money trail.  But skilled financial investigators know there is always a trail, and while the money may or may not be recovered, it can be located.

Cases involving allegations of security fraud, money laundering, misappropriation of assets, income tax fraud, and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violations require investigators to follow a money trail. However, sometimes it is difficult to know where to start, or where to continue when you’ve come to an apparent dead end.

Third Party Records

Regardless of the type of case for which there is a need to trace the flow of funds, the most reliable source of information is third party records. The records of an alleged fraudster are always suspect. How are we to know if the accounting records have been manipulated?

In contrast, records from a disinterested third party are much more likely to be authentic and to tell the truth about the money. The most common and reliable sources of third party records are banks, brokerage houses, and credit card companies. Except in rare cases in which a secret relationship facilitates the manipulation of these records, they will tell us exactly where money came from and where it went. Read More

03 Oct

Can Fraud Investigations Reduce Fraud?

When consumers think about investigating fraud, they do not usually think of the investigation as part of an overall plan to reduce fraud in a company. An investigation is typically seen as a reactive process that is only engaged in when a major problem is identified. Fraud investigations are representative of something completely negative, and they should be avoided at all costs, because if we do not have fraud investigations, then we do not have fraud.

The reality is not quite so fatalistic. Fraud investigations can and should be a routine part of a proactive fraud prevention program. Anti-fraud education and proactive fraud prevention procedures are essential to reducing corporate fraud, but fraud investigations are a third and equally important part of the equation.

Even in companies with the most comprehensive fraud prevention policies, procedures, and controls, there will still be some level of fraud. Investigations are needed to thoroughly examine allegations and suspicions of fraud. They also play a deterrent role, as employees are less likely to engage in fraud if they know that periodic checks occur throughout the company.

It would be nice if fraud investigations became completely unnecessary, but that is not realistic. In companies with increasingly better anti-fraud controls, the need for reactive investigations should decrease. But fraud investigations should never be completely eliminated, because even the companies with the most effective fraud prevention programs will still have some instances of fraud to investigate. The hope is that incidents requiring a full-blown investigation will be decreased and that management can focus their best efforts on turning a profit instead of examining cases of fraud.

18 Sep

When to Stop Investigating

How does a fraud investigator know when enough investigation has been done on a case? If a scope of work was agreed upon with the client, the investigator should finish that work in order to meet her or his obligations. However, there could come a point in the investigation when the cost outweighs the benefit of further investigation. The client relies on the fraud investigator’s expertise and experience to guide the work. It is not the investigator’s job to spend as much of the client’s money as possible or stretch out the engagement as long as possible.

The fraud investigator should alert the client to the issue, and explain why there may not be much benefit in continuing the investigation. If the client still decides to continue the work, the fraud examiner should cooperate. Ultimately, it is the client’s decision to continue or suspend work. Read More

10 Sep

Fraud Investigations vs. Traditional Audits

After management becomes aware of a potential fraud and decides that a fraud investigation is necessary, the process of creating a team, mapping the investigation plan, and requesting information begins. An organized approach is the best way to ensure that all facets of the investigation flow smoothly, that staff is properly assigned and supervised, and that all critical evidence is analyzed.

Many of the administrative parts of a forensic accounting or fraud investigation project are similar to those in a traditional auditing assignment. For those who have played an active role in managing audit engagements, some of this information will be familiar. Read More

20 Aug

Tax Returns and Divorce Cases

One of the most common documents utilized in a financial investigation is the income tax return. It’s a key document in any divorce case, so the personal income tax return is always examined. And if there is a business, the tax return for that entity should be examined too.

What can we learn from the tax return? Maybe more than you imagine. Today I’m going to walk through the lines on the personal tax return (Form 1040) and some ways that these items can be analyzed to search for hidden income and hidden assets. Read More

14 Aug

Net Worth Method of Proof for Unreported Income

When an IRS auditor or criminal investigator suspects that a taxpayer has unreported sources of income, he or she looks for ways to calculate that unreported income. One way is the net worth method of proof.

Forensic accountants and fraud investigators can use the same method to calculate unreported income in other types of cases, such as divorce. In this video, Tracy describes how the calculation is done and how the results may be used.