Identifying Fraud Red Flags

Would you recognize the clues that your client has been ripped off by one of its employees? Or would management conduct business as usual, blindly trusting their employees?

Companies make the mistake of not actively searching for fraud. They tend to trust their employees and trust the procedures in place to safeguard company assets.

It may be good business to trust employees and empower them to make real contributions to the growth of the company. However, it is not wise to turn a blind eye to signs that a trusted employee may be stealing.

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Conducting Corporate Fraud Investigations

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.

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Detecting Overrides of Internal Controls

Where can employees, outside consultants, and board members look for evidence of override of internal controls? This isn’t a simple list of numbers or documents that must be checked off. Instead, looking for improper override of controls requires looking for red flags that point to something being amiss.

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Fraud is Just Part of a Controller’s Job

Can you believe people actually admit to this stuff? A survey of accounting controllers done by FloQast found that lots of controllers think fraud is a routine part of their jobs.

There are some awfully interesting results. 69% of the participants said their job is that of a risk manager who oversees internal controls. (For those who don’t know, internal controls are the policies and procedures that ensure the numbers are recorded accurately and that prevent fraud.)

64% say they’ve experienced pressure to cook the books. That’s not necessarily surprising. Results are everything in many companies, and I can easily envision executives asking how the numbers can be prettied up.

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A Simple Anti-Fraud Training Outline

Education is a highly effective fraud prevention technique for companies. Studies have shown that companies with anti-fraud educational programs in place can cut their fraud losses in half. By educating employees, management is giving them the tools to help look for and stop fraud. This information helps them know what behavior is acceptable and not acceptable.

The training does not have to be elaborate. It simply has to show employees what to look for, highlighting the most common areas of abuse.  A company’s training session could (should?) include things like this:

  • Introduction to fraud: Provide the basics about fraud, how it is committed, and how it affects the company.
  • Areas of the company most vulnerable to fraud: Tell employees about the most at-risk areas and assets of the company so they can be on the lookout.
  • Common ways that fraud could be committed at the company: Give concrete examples of some of the most common frauds that employees might witness.

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Manual Cash Disbursements and Fraud

Companies typically have a standard way of initiating cash disbursements like payments to vendors or employees. Often this involves entering an invoice into the accounting system, ensuring proper approval for payments, and then generating the electronic transfer or check. Sometimes invoices are entered at scheduled intervals and payments are issued on certain days of the week.

Any disbursement that falls outside of these procedures could be considered a manual disbursement. That is, it is initiated manually and issued under special circumstances.

Probably the most common type of manual disbursement occurs in a company that has an accounts payable process through which all vendor payments should flow. Suppose a vendor drops off materials and needs to be paid immediately for that delivery, and there is not a chance to get the vendor payment through the regular accounts payable process. A check will be cut directly to the vendor, and the accounting system is updated later. This is a classic example of a manual disbursement.

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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.

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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 … Read more Can Fraud Investigations Reduce Fraud?

Prevention After Finding Fraud

After a company has experienced internal fraud and has investigated the situation, how do they address the issue of fraud prevention?

Moving forward after an internal fraud requires that management actually make good on promises to prevent future frauds. It is sometimes difficult to get management to make changes, because they view changes as another cost on top of the cost of the fraud and the investigation. But shoring up internal controls is necessary if the company really wants to improve after a fraud.

The wise members of company management are interested in remediation after an internal fraud is discovered, and often they look to the fraud investigator for guidance in this area. It makes sense to have someone well versed in fraud schemes help management make improvements for the future.

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What Happens After a Fraud Investigation?

After an internal fraud is discovered and fully investigated, a company and its employees must move forward. That might seem like a simple thing to do, but it is not always quite that easy. The financial blow of an internal fraud can be devastating. Employees have long-term memories that may not allow them to forget about the violation of their trust by someone who worked side-by-side with them or by someone who was responsible for their future.

The most obvious potential long-term effect from an employee theft is financial devastation. Companies lose something on the order of 4% to 5% of revenue to internal fraud each year. Imagine how many companies could be put out of business with a fraud of that size.

The first step to moving beyond an internal fraud, especially a significant fraud, is repairing the financial damage. Often, cash reserves have been depleted and debts have mounted while the dishonest employee was filling her or his pockets. A plan to repair the company’s finances should be established quickly.

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