Signs of Fraud

Standard

There are many signs of fraud occurring within companies or with individuals. What are some of the signs we may see that indicate fraud is occurring? During a fraud investigation I am looking for signs that things are wrong. What clues may exist that things are not as they seem? Are there deceptions or misdirections that seem unusual that an honest person wouldn’t engage in? Are things set up in a way such that the environment is ripe for fraud to occur?

Apparent Control Weaknesses

When readily apparent major deficiencies in a company’s control procedures are identified, they should be considered warning signs that fraud could be occurring. All companies have some things that are not as secure as they should be. However, when the controls over a company’s assets and data are severely deficient, that is cause for alarm.

Some of the most common characteristics that might be considered severe deficiencies include: Continue reading

Financial Statement Fraud in Public Companies

Standard

How prevalent is financial statement fraud in public companies? In this video, Tracy Coenen talks about the most recent COSO report on fraudulent financial reporting at U.S. public companies. The most common financial statement fraud that companies engaged in was improper revenue recognition, followed by the overstatement of asset or the improper capitalization of expenses.

What benefits do companies and their executives receive from financial statement fraud?

  • The stock price goes up because the company is more profitable.
  • The company’s debt rating goes up.
  • The company is likely to be able to refinance its debt and therefore can reduce its interest expense. The company may also have fewer debt covenant restrictions associate with its debt.
  • Executives win because they will probably get higher bonuses that are tied to the profitability of the company, and their stock options will be more valuable.

Financial Statement Fraud: How It Is Done

Standard

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

Fraud in Churches

Standard

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

Conducting Internal Fraud Investigations

Standard

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

Personal Red Flags of Fraud

Standard

As victims of occupational fraud reflect on crimes committed against their companies, they wonder if there were any signs that a fraud was occurring. They wonder how a trusted employee could steal from the company. Sadly, frauds are committed by people in positions of trust. What is it about those people that leads them to commit fraud?

Corporate thieves have many things in common with one another. There are many tell-tale characteristics about people and their lifestyles that signal the potential for fraud. These range from personal financial circumstances to attitudes on the job. A few of these traits alone do not indicate the potential for fraud, but the probability rises as we identify more of the characteristics.

Work Habits

Employees who steal from their employers often appear very dedicated. They work long hours and seem willing to take on extra responsibilities. For a normal person, these would be desired traits. An employee who helps accomplish more is seen as an asset to the company. For someone with the potential for fraud, however, these characteristics are worrisome.

Continue reading

Criminal Defense: Working as an Expert Witness

Standard

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.

Corporate Identity Theft: It Isn’t Just For People Anymore

Standard

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.

Credit Risks
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. Continue reading

Crime and Punishment: Sentencing in Financial Fraud Cases

Standard

While investigating fraud for more than a decade, I have consistently been amazed by the disparity among criminal sentences in financial fraud cases. Of course, there are many facts that go into a sentencing decision, and so it is difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison of sentences between cases.

However, it’s clear to me that there is a wide range of sentences that are not necessarily fair to either the victims or the fraud perpetrators. We can’t discount the fact that determining a sentence is a complex process. There are many factors that come into play, so simply assessing the number of years at the end of the process is a little simplistic.

Yet the fact remains that disparities in sentencing should be examined closer. Lawmakers, judges, and prosecutors owe it to consumer and victims to work toward a system that is fair and equitable to all parties. Continue reading