Focus on Fraud (Marquette Justice for Fraud Victims Program)

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coverI was delighted to be a part of the cover story for the fall issue of the Wisconsin Institute of CPAs (WICPA) magazine CPA2b. The article, Focus on Fraud, profiled the Justice for Fraud Victims Program at Marquette University.

The program is part of the accounting program, and gives students the opportunity to investigate a real live fraud case. They get hands on experience, and victims of financial fraud receive pro bono fraud investigation assistance. I am the mentor for the students, guiding them through the investigation (but making it a little tough on them by making them figure things out on their own). Upon completion, we submit the investigation results to the Milwaukee Police Department and District Attorney for possible criminal charges.

Earlier this year, we were recognized by Marquette University President Michael Lovell for our community service via this program.

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Divorce Financial Analysis: Investigating Business Interests

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When a spouse owns a business, it can create some of the most complicated financial issues in a divorce. It is extremely important to dive into the financial records of the business in order to value it and to determine where the money is REALLY going. Tracy Coenen and Miles Mason discuss what documents a forensic accountant needs to evaluate the business.

Clues to Hidden Income and Assets in Divorce

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I often get asked how someone will know if their spouse is hiding income or assets in a divorce. Sometimes it is obvious when a document is discovered or information is leaked by someone in the know. But what if you just have a “feeling” that something isn’t right?

In working with divorcing couples, I’ve found that there are often some telltale signs of trouble. A gut feeling with some objective information is often enough to warrant further research and investigation. What are some of the common clues that I have seen to indicate hidden income and assets?

  • We are suddenly poor: The income-earning spouse has an unexplained decrease in compensation and/or you have gone from regularly having extra money to suddenly having a low balance in your bank account. Beware of the possibility that your spouse is deferring income… having commissions, bonuses, or other compensation withheld until after the divorce is over.

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Criminal Defense: Working as an Expert Witness

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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

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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

Book Review: Wall Street Smarts: A Guide to Finding Your Inner Investor

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wall-street-smarts-miles-goodwinWall Street Smarts: A Guide to Finding Your Inner Investor, by Miles Goodwin, is masterful compilation of the best investment advice for the average person. The book does the seemingly impossible by pulling together the best investment advice from the best books out there. Mr. Goodwin has done the hard work so you don’t have to. He has taken decades of investment research and experience (as an average person just trying to manage his own money) and extracted the most relevant advice from some of the most knowledgeable authors. Added to this material is a wealth of information he has accumulated over the years.

Where does the average person begin when trying to learn about investments? There are lots of great articles and books out there, but how do you figure out which ones are relevant and accurate? And how do you find the time to read all of them? Simply put, most people can’t. And that’s why Wall Street Smarts is an invaluable tool for anyone who wants more control over their savings and investments. Continue reading

Litigation Disasters: Making Mistakes With Expert Witnesses

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There is little doubt that litigation can be stressful for clients and attorneys alike. With filings, briefs, and deadlines, the litigator has little time to worry about whether her or his expert witness is getting the job done. The attorney usually has one shot for the expert to get the case right. If the expert witness fails, it can have wide-reaching implications for the entire case.

Experts aren’t perfect. Mistakes can be made and deadlines can be missed. Pertinent documentation can be overlooked, and erroneous conclusions can be drawn. These can be fatal errors for the litigator.

Managing the expert witness is a critical part of litigation. It becomes even more important when the attorney is working with a less experienced expert or one with which she or he hasn’t worked previously.

Proper management of the expert witness process will help ensure that the attorney receives relevant, accurate, and reliable results from the expert. Continue reading

Book Review: Financial Advice for Blue Collar America

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financial-advice-for-blue-collar-americaI recently had an opportunity to read Financial Advice for Blue Collar America by Kathryn B. Hauer. The book is positioned as a practical guide for the average American who needs to get straight to the important topics, and the it definitely delivers on that promise.

The book starts out with the premise that being a blue collar worker actually CAN offer you an opportunity to gather wealth. Blue collar as used in this book means a job which doesn’t require a college degree, but requires a certain level of skill and training. This includes trades like carpenters, truck drivers, auto technicians, police, and skilled manufacturing workers. A sampling of current annual earnings for these jobs ranges from $40,000 to $82,000, which might be surprising to some.

Early on we learn about basic financial concepts such as net worth and cash flow, which are explained well. Also included are information on debt, budgets, saving, investing, the many types of insurance, taxes, and wills. These topics are covered briefly, but there is enough information for it to be valuable. Continue reading

Crime and Punishment: Sentencing in Financial Fraud Cases

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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

Fraud Investigation For Small Firms: Selling the Services, Managing the Staff

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Firms of all sizes are interested in expanding their practices to include forensic accounting and fraud investigation. Experts agree: This practice area is growing and will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.

Yet adding forensic accounting to a firm’s portfolio of services might not be as easy as it sounds. While traditional audit staff might have a good foundational knowledge to branch out into fraud investigation, offering reliable service to clients in this area takes a little more work.

Focusing Services
While the decision to provide forensic accounting services may seem simple, the next step is deciding specifically which services to provide. There are many types of matters that may fall under the forensic accounting umbrella, and it is important to develop an appropriate focus.

A firm’s services could be geared toward a variety of fraud-related matters, including corporate embezzlement, financial statement fraud, and insurance claims fraud. The business could alternately be focused on litigation matters like contract disputes, shareholder lawsuits, business valuation, and bankruptcy consulting. There are many more types of cases that could fall under one or both of these headings, so it’s clear that there are a great deal of choices to be made. Continue reading