Is a Lifestyle Analysis Simply Data Entry?

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When completing a lifestyle analysis in a divorce or child support case, I am often asked whether my work is simply data entry. Why does a forensic accountant need to do the lifestyle analysis? Can’t anyone with a bit of accounting training do it?

As Tracy discusses in the video below, a lifestyle analysis is much more than a data entry exercise. There is a high level of quality control needed to ensure that all transactions are included in the analysis, and that none are duplicated. In larger cases, this gets complicated because of the high volume of data to manage. The divorce client needs an expert who can handle this volume of data AND maintain the integrity of the data. Continue reading

Creating an MLM in Ten Easy Steps

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Hundreds of thousands of Americans get sucked into Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) companies each year. From Mary Kay to Amway to Herbalife to PrePaid Legal, the list is seemingly endless. Each offers its own special spin on the products it sells, but the main focus of an MLM is on recruiting new members.

MLMs live and die by the recruitment of new members, who make the bulk of the product purchases from the company. Little of the product is resold to an actual end user, but the MLM company doesn’t care. The sale has been made to the distributor (or associate or representative or member or consultant or whatever term you like).

It’s widely known that those in MLMs make little money. In fact, almost everyone in the pyramid loses money. The real money makers in the scheme are those who own the MLM company. So in the spirit of giving, I’m offering you ten simple steps toward creating your very own MLM. Start yours now and cash in on all those people who are dying to hear about your “opportunity”!

1. Come up with a product or service that you can make sound revolutionary. Funky berry juice, groundbreaking face cream, or unusual financial services will be fine. The only caveat is that you must be able to make it sound like something that’s never been done quite this way before. This adds to the mystique.

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The Myth of Retail Sales in MLM

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Multi-level marketing companies (MLMs) like to refer to themselves as “Direct Sales” companies, because this puts the focus on the sale of the product or service, and takes focus off the business of recruiting.

I’ve been researching MLMs for years, and I’ve found that companies use the product or services simply as bait and a cover. It is “bait” for recruiting because it looks legitimate to a potential recruit. (How many people would join MLMs if they were truthful and told you that what you really had to do was constantly recruit new people?)

It is a “cover,” since it is what makes the schemes legal under state and federal laws. Pyramid schemes (which are simply a transfer of money up a pyramid-like structure) are illegal. But if you use a legitimate product or service as your cover and your reason for transferring money up the pyramid, you can successfully claim that your company is not a pyramid scheme. Again, the product or service takes the focus off recruiting.

But the truth is that the people involved in multilevel marketing companies do little actual retailing of products or services to third-party customers (non-members of the scheme). The vast majority of the purchases of products and services are made by the members of the MLMs themselves, either to stock inventory (which they will probably never be able to sell) or for personal consumption. Continue reading

The Damage Inflicted by Financial Statement Fraud

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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

Lifestyle Analysis for Divorce and Child Support

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One of the chief concerns in a divorce or child custody case is identifying the true income of one or both of the parties. It is not unusual for such a case to include allegations of hidden income or assets. It is common for a closely held business to suspiciously encounter declining sales and profits following the filing of a family law case.

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 the correct numbers, the attorney may find it very difficult to decide what is fair or in the best interest of the client.

How can a spouse or parent with little to no direct access to the other party’s financial records prove that there is undisclosed income? What happens if the financial records obtained during discovery appear woefully incomplete? A forensic accountant is the logical choice to help reconstruct financial records, estimate earnings, and analyze fine details of financial documents to prove or disprove income claims. Continue reading

Dave Ramsey Still Sucks

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Eight years ago, I wrote a piece about how financial guru Dave Ramsey sucks because he supports multi-level marketing. I was hoping that since then, things may have changed. They haven’t. Dave has even gone further with his support and promotion of MLMs as a legitimate way for people to make money. He ignores the fact that 99% of people lose money in MLM, and obviously thinks that the people who lose money just didn’t work hard enough.

In this recent article from Dave’s website, Ramsey Solutions, he wholeheartedly endorses MLM. You might think he’s going to be smart about this, given that he starts off sarcastically referring to it as the most incredible opportunity. Continue reading

How Financial Statement Fraud 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

Calculating Spousal Support in Divorce Cases

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Each state has its own guidelines for calculating spousal support. Generally, factors which may be considered in determining alimony include:.

  • The length of the marriage
  • The needs of the recipient
  • The relative earnings of each party
  • Career sacrifices made to benefit the family (i.e. one parent gave up a career to raise children or one spouse worked so the other could complete a college degree)
  • The earning capacity of each party
  • The ability to pay spousal support
  • The lifestyle of the spouses during the marriage
  • The age of the parties
  • The property divided by the spouses
  • The ability of the recipient to earn income in the future

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Strategies to Reduce Employee Theft

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It might be hard to believe, but each and every day companies are losing money because they not only give employees opportunities to steal, they encourage it.

How? By not providing adequate oversight. A clerk, for example, sees that an error in an account wasn’t caught by anyone. A purchasing manager notices that no one is watching over his vendor relationships, and won’t know it if he establishes a fake account. Employees are not stupid. They know when they are being monitored and when their work is being checked. They know when they are working in an environment ripe for fraud.

But you have honest employees, you say? You’re probably right. If we thought job applicants were criminals, we wouldn’t hire them. But situations occur where the temptation to steal simply becomes too much. Imagine owing money to a hospital or having an expensive (and necessary) car repair that you can’t afford. What if your child needs clothing or food? There may come a day in your life when your morals are challenged because you have a financial need and an opportunity at the workplace that seems too good to pass up.

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Analyzing Business Tax Returns in Divorce Cases

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Tax returns can be one of the most important pieces of information a forensic accountant evaluates in a divorce case. Of course, there are other very important financial documents, but income tax returns provide summary information about of lot of financial issues, including income, expenses, and assets. I typically recommend reviewing three to five years of tax returns, but the further you can go back, the better the picture you will get of the personal or business finances.

If a party claims that personal or business tax returns are unavailable for any reason, consider requesting the records directly from the Internal Revenue Service. This requires the consent of an individual or business owner, and can be done with Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return.

On the business side, it will be important to compare the financial statements with the income tax returns. Because of differences in accounting rules and the tax law, numbers for the same period may differ between the financial statements and tax returns. Depreciation is one example of a line item that typically differs between the financial statements and income tax returns. The expert should investigate any differences between the financial statements and tax returns, and refer to the tax laws to confirm whether such a difference is legitimate.

Some of the key information that may be found in the income tax returns includes: Continue reading