Fraud Investigation for Small Firms

Minnesota Society of CPAs Footnote Magazine
February/March 2017

The growth in forensic accounting and fraud investigation specialties has led accounting firms of all sizes to expand their practices to these areas. Experts agree that this practice area will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.

Is it as easy as it sounds to add forensic accounting to your firm’s competencies? Traditional audit staff may have excellent foundational knowledge that could be applied to fraud investigations, but offering consistent and reliable services to clients in the area of forensic accounting will take some work.

Here are areas your firm — especially if it’s small — should focus.

Service focus

It is a simple decision to start providing accounting services. The next step is deciding which specific services to provide. Many types of engagements can fall under the forensic accounting umbrella, so it is important to develop a focus.

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False Claims in Multi-Level Marketing (MLM)

One of the most upsetting parts of the recruitment into a multi-level marketing company is the false earnings claims. People are lured into these companies with the promises of riches. It is not only done by presenting the tiny fraction of people at the top of the pyramid as typical when they are not. It is also done with outright lies about the level of income that “average” person can expect to make.

The entire business model of MLM is built around lies. Lies about how much you’ll have to work, how you’ll make your money (if you even make any), what you’ll have to do, and how you’ll develop new leads. They lie about how easy the whole thing is, and how you’ll be successful if you’re just willing to put in the time. (The truth is that you’re almost guaranteed to fail.)

Here are some of the most common lies told in the recruiting process:

1. You will be your own boss. You can set your own hours and dictate how you do business. (Not really true. The MLM company tells you how you’re allowed to do business.) You can control how much you make based on how much you’re willing to work. (Not true either. Your earnings are limited by your ability to recruit and the amount of money those recruits are are willing to put in the scheme.)

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Tax Mistakes to Avoid

With the end of the year approaching, it’s a good time to talk about some tax mistakes that can be very painful. With a tax code as huge and as complex as ours in the United States, there are countless mistakes we can make in preparing and filing our taxes. These are just a few that you might have the misfortune of making.

  1. Report all income – This includes the income on W-2s from all of your jobs, as well as income on 1099s that you may have earned as in independent contractor. Did you know that you need to report all of your income even if you don’t receive a 1099? While a company only has to provide a 1099 if they paid you $600 or more, you’re still required to report the income even if it’s less than that. Or if a company forgot to send you a 1099, you still have to report the income.
  2. Use a tax preparer – This is especially important if your taxes get complicated. Buying a rental property, moving to a new state, and having investments are all common things that can make your tax filing more difficult than it was before. The tax laws are constantly changing, and it makes sense to work with someone who is on top of those things. (But don’t go to H&R Block or other “big name” tax preparation places.)
  3. Read moreTax Mistakes to Avoid

Jeunesse Is a Pyramid Scheme, Says Expert

In October, a billion dollar class action lawsuit was filed against Jeunesse, alleging that the multi-level marketing company (MLM) is actually a pyramid scheme. Truth in Advertising summarizes the lawsuit:

The lawsuit, which was filed Oct. 12 in California federal district court by three current distributors and one former distributor, names 15 defendants and 100 unknown defendants that plaintiffs allege are responsible for the injuries and harm they incurred. Named defendants include Kim Hui, who held the second-highest distributor rank in Jeunesse as a Presidential Diamond director, and her company US Global System (USGS), as well as four Diamond directors in Hui’s downline, May Chang, Yvonne Yen, Samson Li and Lisa Wang.

The lawsuit says Jeunesse Global makes tons of money in Hong Kong and China by exploiting Chinese American distributors, and the company’s “… conduct violates foreign laws and constitutes money laundering and tax evasion.” Truth in Advertising reports:

The complaint most likely implicates violations of foreign law because in 2005, the Chinese government enacted a law called Regulation of Direct Sales and Regulation on Prohibition of Chuanxiao (Chuanxiao roughly translates to MLM). According to this regulation, direct sales are permitted in mainland China but MLMs are notThe suit seeks to hold defendants liable for fraudulent business practices, false advertising, and violations of the Federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, among other things.

This lawsuit was the latest in a series of class action lawsuits filed against Jeunesse  recently. A July 2016 suit alleged that the company is  pyramid scheme and there are secret compensation packages. A December 2016 lawsuit alleged that the company is a pyramid scheme and preys on Chinese American Immigrants.

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Year-End Tax Planning Tips for Consumers

Now is the time when everyone scrambles to get their tax situation in order. There are some tax moves you should make BEFORE the end of the year, so act now. I was interviewed in 2008 on CNBC about year-end tax planning. The advice is still relevant today, and each one of these tips still … Read more Year-End Tax Planning Tips for Consumers

Lack of Retail Sales in MLM

When someone introduces you to multi-level marketing (MLM), they are likely talking to you about the sales aspect of the company. They are talking about the fabulous product (maybe even about how it “sells itself”) and they are probably downplaying the recruiting aspect (since so many people hate the recruiting concept).

MLMs like to call themselves “direct sales,” another attempt to focus on the selling of the product, even though the companies live and die by recruiting. The product or service being sold is simply the bait to get someone in. It is used as the “cover” for the scam, as a product or service is necessary to combat claims of being a pyramid scheme.

The truth is that people involved in MLM 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.

That’s not retailing. That’s making purchases within the scheme. The members of the mutli-level marketing company likely wouldn’t buy those products or services if they weren’t in the scheme. They’re making purchases for a variety of reasons: to move to the next level, to “qualify” for a commission check, etc.

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Calculating Business Interruption Claims

Tracy walks through the process of calculating a business interruption insurance claim, also called a business income loss. When a company is unable to operate for a period of time due to a covered loss (a fire, for example), its insurance policy may provide coverage that pays for lost profits while the business is closed. … Read more Calculating Business Interruption Claims

WorldVentures Pyramid Scheme Lawsuit

Back in May, a class action lawsuit was filed against multi-level marketing company WorldVentures. This is the travel MLM that encourages distributors to share photos of themselves holding signs saying “You Should Be Here.”  It is marketed as a direct sales travel club, yet the “start a business” part of their website doesn’t even mention what you will be selling or doing. The World Ventures compensation plan mentions making money from selling products and from recruiting others, yet the entire document speaks only to the money that is made from enrolling new distributors (called enrolling new product customers). Making money from selling something seems to be wholly disregarded.

It’s not surprising then, that the lawsuit filed against WorldVentures by Melody Yiru accuses the company of being an endless chain recruitment scheme that is prohibited under California law. The lawsuit says, among other things:

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