Banner image for Scaling New Heights 2024, the premier accounting technology conference in the United States. The image features the conference theme and dates.

Fraud Defense Tactics for Accounting Professionals

Lori Sughroue
Posted by Lori Sughroue on Feb 13, 2024 1:00:00 AM

Fraud, in its various forms, continues to pose a significant threat to individuals, businesses, and governments alike. Cyber-attacks, phishing incidents, and other cybersecurity threats have become almost commonplace in our daily lives. These digital threats are just one facet of the broader landscape of fraud, which encompasses a multitude of schemes, including financial statement manipulation, employee expense report fraud, procurement fraud, cryptocurrency scams, Ponzi schemes, data breaches, and even nonprofit fraud. 

While high-profile cases like Enron and Bernie Madoff's massive frauds capture headlines, the reality is that fraud occurs on a regular basis across various scales. One that hits too close to home for me was the case of Rita Crundwell, who embezzled nearly $54 million from the small town of Dixon, Illinois, over two decades. Such cases are not isolated incidents; they underline the pervasive nature of fraud in our society. 

Understanding the landscape of fraud

Throughout my career as an accountant, I have encountered instances of fraud time and again, prompting the question: Why does fraud occur? There are several key factors contributing to the prevalence of fraud:

  1. Lack of Internal Controls: Small businesses, particularly, often operate with limited resources and may fail to establish robust internal controls. This creates opportunities for employees or business owners to manipulate financial records without detection. 
  1. Limited Oversight: Small businesses can lack independent oversight or separation of duties. When a single individual or a small group has control over all financial aspects, it becomes easier for them to engage in fraudulent activities. 
  1. Financial Pressure: Employees or business owners may face personal financial stress or difficulties, which can drive them to commit fraud to alleviate their financial problems. 
  1. Opportunity: Fraudsters tend to exploit weaknesses in internal controls and processes. Small businesses may lack dedicated fraud prevention measures, making it easier for individuals to identify and exploit opportunities for fraud. 
  1. Lack of Employee Screening: Smaller businesses might not conduct thorough background checks or employee screening, inadvertently hiring individuals with a history of fraud or unethical behavior. 
  1. Trust and Familiarity: In close-knit, small business environments, a high level of trust often exists among employees and owners. Unfortunately, this trust can be exploited by individuals who take advantage of their positions. 
  1. Inadequate Training: Employees in small businesses may not receive sufficient training in fraud prevention or may remain unaware of the warning signs associated with fraudulent activities. 
  1. Pressure to Meet Financial Targets: Small businesses may face intense competition or financial challenges, which can result in pressure to achieve revenue or profit targets. Such pressures can incentivize unethical behavior. 
  1. Owner Involvement: In certain cases, the business owners themselves may be directly involved in fraud due to a lack of oversight or a desire to manipulate financial statements for personal gain. 

Strategies for Fraud Prevention and Detection

As accountants and business advisors, we play a crucial role in mitigating the risks associated with fraud. Proactive steps we can take to assist businesses in preventing and addressing fraud: 

  1. Risk Assessment: Conduct a comprehensive fraud risk assessment for the business, identifying potential fraud risks specific to its industry, organization, and processes. 
  1. Segregation of Duties: Help clients establish proper segregation of duties within their financial processes, ensuring that no single individual has control over critical financial functions like transaction approval, recording, and reconciliation. 
  1. Internal Controls: Assist in designing and implementing effective internal controls, encompassing approval workflows, reconciliation procedures, and access controls for financial systems. 
  1. Fraud Policy and Code of Conduct: Help businesses develop and communicate a clear and comprehensive fraud policy and code of conduct. Encourage employees to report suspicious activities through established channels. 
  1. Employee Training: Conduct training sessions on fraud awareness and prevention for employees, educating them about the types of fraud, warning signs, and the importance of reporting concerns. 
  1. Whistleblower Programs: Advocate for the creation of whistleblower programs, providing employees with a means to report fraud anonymously and without fear of retaliation. 
  1. Regular Audits and Reviews: Recommend regular internal audits or reviews to your clients to detect and prevent fraud, assisting in identifying anomalies and inconsistencies. 
  1. Use of Technology: Advise clients on the adoption of fraud detection technology, including data analytics and software tools that can identify irregular patterns and potential red flags in financial transactions. 
  1. Supplier and Vendor Due Diligence: Assist clients in performing due diligence on suppliers and vendors, ensuring they are reputable and reliable business partners. 
  1. Background Checks: Suggest conducting background checks for employees who have access to sensitive financial information, particularly those in key financial roles. 
  1. Financial Statement Analysis: Aid in analyzing financial statements for signs of irregularities or inconsistencies that may indicate fraud. 
  1. Response Planning: Collaborate with businesses to develop a fraud response plan that outlines the steps to take when fraud is suspected or detected. This should encompass reporting to authorities, preserving evidence, and initiating an internal investigation. 
  1. Continuous Monitoring: Stress the importance of ongoing monitoring and vigilance against fraud, recognizing that fraud risks can evolve over time, necessitating adaptive prevention efforts. 
  1. Legal and Regulatory Compliance: Ensure that the business adheres to relevant laws and regulations related to financial reporting and fraud prevention. 
  1. Leading by Example: As trusted advisors, we should set an example of ethical conduct and integrity in our interactions with clients and their financial information. 
  1. Staying Informed: Keep abreast of the latest fraud trends, techniques, and cases to provide relevant and up-to-date guidance. 

Specialize in fraud detection and prevention

For accountants who aspire to become forensic accountants or fraud examiners, a combination of education, professional certification, and relevant experience is typically required. Certified fraud examiners (CFE) often earn 17% more than those without the CFE credential. The general steps toward certification in this field include: 

  1. Educational Background: To build a strong foundation in accounting principles, you'll need a bachelor's degree in accounting, finance, or a related field. 
  1. Gaining Experience in Forensic Accounting: Seek opportunities in forensic accounting or fraud examination roles. This may involve working with law enforcement agencies, accounting firms specializing in forensic services, or corporate investigative departments. 
  1. Networking: Cultivate a professional network by attending industry events, joining relevant associations (e.g., ACFE), and connecting with professionals in the field. Networking facilitates access to job opportunities and keeps you updated on industry trends. 

As accountants and business advisors, our role in preventing and addressing fraud is pivotal. By conducting thorough risk assessments, fostering robust internal controls, and promoting a culture of transparency and ethics, we empower businesses to safeguard their financial well-being. Equipping employees with the knowledge and tools to recognize and report fraud, advocating for whistleblower programs, and leveraging technology for fraud detection are essential steps in this endeavor. 

Fraud affects us all

In the dynamic landscape of fraud, it is imperative to remain vigilant, adaptable, and informed about emerging threats. Collaboration among businesses, professionals, regulatory bodies, and law enforcement agencies is the linchpin in effectively combating fraud. 

Fraud prevention extends beyond protecting financial assets; it encompasses preserving trust, reputation, and the integrity of financial systems. By working collectively and taking proactive measures, we can fortify our defenses against fraud, ensuring a more secure and trustworthy business environment. 

Topics: Operational Advisory


Sign up and stay plugged into the education, news pieces and information relevant to you.

Subscribe to The Woodard Report today! 

Do you have questions about this article? Email us and let us know >