The Blog

Fraud: A Word to the Unwise

For those of us involved with fraud it looks like another good year for temptation to trump trustiness in the workplace.

For those of us involved with fraud it looks like another good year for temptation to trump trustiness in the workplace.

The word 'good' is used advisedly, of course. But for a forensic accountant there is no greater satisfaction than solving a financial whodunnit.

Sadly, the clues are usually rather easy to follow and would make painfully predicable television.

So, in the interests of levelling the playing field, here are some tips for potential employee fraudsters.

The first is this: Don't. Really. You will be discovered. Not today, maybe not even tomorrow. But eventually. Fraud is usually an addiction impossible to control; and nobody in my experience seems able to walk away in time.

If a forensic accountant is on the way, incidentally, it is already too late to hide.

The other thing to remember, but you probably won't, is that any well run business keeps its cash flow and invoices under close, independent scrutiny.

It never, ever allows just one person oversight without them being overseen themselves.

If you are that one person, you will be the first a forensic accountant scrutinises; because as with any crime, the key question is: Who had the opportunity? Motive comes later.

Secondly, don't buy flashy cars and absurdly expensive holidays for your family and 10 friends, or a showy second home that you then boast about.

That will raise eyebrows with colleagues who have a rough idea what you earn faster than an Olympic 100 metre sprint is over. Sudden big spending is always a giveaway.

And then there is the Selfless Dedicated Employee (SDE). Nobody is that committed to the books that they feel the need to go in at nights and weekends regularly, alone. If you are doing that, expect questions. Bosses are a bit blind to loyalty. A forensic accountant is not.

The SDE can often be a quite senior, or junior person. Oddly, it's rarely anybody in the middle.

If you have been with the company less than five years your card will be marked for special scrutiny, too. The average fraudster fits that profile.

Oh, yes: and please try to come up with something original. Most fraud is, frankly, quite obvious even if hard to untangle, as is working out roughly who is likely to be behind it. He - and it usually is a man- will invariably be a trusted employee.

Despite what scriptwriters suggest, very little company fraud is technically complex, involving webs of offshore accountants and any degree of real financial sophistication.

There is rarely a genius mind at work, in other words. I wish. It generally involves the chance meeting of Opportunity with its friend Greed. Nobody bothers to get to know Planning too well, and you probably won't either.

Finally, think about your own better nature. Workplace fraud is not a victimless crime, so expect no sympathy. Fraud destabilises a company of any size leading to suspicions and low morale.

It can also badly dent its cash balances - about 1.4 per cent of revenue is typically lost by a corporate victim - or stock inventories, which in turn can lead to other people losing their jobs.

May I wish any potential workplace fraudsters bad luck in the year ahead. You deserve it.