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Column: 'Catch the rat' by using forensic accounting

September 28, 2011
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Indiana Lawyer Commentary

By Howard I. Gross, Steven W. Reed, and Casey L. Higgs

Has your client experienced theft or maybe suffered from financial losses due to fraud? In hindsight did they wonder how the fraud was not discovered sooner? Help your client “catch the rat” by understanding how to better detect fraud and identify red flags that may indicate “a rat” is on the loose.

There are a lot of rats, or perpetrators, out there. According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiner’s 2010 Report to the Nation on Occupational Fraud and Abuse, organizations typically lose 5 percent of annual revenue to fraud. Worldwide, this amounts to a fraud loss of more than $2.9 trillion. With the overwhelming amount of fraud loss to organizations worldwide; and with the potential for your client to be a victim of fraud loss, it is important to detect fraud when or before it occurs.

So how do you catch the perpetrator and win the race? By being aware of the top five common warning signs as indicated in the Report to the Nation:

• Employee living beyond financial means (43 percent)

• Employee experiencing financial difficulties (36 percent)

• Excessive control issues with regard to their jobs (23 percent)

• Unusually close association with vendors or customers (22 percent)

• Wheeler-dealer attitude (19.2 percent).

The most common perpetrator lives beyond their financial means. If employees or executives working for your client appear to live extravagant and lavish lifestyles not lining up with their position and title, it may be indicative of fraud and worth further investigation. For example, a CFO of a small company owns vacation homes and an expensive car, or perhaps a large boat or takes extravagant trips; it may indicate company money is being used to pay for those luxury items.

The second most common perpetrator experiences financial difficulties and hardship, which causes them to steal from their own company. For example, if they have a spouse or family member who is undergoing treatment and medical bills are high, or if they have significant debt, they might be motivated to steal money from the company to support their own family. This is especially true during these difficult economic times.

Employees or executives with control issues that may be committing fraud will be less willing to share duties and they will probably take very little time off for fear of being caught. A good control here is to make sure all employees (especially those with financial responsibilities) take time away from the workplace.

Having an unusually close association with vendors or customers is the fourth most common warning sign of a perpetrator. Being too friendly or close could lead to collusion, which means two parties’ scheme together to commit fraud. An employee or executive may be receiving kickbacks for selling business to the outside party, an example of fraud in which both parties benefit. Two or more parties involved make the fraud more difficult to detect; all the more reason to understand the warning signs.

The fifth most common perpetrator has a “wheeler-dealer” attitude, which is someone who advances their own interests by being conniving and aggressive. One of the more infamous perpetrators for exhibiting this “wheeler-dealer” attitude is Bernard Madoff and his $50 billion Ponzi scheme. Madoff used his power and prestige to steal from people who trusted him, a true “wheeler-dealer.”

According to the Report to the Nation, the “financial difficulties” red flag is more common with employees as they generally have lower incomes than management and executives, so their motivation for committing fraud is more often based on an immediate financial need. Additionally, management and executives were much more likely to display control issues, to have unusually close associations with vendors or customers, and to exhibit a “wheeler-dealer” attitude than employees because they are in a better position to influence organizational decision making, arrange deals with outside parties, and exert control over the direction of the organization and tone at the top.

In conclusion, there are warning signs and red flags for fraud that companies may use to determine if further investigation is warranted. The top five common warning signs of fraud are not a comprehensive list of all red flags, and do not necessarily indicate fraud has incurred. Additionally, the red flags may be different for your clients depending on their size and industry. However, awareness of the warning signs and red flags can help your client to better detect fraud … and maybe, just maybe, you and your client can catch the rat!•

__________

Howard I. Gross, CPA/ABV/CFF, CFP; Steven W. Reed, CPA/ABV; and Casey L. Higgs, CPA/CFF, CFE are with BGBC Partners LLP. The opinions expressed are the authors’.

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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