The Expert's View with James Ratley

Fraud Examination: How to Get Started

Essential Skills, Training to Launch a Career
Fraud Examination: How to Get Started

I'm often asked about the field of fraud examination: How is it growing as a profession? What are the opportunities for new fraud examiners, and is it worthwhile to embark on this path as a career?

Without hesitation, I respond that the field is exploding. We see this in compensation studies, at career fairs and in our own membership numbers at the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE).

See Also: BEC Defense: Advanced Tactics to Shield Your Organization

Fraud examiners are in demand today - not due to any uptick in fraud (it has always been a serious problem and remains so), but because of the way it has moved to the front of the public consciousness. The publicity from cases like Enron, Worldcom and Bernie Madoff helped push fraud into the spotlight, and companies no longer find it permissible to 'hush away' fraud cases and try to quietly sweep them under the rug.

What skills are needed to be an effective fraud examiner? My short answer is that, as with any discipline, there are certain skills and areas of knowledge one needs to learn to be successful.

  • Digital Forensics: This relatively new field cannot be ignored due to how deeply integrated technology is with all manners of business today. Investigations will usually involve computers, portable high-tech devices and/or electronic files and communication. There are techniques that must be learned for collecting and analyzing digital evidence in fraud examinations - not to mention the proper (and legal) procedures for seizing and securing such evidence.
  • Accounting: Being able to review financial statements, bank records and other basic source documents with an understanding of accounting concepts and an eye for the indicators of fraud is crucial. There are plenty of live seminars, conferences and self-study courses that provide the accounting skills needed to detect and prevent fraud. The successful fraud examiner takes this foundation of accounting knowledge a step further - refining these skills with expert data analysis techniques, for example, for the detection of fraud.
  • Interpersonal Skills: In a fraud investigation, reviewing data and collecting evidence is a crucial part of the process - but it is not the whole process. Having effective interviewing skills is necessary - and if someone investigating a fraud does not know this already, they may find out the hard way through a failed case interview. Whether questioning witnesses or individuals who are suspected of fraud, I've often said that the untrained interviewer can be successful about 65 percent of the time. For a person with the proper training, however, my experience is that the interviewer can be successful 90 to 95 percent of the time.

    Experts will teach how to prepare for an interview, as well as important techniques for detecting deception. They will also explain how to seek a confession, when that becomes appropriate, and even how to prepare for and handle hostile interviews. A successful interview with a cooperative, forthcoming interviewee can make your case. A failed encounter might only make it long, difficult, or ultimately unsuccessful.

There are different ways to get started in the field. There are introductory courses (such as the ACFE's "Principles of Fraud Examination") that help build the knowledge base to be an anti-fraud professional, and events that provide networking and leads on job opportunities. There are hundreds of colleges and universities that now offer fraud examination curriculum, and some - such as Utica College, for example - that offer degree programs. At the student level, the ACFE provides assistance to accounting, business, finance and criminal justice students through the Richie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship program.

In talking to fellow anti-fraud professionals, I've found that there is a common trait among just about all of us: We entered the field because we have a passion for it. It is something we feel strongly about, and it is fulfilling to follow a trail and pursue a case to resolution. Given the demand for this role in business worldwide, what this means is that, overwhelmingly, individuals who move into fraud examination as a career don't look back. With new frauds around every corner, and the knowledge and best practices being provided to help ferret them out, the work is never dull and it is always needed.

Ratley is the president and CEO of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), the world's largest anti-fraud organization with more than 60,000 members in more than 150 countries.

About the Author

James Ratley

James Ratley

President and CEO, Association of Certified Fraud Examiners

In 2006, Ratley was named President of the ACFE, and, in 2011, he was also named CEO. In this role, he works to promote the ACFE to the public and other professional organizations and continues to assist in the development of anti-fraud products and services to meet the needs of the ACFE's members. In addition to his executive duties, Ratley serves as a member of the ACFE's faculty, and teaches regularly at workshops and conferences on a variety of fraud-related subjects.

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