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February 18, 2014

Anatomy of a fraudster: forensic accounting explained on campus

By Vincent Huck

"We can all become fraudsters, it’s just a question of circumstances." This will be the core message of Grant Thornton UK partner and forensic and investigation expert Chris Clements when he will address students from Leeds Metropolitan University tonight.

Clements will give a talk on campus about fraud in the world of business and will argue that there is no such thing as a typical fraudster.

"Ninety five percent of the population, including you and me, is capable of committing a fraud," he told The Accountant ahead of the talk. "What drives people to fraud is a combination of circumstances: a need of money, the opportunity to steal and the rationalization of why they should take it."

Clements maintained that fraud, therefore, could be prevented by removing the opportunity to steal with strong systems and controls, and more importantly by removing the motive by watching out for people in distress. "There are a number of red flags that you can spot," he said. "The famous one is people living above their financial means."

Even though the stereotypical fraudster usually portrayed in movies is a cliché, he continued, Clements has sometimes encountered situations that where not too far off from fiction. "I once witnessed someone who was supposed to earn £30,000 ($50,240) a year and showed up to work in a Lamborghini," he said.

Clements said that another way to prevent fraud was to ensure that potential fraudsters couldn’t rationalize the fraud as justified. "This has to do with the people at the top setting the right tone," he explained.

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Clements offered the example of a business he saw collapse because one of the people at management level had started to add £50 to his monthly bonus. The financial controller uncovered the fraud and instead of exposing it started to fiddle the books for his own benefit as well.

"And by the end of it the 108 people in the company were involved in some kind of fraud, all because of the person at the top who wanted an extra £50. Small things really make a big difference," Clements emphasised.

In a career spanning more than 20 years, Clements has seen the forensic field evolve hugely. "When I started you had a lot of junior people looking at piles of invoices," he said. "Now with technology it’s even more complicated, it’s all about big data and connecting the dots in a cross border environment."

But he believes that in the last 20 years the forensic field, and particularly the fraud and investigation area, has gained recognition as a discipline. Clements said: "We now recognise that there is a skill set combining accountancy, with law and investigation that can be used not only to investigate fraud but also to investigate a wide range of mal practices in the public and corporate sector."

 

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