Congratulations to Our 90-Day CFE Exam Challenge Winners!


Courtney Howell
ACFE Community Manager

We recently concluded our October-December 90-Day CFE Exam Challenge, where participants signed up with the intention to prepare for and earn their CFE credential before the end of 2017. The results are in, and we'd like to congratulate the 72 members who completed the challenge successfully.

Congratulations to these new CFEs!

If you're interested in joining our next 90-Day Challenge, stay tuned. We'll announce our April-June challenge near the beginning of March. 

Hooked on Fraud Fighting: How I Found My Passion and How I Give Back Now


Alexis C. Bell, MS, CFE, PI, ACFE Regent
International Antifraud Consultant
CEO, Fraud Doctor LLC

I am often asked, “How did you get into fraud?” Though it’s more accurate to say I’m in “anti-fraud” rather than fraud, I understand the question. What made me decide to go down this path?

I am reminded of the time in my life when I was the controller for an international textile firm. By then, I had 13 years of experience in management and nowhere to advance. This was a new company for me. As I settled in, I heard staff complain that what was in the “system” never matched what was out in the warehouse. Being a bean counter where accuracy was paramount, I asked when they last performed a physical inventory. After being met with the deer-in-the-headlights look and realizing they had never done a physical inventory, I announced everyone was coming in that weekend and we were going to straighten out the inventory situation.


Now that I have the privilege of serving on the Board of Regents for the ACFE, I have the honor of making a difference at the international level.

Alexis Bell, MS, CFE, PI, ACFE Regent

As the least popular person in the building that Saturday morning, it was only a matter of hours before I grasped the full situation. There was a reason things were not lining up. We launched an internal investigation and identified a fraud scheme where the warehouse manager was selling directly to clients and pocketing the cash. We even found completely full hotel rooms floor-to-ceiling with products stolen from our warehouse. In that moment, I realized two things. One, how colossally bored I had been doing “regular” accounting where nothing ever changed but the volume of paperwork. And two, how much fun I had using my accounting skills to help with the investigation. That was it. I was hooked. I made the decision to transition to forensic accounting and never looked back.

After making the jump, I found my new home at the ACFE. It was here that I learned what I needed to about how to investigate fraud. Back then, there were no degree programs. You had to learn on the job. It was my self-study with ACFE training, books and materials that gave me the foundation to quickly understand what I was seeing in the field. I created structure for an environment that at that time had none. I was a sponge for knowledge, learning everything I could get my hands on. What I learned from those materials and mentors often made the difference between being successful during the investigation and not.

Fast forward many years, and I had the honor to give back to the beloved organization that helped me so much in the early years. I served on the local chapter board as the board secretary and then later as the board president. Together, we created outreach programs for our community and shaped the courses that were beginning to arrive in academia. We helped members locate related job openings and brought in truly outstanding speakers for thought leadership in training efforts.

After the ACFE Board of Regents election last year, I attended my first board meeting at the international headquarters in Austin, Texas. I had the opportunity to finally meet the ACFE staff who I had only spoken to on the phone or emailed in the past. I am grateful for the chance to individually meet and speak with every single employee. What struck me was how happy everyone was and how much they loved their job. It was a remarkable experience to meet the people who developed, published, disseminated and advocated the very same material that helped make me successful as an investigator over the course of my career. I was amazed at how much each person understood and appreciated their contribution to making the world a safer place from fraud. It endeared me to the ACFE all the more.

Now that I have the privilege of serving on the Board of Regents for the ACFE, I have the honor of making a difference at the international level. I find that having experience in different regions in the world means I bring a unique perspective to the role of the Regent. Other members bring perspectives from industries, government, academia and insight into what the future landscape holds. The two-year term is short in consideration for all of the ideas the board has for working with the staff and moving the ACFE into the next era. We can’t possibly get it all done within that timeframe. Some of it will have to be completed by the new Board of Regents members. They will bring a fresh perspective and even more possibilities with them. Time is running out to make your selection for the incoming board members. Cash in on your right to vote and make your voice heard.

Make a difference in an incredible organization that is changing how we protect companies from fraud. Vote now!

Breaching a Fraudster's Defenses: Psychology in Interviews


Before becoming president of the ACFE, James D. Ratley, CFE, worked with the Dallas, Texas Police Department, developing many important interviewing skills along the way. While working in internal affairs, he joined a joint task force assembled to investigate possible widespread fraud at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport (DFW). 

Looking back at that time he stated, “I didn’t know anything about white-collar crime, but I had to interview people suspected of committing it.” In this excerpt from Policing Fraud: My Journey from Street Cop to Anti-Fraud Leader, Ratley describes how he adapted and improved his interviewing skills to help him investigate white-collar crime through an understanding of the psychology of a fraudster.

“To match wits with a fraudster during an admission-seeking interview, I needed clear insight into why he or she stole and often kept stealing until caught. That would help me interpret what the suspect said or didn’t say, as well as understand how to persuade him to level with me.

On occasion, I read articles on why crooks committed a variety of crimes, and now my interest was surging. So I called the University of Texas in Dallas and asked for an appointment with Dr. Larry Redlinger, a highly regarded criminologist. When we met, he explained that although he didn’t specialize in white-collar crime, he knew of two books that might help me.

'Bring this over to the UT library,' he said while scribbling the titles and his signature. 'Tell them I’d appreciate it if they let you borrow them. The more important one is Dr. Donald R. Cressey’s Other People’s Money. It explains who embezzles and why.' He added that Cressey had co-authored the second book — Principles of Criminology — with Edwin H. Sutherland. 'It’s the standard text. Sutherland coined the term white-collar crime to describe this particular type of offense.' I thanked him and hurried to get those books before someone else did. That evening I began devouring both. They would eventually change my professional life. 

… Over the next several nights, I immersed myself in Dr. Cressey’s discussions of why and how people steal from their employers and others who trust them. The key factors that he said cause and permit fraud — need, opportunity, and rationalization … Together these three elements formed what Cressey called the Fraud Triangle.

Now, thanks to him, I understood what really linked white-collar criminals, their schemes, and the businesses they defrauded. 

… Reading Cressey revealed to me how rationalization stimulates and perpetuates fraud. I remember thinking to myself, 'You can’t judge these people by your standards. They don’t have your standards.' And that’s how it is. White-collar criminals often don’t feel like they’ve done anything wrong. Once I understood that, I changed my entire approach, tailoring my interviews to their rationalizations.

Before reading Cressey, I would have said to a suspect I had strong evidence against, “I know you took that money, so just tell me how you did it.” But it’s hard getting someone to admit he committed a crime; sometimes I’d be at it all day and wind up with nothing to show for my efforts. My new method was to ask the suspect how he felt about his job and the company. If he expressed resentment, I’d probe for specifics. That tended to induce the suspect to vent, for example, about working long hours and not getting a raise. Then I’d shift gears, no longer trying to get him to admit doing something wrong. 'All that extra work, and they didn’t give you anything for it?' I’d say. 'How did you manage to get the money they owed you?'

When I got a suspect to answer that question honestly, I knew I’d made real progress, far more than by being confrontational or accusatory. The next step was to get a written, signed statement from the suspect, as I’d done many times for nonfinancial crimes. In fraud cases, though, there’s no point in charging someone unless you can prove intent.

Some suspects admitted committing a fraudulent act, but said it was the result of an honest error or ignorance. To counter that, I’d appeal to the suspect’s vanity, encouraging him to explain how he’d cleverly managed to conceal his fraud. I’d also ask nonconsecutive questions about the specifics of the fraud, seeking contradictions in the suspect’s account that might lead him to tell lies I could disprove by comparing them to known facts or witness testimony. In this way, even when the suspect didn’t realize it, I’d obtain ample proof of his intent to commit fraud. And that gave me a solid case for the Dallas County D.A.”

Still need some last-minute gifts for your favorite fraud fighter? Read more about this book and the many other resources available in the latest ACFE Bookstore Catalog.

What You Need to Know About the Paradise Papers

Magnifying glass over red file folder.jpg


Mason Wilder, CFE
ACFE Research Specialist

Massive data leak leads to newspaper reports uncovering shady offshore financial dealings. Sound familiar? It should.

Once again, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) managed to get its hands on a treasure trove of financial and legal documents that outline the mechanisms used to help some individuals and corporations move money to reduce their tax burdens and obscure asset ownership. This time, the leak and accompanying stories have been coined the “Paradise Papers,” in a follow-up to 2016’s “Panama Papers.”

The two leaks share many similarities, but how are they different?
First off, and perhaps most importantly, this year’s Paradise Papers feature a main player (Appleby – a Bermuda-based legal services firm) that was seemingly more selective about its client list than the star of last year’s Panama Papers. Mossack Fonseca, a Panama-based law firm, showed no qualms dealing with individuals and entities potentially tied to illegal activities, including several heads of state and/or their families and associates. The leaks led to the Mossack Fonseca’s dissolution, the arrests of the founders, the resignation of Iceland’s PM, the removal of Pakistan’s Prime Minister, and investigations targeting more than 6,000 individuals and corporations throughout the world.

The Paradise Papers have not yet linked the subjects of the data leak to criminal culpability – and aren’t necessarily expected to – but they do feature a much more eye-catching list of names associated with almost 25,000 shell companies in more than 30 offshore jurisdictions. British royals Queen Victoria and Prince Charles, rock star Bono, Formula 1 superstar Lewis Hamilton, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Twitter, Facebook, Apple, American pop stars Madonna and Justin Timberlake, and Russian oligarchs. These are only some of the high-profile figures and companies connected to offshore financial dealings through the Paradise Papers. It’s worth mentioning again that none of these people have faced allegations of criminal wrongdoing thus far, just questions about whether their financial dealings are “bad optics.”

Secondly, while the Paradise Papers certainly qualify as a bombshell data leak, the Panama Papers have them beat in terms of size, setting the record for largest known data leak at 2.6 terabytes (TB). There’s a good chance that much of the data from the Panama Papers still hasn’t even been seen by human eyes yet. The Paradise Papers, on the other hand, reportedly feature only 1.4 TB of data, or 13.4 million documents ranging from 1950-2016. Additionally, the Panama Papers’ documents came in formats much easier to process compared to the Paradise Papers. It may be a while before all the implications of the Paradise Papers can get sorted out and relayed to the public.

What can fraud examiners learn from this latest leak in the meantime?
It isn’t exactly a revelation that potential targets of fraud examinations or investigations can go to great and convoluted lengths to obscure asset ownership and complete pictures of their finances. By studying the stories borne out of the Paradise Papers, fraud examiners can gain a better understanding of how the thin line between tax avoidance and tax evasion, or the line between unethical and illegal, can be blurred or skirted. Fraud examiners can also learn red flags to look for and places to look for them in due diligence or compliance investigations, asset searches and more. They can also gain insight into tactics for moving and hiding assets internationally. Most importantly, much of the data from the Paradise Papers has been added to the searchable database of the ICIJ, almost all of which is publicly available on their website for use in any number of investigative or research tasks. Happy hunting!

To learn more about what fraud examiners should know about the Panama Papers leak, read "Shell Shocked" from Fraud Magazine.