ACFE Women’s Panel: Sayonara Old School Gender Roles


Mandy Moody, CFE
ACFE Media Manager

Thick skin and confidence. Those are just two of the skills the first-ever women’s panel offered female anti-fraud professionals during the ACFE Global Fraud Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, June 16, 2015. Cynthia Cooper, CFE, CEO of Cooper Group, moderated a panel of five women representing public, private, government and corporate worlds. The panelists included Tiffany Couch, CFE, CPA, CFF, Principal at Acuity Forensics; Sharon Curry, CFE, Director of Global Investigations at Wal-Mart; Francine Gross, Chief of the Economic Crimes Unit at the FBI; Leah Lane, CFE, CFS, Global Investigations Director at Texas Instruments, Inc.; and Liseli Pennings, Special Agent at the U.S. Department of Treasury. 

Below are a few of the important takeaways that any female professional would benefit from implementing: 

Say ‘no’ more. You don’t have to say ‘yes’ to everything to show that you are competent and able. You can say ‘no’ to certain projects. Pick the quality ones to step up and handle.

Hone two important skills: communication and confidence. As Lane said, “You must know how to communicate both verbally and in writing. You need to be able to present findings and give directions.” Along with that, you need confidence. You even need confidence when you may not have it. “You have to find ways to make yourself more confident,” Gross said. “You have to believe in yourself.” And even if that confidence is lacking, according to Couch, “you have to fake it until you make it. You have to act confident even if you don’t feel like it.”

Being a female can be an advantage. Characteristics that many women exhibit, like multitasking and an attention to detail, play huge roles in being a successful anti-fraud professional. Use these skills, perfect these skills and own these skills. Gross also mentioned that some people are more comfortable talking to women and sharing information with them. She recommends using the assumption that you are easier to talk to and get the most information you can. 

Accept the mommy-guilt and don’t listen to the nay-sayers. Balancing parenthood with your career is simply that, a balance. Two of the panelists, and some of the audience members, mentioned that their husbands are or were stay-at-home dads. That’s okay, they said. It works and it is what is best for their families. There are no specific gender roles assigned to working and parenting. If you hear different, ignore it.

Develop really thick skin. One attendee asked for advice in dealing with inappropriate jokes or male-dominated environments that unknowingly exclude females. The panel’s response was to never get emotional about it and don’t be too sensitive; it isn’t personal. Use a sense of humor to lighten a situation and know your personal threshold for dealing with these potential situations. And, if a line is crossed, hold people accountable for their actions.

No one is going to help you, but you. If you are lacking in a professional area, look for training. If you need a mentor, find one. You are in control of how far you will go.

The last piece of advice that definitely received the most laughs and some applause was what Couch’s mentor shared with her many years ago: “He told me, ‘Tiffany, you may be the smartest person in the room, but don’t act like you know you are the smartest person in the room.’”

Find more articles, videos and photos from the 26th Annual ACFE Global Fraud Conference at

The War Against Herbalife: Pyramid Scheme or Multi-level Marketing Master?


Emily Primeaux
Asst. Editor, Fraud Magazine

On Dec. 19, 2012, activist investor William Ackman publicly confirmed that he was “betting” against the stock of Herbalife because “the company operates like a pyramid scheme.” Ackman claimed in a 334-slide, three-hour presentation, “Herbalife is a pyramid scheme because, among other reasons, distributors earn more than 10 times as much from recruitment as they do by selling the company’s overpriced products to bona fide retail customers.” During his presentation, Ackman disclosed that he had an “enormous” short position in Herbalife’s stock, betting that shares in the company would fall. 

“Here is an investor that’s not just taking a financial stake,” said Jim Conversano, CFE, CFA, Principal at Berkeley Research Group, LCC. “He’s announcing it to the world.”

Were Ackman’s claims correct? Conversano discussed the investor’s qualms about Herbalife, one of the world’s largest multi-level marketing companies, in his breakout session, “The War Against Herbalife: Pyramid Scheme or Multi-level Marketing Master?”

Conversano started the session by giving attendees a brief overview of the difference between Ponzi and pyramid schemes. In short, investors in Ponzi schemes expect to earn a return from profitable investments. Participants in illegal pyramid schemes expect to earn profits from recruiting new members.

Multi-level marketing companies, on the other hand, are legal companies that sell legitimate products and services, use pyramid-like sales and distribution structures, and participants earn commission for products or services they and the distributors in their “downline” sell to others. Your downline consists of the participants you recruit and their recruits.

So where does Herbalife fit into this equation? Herbalife is a global nutrition company founded in 1980 that develops and sells weight management, healthy meals and snacks, sports and fitness, energy and targeted nutritional products as well as personal care products. Members can earn profits by purchasing Herbalife products at (discounted) wholesale prices and reselling those products, and earning commissions and bonuses by establishing and maintaining their own sales organizations (i.e. sponsoring other members). 

“Herbalife does require its participants to invest in a start-up fee,” said Conversano. “This is very widely out there, it’s not a secret fee. That’s what this investor [Ackman] had a problem with.”

According to Conversano, cases against Herbalife’s business structure, including Ackman’s, have brought into question the legal nature of their operations. In March 1985, Herbalife was sued by the California Attorney General and two other California regulators, alleging that the company made false claims about its diet products and employed an “illegal endless chain” to market them.

In October 1986, Herbalife announced that it agreed to pay $850,000 to settle the suit brought by the California regulators, but they admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement.

Most recently, on March 11, 2014, Pershing Square Capital Management, L.P. argued that Herbalife is violating China's direct-selling law by paying multi-level royalties based upon unlimited downline levels, and paying royalties and commissions totaling more than 30 percent of sales volume, among other accusations.

Despite all accusations, Herbalife vehemently defends its business practices and hasn’t yet been convicted of any wrongdoing. Opinions in the session were varied and active debate ensued. Conversano explained that while Herbalife doesn’t technically present itself as a pyramid scheme, it can’t be denied that there are red flags that should be considered.

So he left it up to us. Could Herbalife really be a decades-long fraud, similar to Madoff? What do you think?

Find more articles, photos and videos from the ACFE Global Fraud Conference at

Maryland Chapter’s Harbor Cruise Raises $3,500 for Ritchie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship


Ashley Stone, CFE
ACFE Chapter Development Manager

When Baltimore was selected as the host city for the 26th Annual ACFE Global Fraud Conference, the Maryland Chapter decided to plan an event to showcase the city while giving back to the fraud-fighting community.

After brainstorming, chapter vice president (and president elect) Steve Lesniewski, CFE recommended that a great way to entertain conference attendees, while raising funds for the ACFE Foundation, was a sunset cruise through Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

On Monday, June 15 more than 360 conference attendees boarded the Spirit of Baltimore for a two-hour cruise complete with hors d'oeuvres, a cash bar, a live DJ and dancing. The cruise traveled along the Patapsco River and offered views of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor area, historic Fort McHenry (birthplace of the U.S. national anthem), Federal Hill, the Francis Scott Key Bridge and even the world headquarters of athletic apparel company Under Armour.

The chapter paid for the full cost of the cruise but requested that those who wanted to attend pre-register by purchasing $10 tickets. The chapter is donating the entire proceeds from these ticket sales (more than $3,600) to the ACFE Foundation’s Ritchie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship fund as part of the Scholarship Fundraising Challenge.

Chapter president John Grimes, CFE, said that feedback from those that attended was overwhelmingly positive. “From all reports, everybody had a great time. Many people had kind words about Baltimore and the Maryland Chapter,” Grimes said.

On behalf of the ACFE, I would like to thank the Maryland Chapter for hosting this unique event and for their generous contribution to the ACFE Foundation.