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

GUEST BLOGGER

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.

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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!

ACFE Regent: Be Aware of Examination Tunnel Vision

Below is an excerpt from the latest article in Fraud Magazine, "The challenge of the chase: ACFE Board of Regents offer beneficial advice". All five elected regents sat down with Fraud Magazine at the ACFE Global Fraud Conference in June to discuss cyberfraud, technology, global partnerships and lessons learned. Here is one reflection from ACFE Regent Vidya Rajarao, CFE, CA and partner at Grant Thornton India.

Fraud Magazine (FM): One thing we don’t like to talk about are the things that didn’t go right. But we learn from those mistakes more than we learn from our successes. So, would you be willing to share some of the steps you made in the last year or past years that have really helped you in a particular case of how a fraud was working?

Vidya Rajarao: I think not understanding the scope of the problem is the biggest one. Initially you just have tunnel vision. You think it’s a small problem. You don’t realize it’s the tip of the iceberg. And what you’re attacking is just the tip.

FM: So, have you learned that there are no small problems? That you must assume this is the tip of the iceberg?

Rajarao: The challenge, as a practitioner, is I must assume this is not the tip of the iceberg, but then when you talk to clients they don’t want to hear that the problem is an iceberg. They want to contain it, and they believe that it’s just the tip. They want to believe it’s isolated: one rogue employee, one division, that it’s not a companywide problem. So, you need to balance the two. When you’re doing your work you still need be mindful that even though your current mandate is to evaluate the tip of the iceberg you’d be remiss in not telling your client once you have finished there is a larger problem behind the small issue, even though the client doesn’t want to hear that message.

FM: Can you think of an instance when you didn’t do that?

Rajarao: Yes, I can think of instances where I’ve not done that. Either because the client doesn’t want to listen or ... you’re just chasing the next fraud case. You’ve got five other cases, your teams are strained, so you just don’t explain the bigger picture. Five months later, you realize the small fraud is emblematic of a larger organizational issue either because of lack of controls, lack of training or they’ve done an acquisition and haven’t devoted time to transitioning everybody into one level of corporate governance. So, there’s only so much you can handle, and you’re always chasing.

Read the full interview in the latest issue of Fraud Magazine.

What Does it Mean to be a Regent?

GUEST BLOGGER

Tiffany Couch, CFE, CPA/CFF
Principal at Acuity Forensics

What does it mean to be a Regent? This simple question was recently posed to me, but I found that answering it was anything but simple. However, there is a recurring word that best describes my experience as a Regent: Deep, as in profound and meaningful.

  • Deeper Connections. Connecting with long-time colleagues and meeting new ones is the best part of my job, especially during the annual ACFE Global Fraud Conference. Being recognized as a Regent (how can you miss us with the big shiny medallion hanging around our necks?!) allows for new connections to be made easily.
  • Deeper Understanding. Did you know that fellow ACFE members span the globe, including countries most of us have never heard of (e.g. Benin, in West Africa)? And our numbers continue to grow year after year? Did you know that the ACFE and the Board of Regents takes our credential and its outlook in the professional community seriously, including the unfortunate position of investigating breaches of the ACFE Code of Professional Conduct? Understanding the depth and breadth of this organization makes me even more proud to be a Certified Fraud Examiner.
  • Deeply Honored. To be recognized by my professional peers as a leader in the field and asked to represent the membership at this level is truly an honor. I’m grateful for the recognition and the experience. 

The best part of the ACFE Board of Regents (and our collective membership) is the fact that we are an interesting bunch — from teachers to lawyers, accountants to law enforcement officers, our backgrounds are varied and interesting. Yet we all have the same deep commitment to detect and prevent fraud. What we can learn from each other and the heights to which our professional credential can rise are truly limitless.

As a Regent, I highly encourage you to take a few minutes’ time to research the individuals on this year’s slate of nominees and make an educated choice for the individual in which you want to be represented. Casting your vote is an important way for you to exercise your right as an ACFE member and to have a voice in the direction of the organization.

Go ahead, dig deep. Find the time on that busy calendar of yours and cast your vote today!

Vote for the Future Leaders of the ACFE

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Jim Oakes, CFE, CFCI, ACFE Regent, ACFE UK Chapter President
Managing Director, Financial Crime Risk, Ltd.

As 2014 approaches and my term in office as chair of the Board of Regents sadly draws to an end, I would like to reflect on what seems like an all too brief, but extremely fulfilling, experience. I first became aware of the ACFE when I left law enforcement to join Citibank as an investigator in the mid-90s. Recognition of the ACFE here in the UK at this time was restricted mainly to U.S.-based international corporations, but that was about to change following the establishment of the ACFE UK Chapter in 1996. Since that time our chapter membership has grown to more than 900 members. 

Although I have served on the board of the UK Chapter initially serving as vice president in 2004 for nine years and serving as Chapter president since 2013, the internal workings of the ACFE, so far away in Austin, were much of a mystery to me. In 2011 I was shortlisted as a proposed candidate for election to serve on the 2012-2013 Board of Regents. This was the highlight of my professional career. I did not expect to be elected against such worthy and highly qualified fellow candidates, and I was extremely proud just to have been shortlisted. Needless to say I was delighted upon being elected by my peers to serve on the ACFE Board of Regents.

On arrival at the Gregor Building, ACFE’s headquarters in Austin, Texas, in February 2012 to be installed on the Board, I was surprised to discover behind the historic former private dwelling, which forms the key offices of the executives of the Association, a large complex of several modern office buildings housing more than 75 permanent staff, the powerhouse of the ACFE. On meeting the staff, one can only be impressed by their enthusiasm and professionalism, which are keys to the ongoing success of our organisation.

As a member of the Board of Regents I have performed several integral functions. Under the current bylaws, the Board of Regents has sole authority over the admission of members, including but not limited to, examination standards. The Board is responsible for establishing, modifying and enforcing the CFE Code of Professional Ethics and all other matters necessary to maintain the high standards of the ACFE around the world. Acting as the final decision makers on disciplinary matters and upholding the principles and standards of the Association can be a challenging aspect and is not taken lightly.

Give a fellow CFE the opportunity to represent you on the Board of Regents by voting right now for the two representatives of your choice. Act now to help a colleague begin their role as a future leader in the premier anti-fraud organization in the world. You won't regret it, and those elected to represent you will always remember your grassroots support just like I have done over the years.

Vote for the Future Leaders of the ACFE

GUEST BLOGGER

Joseph R. Dervaes, CFE, CIA, ACFE Fellow
Regent Emeritus (1999-2003)

I served the longest term ever on the Board of Regents: four years, with three years as Chairman. It was the beginning of a long career of service to the membership in ACFE leadership positions on the Board of Regents, the Board of Review and the ACFE Foundation Board of Directors; 13 consecutive years in all. Applying to be a member of the Board of Regents and then being elected to serve the membership, were clearly the greatest events of my professional career. It even led to my later selection as the recipient of the Donald R. Cressey Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003. My term on the Board of Regents allowed me to forge life-long personal and professional relationships with fellow Board members, two of whom subsequently received the Cressey Award as well. This glimpse of the quality of those who served on the Board of Regents with me should present you with a picture of future leaders in action. Yes, there was the downside of having to act to discipline members who failed to abide by the ACFE Code of Ethics. But, more importantly, there was the upside of working to establish new ACFE programs, participating in developing standards as well as program policies and procedures, and helping to formalize standards for ACFE Chapters around the world. 

The Board of Regents is the highest level of CFE leadership available in the ACFE. CFEs who have presented their names on the annual ballot are some of the finest professionals throughout the world. They have taken the first step by throwing their hat into the ring for election consideration by you, the members. Now it's your turn to take that all-important step of voting for the two CFEs of your choice. Vote wisely because these new leaders will help to set the future direction of the ACFE. And if you attend the 24th Annual ACFE Global Fraud Conference, please take the time to introduce yourself to the Regents and thank them for their service.

Give a fellow CFE the opportunity to represent you on the Board of Regents by voting right now for the two representatives of your choice. Act now to help a colleague begin their role as a future leader in the premier anti-fraud organization in the world. You won't regret it, and those elected to represent you will always remember your grassroots support just like I have done over the years.