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Forensic accounting: A look into a life of crime

When Jordan Belfort walked onto the trading floor for the first time in 1987 he wanted one thing, to get rich quick. Over the next decade, Belfort became involved in fraudulent stock trades that amounted to investor losses of more than $1 billion and eventually served 22 months in prison in America.

Sound familiar?
Cast your mind back to 2013 when the story became Hollywood blockbuster, The Wolf of Wall Street.

In the film, federal agents raided the brokerage behind the multimillion-dollar fraud and we finished watching Belfort behind bars.

In reality for a large group of lawyers and forensic accountants that was just the beginning of a nine-year quest to recover money for victims.

Sound interesting? Maybe a career as a forensic accountant is for you.

In financial crimes like this, finding solid evidence is never straightforward because people are intentionally hiding millions of dollars and hiding it well. That’s where forensic accountants come in. And stay. They’re involved in every stage throughout the entire investigation.

In fact, in nearly all customer-broker cases a lawyer will begin their process by having a forensic accountant review all the financial documents with a fine-tooth comb.

What else do they do?

Beyond criminal investigations, forensic accountants play a role in matters like…

  • Partnership disputes within a business (when two business partners no longer want to work together)
  • Personal injury claims (for things like car accidents)
  • Business/employee fraud investigations (if someone is breaking the law)
  • Divorce proceedings (ever heard of someone, ‘taking their spouse to the cleaner’)

Working in this area will mean providing an accounting analysis that is suitable for a court case with the report delivered by the accountant as a basis for the case.

Forensic accountants are trained to look beyond the numbers and investigate what’s REALLY happening. 

So put your hand up if:

Before reading this article, the life of an accountant seemed destined for beige pant-suits, filing cabinets, and women named Joyce who would time your toilet breaks.

Accounting is imagined to be a fluorescent lit world of tax file numbers, calculators, receipts, and old vegemite sandwiches for lunch. You guys, you are wrong. (Here’s why).

A friendly warning:

It’s not like something you’d see on CSI… the work of a forensic accountant is often a laborious (VERY DETAILED & LONG) task.

You could go through the same material over and over, searching for fictitious names or addresses by comparing data on documents to known fictitious names or addresses… for multiple names to the same address, or for multiple addresses for the same name. You get the idea, you’re looking for fraud. 

This is one of the most rewarding and challenging parts of the job. You will need to have a strong mix of people skills, interpretation skills and a keen attention for detail; and of course, more important than all, extensive accounting expertise.

Think forensic accounting sounds just the ticket? 

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