Professionals who enter the accounting and finance field can pursue many different career opportunities, but those wanting to become involved in the investigation and resolution of potential fraud, or its prevention, may want to consider a career as a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE).
With the right kind of training and experience, CFEs can act in roles that combine law, criminology, and investigation with accounting, according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), which offers the CFE credential. CFEs might sift through accounting books and financial records looking for patterns that could indicate fraud, as well as interview potential suspects, write final reports, or even testify in court. They may be employed as audit specialists, internal or external auditors, or forensic accountants.
Having this CFE credential can provide an advantage when competing for a job against some who is not similarly certified. Most commonly, the CFE job candidate will be selected over someone who does not have the certification and their salary may be 15 to 20 percent higher. In fact, the ACFE reports that CFEs typically make 25 percent more than their non-certified counterparts. And O*NET OnLine, which obtains its information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, places the median annual pay of fraud examiners, investigators and analysts, at $61,160 annually.
Background education will vary for those who wish to become CFEs. Applicants can be forensic accountants, of course, but they can also be external auditors, or even IRS agents. As such, they typically have some kind of training in finance and/or accounting, and could have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in one of these fields.
At the heart of their training is an understanding about how to recognize potential acts of fraud. The science of numbers and accounting is important, but professionals also must be aware of patterns that can appear in accounting books and records or simply though specific behaviors. “You’ve got to be a stickler for details,” an associate professor with aforementioned Bacone College in Muskogee, Okla., told that school’s online newspaper. “You’ve got to have a feeling for something that’s right or wrong.”
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Prospective CFEs must typically have a bachelor’s degree or at least two years of fraud-related experience. While the bachelor’s degree requirement doesn’t require study in a particular field, certain degrees may help students better prepare for their CFE credential.
Utica College, for example, offers a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Economic Crime Investigation that is available entirely through an online format. Topics covered as part of this degree program include financial institution fraud, identity theft, investment fraud, money laundering, public corruption, and more. Two concentrations —Financial Investigation, and Fraud Prevention and Detection—are also available to students. Additionally, the school provides an Executive Master’s of Science degree in Economic Crime Management that similarly can help students with preparation for the CFE, and is offered entirely through online learning.
Many other programs are available to help students train for their CFE credential, including hybrid and online learning options. Students may want to look for programs through a school’s department of accountancy, where they may find options available at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
North Seattle Community College, for example, provides a 15-credit certificate course in accounting fraud that is available entirely online. Courses include Fraud Examination, Forensic Accounting, and Introduction to Financial Criminology, and are particularly geared toward students who eventually may want to take the CFE exam.
Other schools offering online education to help prep students for the CFE exam include Southern New Hampshire University whose Bachelor’s of Science degree in Forensic Accounting and Fraud Examination program stresses fraud detection, theft and malfeasance through close investigation of financial records.
Additionally, the University of Charleston, in West Virginia, provides a Master’s of Forensic Accounting degree that uses both hybrid and online learning components. As a matter of fact, practicing forensic accountants designed the school’s curriculum, according to the website, resulting in students study topics such as Criminology, Data Analysis Methodologies, and Professional Ethics.
Students wanting to take the CFE need to meet several requirements before being eligible to sit for the exam. These include having a bachelor’s degree, being a member of the ACFE, having at least two years of experience related to fraud detection or deterrence, three letters of professional recommendation and maintaining strict adherence to the ACFE’s Code of Professional Ethics.
The CFE exam is rigorous, and takes approximately 10 hours to complete. All exams are uniquely generated, keeping any two tests from being alike. The exam consists of 500 questions with 125 questions in each of four sections: Criminology and Ethics; Financial Transactions; Legal Elements of Fraud; and Fraud Examination and Investigation. Test-takers have a maximum time limit of 75 seconds per question and 2.6 hours for each section.
The ACFE offers a number of ways to help students prepare for the exam. This includes a CFE Exam Prep Course, and a 3 1/2 day CFE Exam Review Course. The organization also provides a coaching e-newsletter and a forum to help students share thoughts and tips about prepping for the exam.
As previously stated, the CFE is offered through the ACFE, which is considered the world’s largest anti-fraud organization and has more than 70,000 members. The organization was founded in 1998 out of Austin, Texas by Dr. Joseph T. Wells, CFE, CPA, an accountant-turned-FBI agent.
The CFE credential is one that fraud examiners may want to seek as it connotes expertise in fraud detection, deterrence, and prevention. In fact, a recent study by Robert Half International shows that the CFE is considered one of the most marketable credentials currently available, reports the ACFE.