Fraud investigation is the research of intentional criminal deception and involves civil and criminal methods of examination.
Most fraud investigators work in corporate or government-based institutions. Duties vary greatly, and the skills required include: conducting independent research of claims, examining the evidence, interviewing victims, and questioning potential perpetrators.
With the rise of identity theft and cybercrime, fraud investigators interview victims of fraudulent electronic transactions and interact directly with complainants and law enforcement officials. Additionally, fraud investigators communicate with employers, witnesses, and complainants. Along with the criminal justice system, they serve and execute search warrants, conduct surveillance, collect evidence, and make statements under oath in courtroom testimonies. Fraud investigators also work with attorneys and prosecutors in consultative legal capacities.
Fraudulent crime has changed drastically over the years, but knowing the origins gives fraud investigators a historical framework to solve crimes. To this point, Duke University history professor Edward J. Balleisen, author of the book Fraud: An American History from Barnum to Madoff, explains that the historical origins of fraud can be traced back to the early 19th century. It was then that the phrase “buyer beware” became a famous phrase amongst consumers in the United States and Balleisen’s book places modern-day fraud scandals in a long-term context.
With identity theft and cybercrimes on the rise in the 21st century, the need for qualified fraud investigators to investigate, prosecute, and prevent fraud-based crime is high. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that careers in financial examination will grow 7 percent nationally between 2019 and 2020. This rate is faster than the national average (4 percent) and estimates 4,900 new positions will be created (BLS 2021). To illustrate this point, statistics from the Insurance Information Institute show there is no shortage of cases to investigate; in 2020, the Federal Trade Commission received 4.8 million identify theft and fraud reports, a 45 percent increase compared to 3.3 million in 2019.
To maintain the societal and ethical integrity of a country’s economic and political systems, trained fraud investigators are necessary for the overall financial health of individuals and organizations.
Read on to learn more about how to become a fraud investigator.
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Fraud investigators must work independently and have precise written and verbal communication skills. Additionally, the qualifications of potential fraud investigators include the ability to conduct interviews, write legal reports, take statements, and collect, organize, document, and preserve evidence.
The ability to communicate ethically and objectively is essential for fraud investigative professionals. Because fraud investigators are ombudspeople interacting with fraud victims, potential perpetrators, legal professionals, judicial government agencies, and law enforcement officials, objectivity is a crucial communication skill.
Investigation of cases involving intentional deceit requires a specialized skill set. Below are some essential skills and personality traits of fraud investigators:
The Association of Certified Fraud examiners lists four major career pathways for fraud investigators which are as follows:
Other types of fraud investigation specialization involve insurance claims fraud, computer-based commerce fraud, identify theft, and civil and criminal investigations involving citizens or corporations.
The specialized pathways for fraud investigation include specific professional roles and duties:
Here is one pathway to pursue a career in fraud investigation:
After graduating from high school, prospective fraud investigators can enroll in a degree program at a community college or university and study forensic accounting, criminal justice, criminology, social and political science, or other cross-disciplinary studies.
An example program is the bachelor’s degree in business administration with a technology emphasis offered by Stevens Henager College. Courses in forensic accounting typically include instruction in dissecting financial statements, litigation support, investigative accounting, and fraud data analysis, among others. Classes include computer networks and security, data communications & management, strategic & operational management planning, technology in marketing and branding strategy, and business law and ethics.
Students in these programs are encouraged to seek hands-on experience through internships or part-time work to gain a well-rounded educational experience and prepare themselves for a career in fraud investigation.
There is a wide variety of career, internship, and other hands-on opportunities available to aspiring fraud investigators with a degree in forensic accounting or related educational background.
Job opportunities can be found on the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners website. To qualify for certification, candidates must have relevant professional experience in loss prevention and apply and take the exam to become a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE).
There are two main certifying organizations for fraud investigation professionals: the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) and the International Association of Special Investigations Units (IASIU).
The ACFE is the world’s largest anti-fraud professional group and offers a credentialing exam exclusively for its members to earn their Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) credential.
Members of the IASIU abide by a code of ethics and have access to three certification programs for insurance fraud specialists: the Certified Insurance Fraud Investigator (CIFI) program, the Certified Insurance Fraud Analyst (CIFA) program, and the Certified Fraud Representative (CIFR) program.
Both organizations offer professional development, career listings, and annual conferences to develop skills and widen professional networks.
For those aspiring to pursue research and leadership opportunities, a graduate degree is typically necessary.
An example of a master’s program in fraud examination is West Virginia University’s (WVU) online master’s of science degree in forensic and fraud examination and an online forensic and fraud accountant graduate certificate. Students in this 30-credit program take courses in fraud examination, investigation, data analysis, criminology, and analytical techniques.
WVU’s John Chambers College of Business and Economics is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and can be completed in a year. An ACFE exam prep course is included in the tuition to prepare graduates for the CFE exam.
Master’s and doctoral candidates wishing to teach or earn higher positions can expect to attend seminars, conduct research, and complete oral or written exams in addition to their final master’s research project or PhD dissertation.
As a final note, fraud investigators in the U.S. should consider joining a professional organization such as the National Association of Fraud Investigators and the National Society of Professional Insurance Investigators. Both groups offer professional development opportunities such as networking, continuing education, and opportunities to attend conferences.
Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. Rachel writes about meditation, yoga, coaching, and more on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).