With humble beginnings in busting bootlegging operations in the 1900s, forensic accounting is an essential role for 21st-century businesses. Al Capone’s high-profile conviction of tax evasion in 1931 is one of the most well-known cases that put the work of forensic accountants on the map.
Known as crime-investigating calculators, forensic accountants evaluate legal evidence to prove or disprove financial fraudulence. Although the analog days of prohibition are a thing of the past, the field of forensic accounting has evolved to protect financial digital security. Professionals with a numerical and criminal justice bent of mind are well-positioned to pursue the specialization of forensic accounting.
As internet-related fraud continues to rise, the demand for forensic accountants is predicted to increase. The FBI stated that there were 1,300 financial fraud complaints on average logged every day in 2019—the highest number of complaints since the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) began tracking complaints and losses in 2000. In 2019 alone, phone and email phishing scams cost American individuals and business owners $3.5 billion dollars in losses.
Forensic accountants investigate data reported by fraud victims for use in legal testimonies to stop fraudulent crime scams. A recent example of a crime ring brought to justice is the Alexandria Online Auction Fraud Network, in which the US federal government extradited and charged 20 individuals with wire fraud and other related conspiracies committed between 2013 and 2019. Without the contributions of an informant, victim reports, and forensic accountants working on this case, millions more Americans would continue to lose large sums of money in these fraudulent scams.
Due to increased online banking fraud, the demand for accountants and auditors is growing steadily. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2020) doesn’t keep specific occupational data for forensic accountants but does show that accounting positions are predicted to grow 4 percent nationally between 2019 and 2029. This rate is as fast as the national average and estimates that 61,700 new positions will be added to the economy in the same decade.
Most positions require a bachelor’s degree, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license, and certification such as the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) offered by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE). While certification may not be required for all positions, the ACFE shows that certified forensic accountants earn nearly $25,000 more than those without certification.
Read on to learn about online graduate certificates in forensic accounting.
To gain admission to a certificate program in forensic accounting, applications typically need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university, a GPA of 3.0 or higher, and previous legal or accounting experience/
Common courses include pitch to prosecutor, a practicum court exercise, fraud investigation, fraud data analysis, fraud criminology/legal issues, advanced fraud investigation, white-collar investigation, and data analytics.
Here’s a list of featured universities with online forensic accounting certificate programs. These institutions hold accreditation at the institutional or programmatic level and can be completed part-time over multiple years or full-time in approximately one academic year.
George Mason University (GMU)
The George Mason University School of Business offers a graduate certificate in forensic accounting in-person at its Fairfax campus or online. This 12-credit program is designed for accountants seeking specialization in their field or bachelor’s degree holders interested in seeking a master’s degree.
This program is ideal for students who have completed a bachelor’s degree in accounting and are seeking the 150 hours of additional academic credit needed to apply for the CPA licensing exam. Students wanting to pursue the master’s of science in accounting program at GMU can apply the 12 credits earned in this certificate program towards their graduate degree.
To apply for this program, applicants must have a minimum 3.0 GPA, submit an online application, transcripts, and a $75 application fee. Please note that the fee is waived for applicants who apply before the priority deadline. Students who have a bachelor’s degree in a non-accounting related field are welcome to apply but preference is given to applicants with accounting degrees.
Courses in this program include fraud detection; fraud and the law, advanced topics in fraud, and governance and ethics. Students can complete this program in one year and have four years total to finish the requirements.
The College of Professional Studies at Northeastern University offers a fully-online forensic accounting certificate. This program emphasizes experiential learning and aims to teach working professionals to identify and address financial fraud and online accounting abuse in general.
Courses are offered with a blend of asynchronous (self-paced) and synchronous (real-time) online learning so that students can complete coursework at convenient times for their schedules. Through required and elective courses, graduates are prepared to identify, collect, and examine evidence.
To apply, applicants must submit an online application, a statement of purpose highlighting educational goals and expectations, a resume, undergraduate transcripts, and proof of English proficiency for students whose primary language is not English. Courses include dissecting financial statements, investigative accounting and fraud examination, and litigation support. Applications are accepted year-round for fall, spring, and summer semesters.
Southern New Hampshire University offers an online graduate certificate in forensic accounting and fraud examination. This 12-credit program prepares graduates for specific accounting practices such as merger and acquisition investigations, tax investigations, economic crime, civil litigation, and terrorism investigations. Students in this program have 24/7 access to the material and can complete their coursework on their own schedules.
Applicants to this program must have two years of managerial-level accounting experience in auditing and financial reporting analysis. As well, submitting a professional resume and undergraduate transcripts is required.
Courses include investigating with computers; interview techniques/legal aspects of fraud; and detection and prevention of fraudulent financial statements. With five graduate terms offered throughout the year, applicants can apply and hear back from an admissions counselor within days after applying.
Stevenson University offers an online forensic accounting post-baccalaureate certificate program. With courses taught by practicing forensic accountants, graduates from this program learn essentials such as synthesizing accounting, auditing, and computer and investigative analyses to prepare them to form coherent, defensible conclusions.
This 18-credit program requires six courses including foundations of justice; investigative techniques/interviewing; fraud accounting; business valuation; white-collar crimes, and investigation and analysis: auditing or investigation and analysis: tax.
The University of Massachusetts Online offers a 12-credit graduate certificate in forensic accounting. Designed for accounting and finance professionals, topics covered in this program include managing the business risk of fraud; forensic accounting techniques; white-collar crime; regulatory compliance; litigation support and financial expert witness testimony; and data analytics.
By completing this program, graduates position themselves to be eligible for credential exams such as the Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF) or the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) which are discussed in detail below. As well, completing courses in this program may fulfill CPA continuing education requirements. For students considering future graduate studies in accounting, all the courses in this program transfer to the Isenberg master of science in accounting program.
Applicants to this program must have a bachelor’s degree in a business discipline and have taken introductory financial and introductory managerial accounting. As well, an application, unofficial transcript, resume, and personal statement are required. Once admitted, students can begin their studies fall, spring, or summer semester. Courses are taught by renowned professionals and researchers in the field of forensic accounting.
To get hired as an accountant, most positions require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Most accountants opt to pursue a certified public accountant (CPA) certification which is required for most, but not all positions. Completing a forensic accounting certificate may help those seeking a certified public accountant CPA license to earn additional required continuing education hours needed to be eligible to sit for the CPA exam.
The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants is the first stop for CPA licensure. All 50 states require accountants who file reports with the securities and exchange commission (SEC) to be licensed certified public accountants (CPAs) and maintain licensure through state-specific requirements.
To qualify for CPA licensure, CPAs must complete 150 semester hours of college coursework. Most undergraduate programs fall short of this requirement by 30 hours, so it’s possible that aspiring CPAs will need additional continuing education requirements to be eligible to sit for the CPA exam.
In addition to the CPA license, the AICPA offers the Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF) credential. To be eligible for this exam, applicants must hold a valid and unrevoked CPA license by a state board, pass the CFF exam, and complete the CFF credential application online upon passing the CFF exam. Content areas on the CFF exam include professional responsibilities and practice management; core forensic knowledge; and specialized forensic knowledge.
The ACFE is the world’s largest anti-fraud organization and provides internationally-recognized certification and continuing education. The ACFE offers the Certified Fraud Examiners (CFE) exam to accountants with a minimum of two years of professional experience and 50 points based on a system that awards points for education, professional affiliations, and experience.
Applicants who have more than 40 points may apply to take the exam and certification will be awarded once an applicant has passed the exam and earned 50 points. As well, a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree and four years of professional experience are required. Professionals with experience in accounting and auditing; criminology and sociology; fraud investigation; loss prevention; or law can count hours as acceptable fraud-related experience to be eligible to sit for the CFE exam.
The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA)
The IIA offers a Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) certification to professionals with a bachelor’s degree who hold an active Internal Audit Practitioner designation and have at least five years of internal audit experience. Other forms of work experience include quality assurance; risk management, compliance, and more.
To apply for this exam, applicants must provide official transcripts, a letter from the university where their degree was conferred, and a letter from an evaluation service that confirms the degree level. As well, applicants must submit a character reference from someone who holds an IIA credential and provide valid government photo identification.
Once certified, CIA credential holders must complete continuing professional education requirements. The CIA exam is 6.5 hours long and consists of three parts: essentials of internal auditing; and practice of internal auditing; and business knowledge of internal auditing. The CIA exam is offered in 13 different languages and will be available in Polish in 2021.
A professional organization dedicated to providing networking and learning opportunities, the NAFA offers certification in forensic accounting and investigative accounting. It’s the oldest and fastest-growing organization of its kind. Once verified, NAFA members in good standing have access to continuing education, forensic accounting publications, and purchasing discounts.
Accreditation ensures that students are receiving the best education and future employers and clients are receiving help from qualified professionals. When researching forensic accounting programs, prospective students are advised to verify an institution or program’s accreditation status to ensure their future educational investment meets the highest standards of educational quality. Accreditation is awarded at the institutional or programmatic level which is detailed below.
The US Department of Education recognizes six regional accreditation organizations. Accreditation is granted when institutions meet a specific set of standards set forth by a peer-reviewed committee. Regional institutional accreditation agencies include:
Programmatic accreditation exists to meet the unique needs of specific educational programs offered at institutions. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is an internationally-recognized organization that awards accreditation to undergraduate- and graduate-level business schools and accounting programs.
In 2020, a select group of 50 business schools worldwide held accreditation for business and accounting, one of which is featured above.
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).