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 more than 30 percent higher than those without certification. 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 $81,590 annually.
For more detailed salary projections and a step-by-step guide to joining this career, please see our Forensic Accountant Salary & Career Outlook.
To learn more about what to expect from a certified fraud examiner program, read on to learn about prerequisites, common courses, sample programs, CFE exam details, and accrediting bodies for this profession.
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 of 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 through specific behaviors.
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 fully online bachelor’s of science (BS) degree in cybersecurity with a specialization in cybercrime and fraud investigation. This 120-credit program teaches best practices in information security, criminal justice, and malware analysis. The curriculum draws on expertise from the Secret Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Securities and Exchange Commission, and private financial corporations such as Deloitte and Prudential.
Additionally, the school provides a two-year online master’s of science (MS) degree in financial crime and compliance management that could help students prepare for the CFE. As well, a one-year online certificate in financial crime investigation is available and prepares students to sit for the Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist (CAMS) exam and provides a significant discount to sit for the exam. All of these programs are offered entirely through online learning.
Many other programs are available to help students train for their CFE credential, including hybrid (a blend of in-person and online) and online learning options. Students can also look for programs through a school’s department of accountancy, where they may find options available at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
North Seattle Community College 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.
This program is designed for those with and without professional experience in accounting and teaches fraud detection skills to accountants as well as law enforcement and professionals in industries targeted by financial fraud. As well, this program partners with the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), and the curriculum is designed to give students a strong foundational understanding of the CFE exam.
Other schools offering online education to help prep students for the CFE exam include Southern New Hampshire University who offers a bachelor’s of science degree in accounting with a concentration in forensic accounting and fraud examination.
This program prepares students with a strong theoretical knowledge of fraud detection, theft and malfeasance through a close investigation of financial records. This program is accredited by the ACFE and prepares students for the CFE exam. It’s worth noting that while the program content aligns with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, it does not adequately prepare students to sit for the Certified Public Accountants (CPA) exam.
Additionally, Champlain College offers an online certificate in forensic accounting. The Champlain certificate program requires 21 total credits and is offered as a part of the college’s cybersecurity department. Courses include forensic accounting; accounting information systems, auditing, digital forensic investigation techniques, and white-collar crime.
Students wanting to take the CFE need to meet several requirements before being eligible to sit for the exam. These include:
The CFE exam is rigorous and takes approximately eight hours to complete. It covers four major areas of fraud examination: financial transactions and fraud schemes; law; investigation; and fraud prevention and deterrence. To pass the CFE exam, test-takers must answer at least 75 percent of the questions correctly. It is recommended that no more than two of the four exam sections be taken in one sitting.
The ACFE offers a number of ways to help students prepare for the exam. This includes a CFE Exam Prep Course and a 3.5-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 85,000 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.
Although the ACFE does not offer specific accreditation, they do support an education partnership with a number of institutions. Students intent on preparing for the CFE exam should investigate whether the program they choose has entered into a partnership agreement with ACFE.
Forensic-specific accreditation through the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission would not be applicable to forensic accounting programs.
Institutional accreditation is worth considering when choosing a program to support the CFE credential. Institutions of higher learning may be accredited by a number of different regional accreditation programs as approved by the Department of Education, including:
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).