Professionals who enter accounting and finance can pursue many career opportunities. Still, those wanting to become involved in the investigation and resolution of potential fraud, or its prevention, may wish to consider a career as a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE).
With the proper training and experience, CFEs combine law, criminology, and investigation with accounting, according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), which offers the CFE credential. CFEs are responsible for sifting through accounting books and financial records, looking for patterns that could indicate fraud. Then, they interview potential suspects, write final reports, or even testify in court. In addition, CFEs 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 someone not similarly certified. Most commonly, companies and organizations will select the CFE job candidate over someone who does not have the certification, and their salary may be more than 17 percent higher than those without certification. In addition, the BLS projects financial examiner careers to grow at a rate of 21 percent in the coming decade, with a current median salary of $81,410 annually (BLS 2022).
As for education requirements, most entry-level fraud examiners have a bachelor’s degree. According to O*NET OnLine (2023), which sources its information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 72 percent of fraud examiners, investigators, and analysts have a bachelor’s degree. By comparison, 12 percent hold a master’s degree, and 8 percent have a post-master’s certificate in a fraud examination or forensic accounting.
For more detailed salary projections and a step-by-step guide to joining this career, please see our Forensic Accountant Salary & Career Outlook.
Read on to learn about prerequisites, common courses, sample programs, CFE exam details, and accrediting bodies for this profession.
Prospective CFEs must typically have a bachelor’s degree or at least two years of fraud-related experience. Background education will vary for those who wish to become CFEs. Of course, applicants can be forensic accountants, but they also have experience in roles such as external auditors or IRS agents.
As such, CFE applicants typically have training in finance and accounting, and some may have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in one of these fields. Others have academic and professional backgrounds in criminology and sociology, loss prevention, political science, law, and fraud investigation.
At the heart of CFE training is an understanding of recognizing potential fraud acts. The science of numbers and accounting is essential, but professionals also must be aware of patterns that can appear in accounting records or simply through observing specific behaviors. Aspiring CFEs can earn this experience through professional experience in various forensic accounting and fraud examination positions.
All fraud examination programs have a unique set of courses that may or may not align with the four CFE exam areas set forth by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE). The four areas are financial transactions and fraud schemes; law; investigation; and fraud prevention and deterrence.
Common courses in fraud examiner degree and certificate programs include:
Degree programs offer specializations to help students tailor their bachelor’s and master’s degree programs to their career interests. Some common specializations for CFE programs are fraud investigation, forensic accounting, and cybercrime.
Fraud examination programs are offered in person at college campuses in several states. Some programs offer certificate programs that can be completed within one year or applied toward a master’s degree program. Other programs are undergraduate certificates designed to give bachelor’s degree holders extra qualifications when looking for entry-level fraud examination positions. Keep reading to learn more about on-campus programs for aspiring certified fraud examiners.
The Kogod School of Business at American University in Washington D.C. offers a graduate forensic accounting certificate. This 12-credit program gives financial fraud examination professionals knowledge and training to work in operational risk consultant, financial forensic analyst, and anti-money laundering specialist roles.
The certificate can be earned independently or applied as elective credit to an MBA or MS graduate degree program. The student-to-faculty ratio is 19:1, and students must complete the program within four years.
The School of Business at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, offers a bachelor of science in forensic accounting and fraud examination.
This 120-credit program meets the requirements of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, meaning graduates are eligible to sit for the CPA exam and earn CPA certification with 30 additional hours of educational requirements. Additionally, this program is a designated ACFE program, and the coursework covers the four major sections of the CFE exam.
The School of Accountancy at the Parker College of Business at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia, offers an undergraduate fraud examination certificate.
To earn this certificate, bachelor’s degree seekers from disciplines including business, criminal justice, and political science take four additional courses beyond the accounting survey or accounting principles prerequisite. In addition, students with this certificate take the CFE exam and find work as fraud examiners with state and federal government organizations such as the FBI, USPS, the CIA, and the IRS.
In addition, students who complete the CFE certificate program can continue their studies with a graduate forensic accounting certificate or enroll in the master of accounting (MAcc) program offered on-campus and online. Resident tuition rates are extended to students living in the border states of Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
Several reputable, certified fraud examiner and forensic accounting programs are available in hybrid and online formats to help students become eligible to earn CFE credentials. Students can also look for programs through a school’s college of business or department of accountancy, where programs are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Read on to learn about online and hybrid programs for certified fraud examiners.
Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont, offers an online certificate in forensic accounting. The Champlain certificate program requires 21 credits and is offered as part of the college’s cybersecurity department. Courses include forensic accounting; accounting information systems; auditing; digital forensic investigation techniques, and white-collar crime.
Graduates from this program can help audit accounting and IT internal controls departments and point out weaknesses to avoid exploitation and data breaches.
Florida Atlantic University’s School of Accounting Executive Programs in Boca Raton, Florida, offers a master’s in forensic accounting that can be completed entirely online, on-campus, or in a hybrid format. This two-year program is designed for working students.
It offers Saturday morning campus classes for students who want the convenience of online courses and the benefit of in-person interaction. Graduates from this program are prepared to give expert testimony, conduct money laundering investigations, and apply the critical thinking and communication skills necessary for fraud investigation.
The George Mason University School of Business in Fairfax, Virginia, offers a graduate certificate in forensic accounting. Students can complete this 12-credit program online or on campus. In addition, students can choose between two start dates; fall semester (online classes only) and spring semester (online or on-campus classes).
Students must complete this program in four years and apply credits earned towards a master’s of science in accounting or computer forensics program. Bachelor’s degree holders in accounting can use this certificate program to achieve the required 150 hours to qualify for CPA licensure.
North Seattle Community College in Seattle, Washington, 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 mainly geared toward students who eventually may want to take the CFE exam. A summer intensive is available to complete the program in as few as eight weeks.
This program is designed for those with and without professional experience in accounting and teaches fraud detection skills to accountants, law enforcement, and professionals in industries targeted by financial fraud. This program also partners with the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), and the curriculum is designed to give students a solid foundational understanding of the CFE exam.
At Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, students can choose from an online certificate in forensic and fraud examination and an MBA in forensic accounting and fraud examination. In addition, applicants with bachelor’s degrees in a field other than business can take prerequisite accounting classes to prepare for courses in this program.
Students can choose from multiple start dates and be prepared to take the CFE exam in less than 12 months. Graduates are prepared for work in insurance, finance, information security, and law enforcement.
Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, New Hampshire, offers an online bachelor of science degree in accounting with a concentration in forensic accounting and fraud examination.
This program prepares students with a solid 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. However, 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.
Utica College in Utica, New York, offers a fully online bachelor of science (BS) degree in cybersecurity specializing in cybercrime and fraud investigation. This 120-credit program teaches information security, criminal justice, and malware analysis best practices. The curriculum draws on the Secret Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Securities and Exchange Commission, and private financial corporations such as Deloitte and Prudential.
Additionally, Utica College provides a two-year online master of science (MS) degree in financial crime and compliance management to help students prepare for the CFE. A one-year online certificate in financial crime investigation is also available. It 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.
Students wanting to take the certified fraud examiner (CFE) exam offered by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) must meet several requirements before being eligible to sit for the exam. Application requirements include:
The CFE exam is rigorous and takes approximately ten hours to complete. It covers four primary areas of fraud examination:
To pass the 100-question CFE exam, test-takers must answer at least 75 percent of the questions correctly. In addition, it is recommended that up to two of the four exam sections be taken in one sitting. The CFE Exam fee costs $450 or $350 for those who enroll in the CFE Exam Prep Course.
The ACFE offers some ways to help students prepare for the exam. It includes a CFE Exam Prep Course and a 3.5-day CFE Exam Review Course. The CFE Exam Prep Course costs $849.60 for ACFE members and $1,062 for non-members.
As previously stated, the CFE is offered through the ACFE, the world’s largest anti-fraud organization with 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 the industry-standard credential many fraud examiners seek as it connotes expertise in fraud detection, deterrence, and prevention. In addition, a recent study by Robert Half International shows that the CFE is considered one of the most marketable credentials currently available, with 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies employing at least one CFE, according to the ACFE.
Although the ACFE does not offer specific accreditation, they support an education partnership with several institutions. Therefore, students intent on preparing for the CFE exam should investigate whether their chosen program has entered into a partnership agreement with ACFE.
Accreditation through the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) is awarded to forensic science programs. Therefore, FEPAC accreditation does not apply to educational programs in forensic accounting.
Some business schools offering accounting degree and certificate programs hold accreditation from the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) or the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).
Institutional accreditation is essential when choosing a program to support the CFE credential. Institutions of higher education should hold accreditation from at least one regional accrediting organization approved by the Department of Education, including:
|Featured Fraud & Forensic Accounting Programs|
|Purdue University Global||BSA - Auditing & Forensic Accountancy||Visit Site|
|Southern New Hampshire University||BS in Accounting - Forensic Accounting & Fraud Examination||Visit Site|
|Southern New Hampshire University||MS in Accounting - Forensic Accounting||Visit Site|
|UNC Pembroke||MBA - Forensic Accounting||Visit Site|
|The University of Scranton||Online Master of Accountancy - Forensic Accounting||Visit Site|
|Stevenson University Online||Forensic Accounting Grad Certificate||Visit Site|
|Stevenson University Online||Online Master's in Forensic Accounting||Visit Site|
Jocelyn Blore is the chief content officer of Sechel Ventures and the co-author of the Women Breaking Barriers series. She graduated summa cum laude from UC Berkeley and traveled the world for five years. She also worked as an addiction specialist for two years in San Francisco. She’s interested in how culture shapes individuals and systems within societies—one of the many themes she writes about in her blog, Blore’s Razor (Instagram: @bloresrazor). She has served as managing editor for several healthcare websites since 2015.