The interview before the fraud interview

When Anna, the CEO of a small manufacturing company, received an anonymous report about fraud in the accounting department, she wasn’t sure how to act. After all, the complaint could be accurate, but there was also a chance that it wasn’t. She called her company’s attorney, who recommended a forensic accountant to investigate. He also suggested that she perform some preliminary interviews to gather facts — but to be careful not to interrogate employees.

If you’re in a position similar to Anna’s, here’s how to conduct interviews before a fraud expert comes on the case. 

Investigation prep

In advance of requesting any interviews, decide what information you’re looking for. Knowing what you want helps you get to the truth of the matter quickly and avoid getting sidetracked by extraneous information. Then, identify who’s best able to supply that information.

Say, for example, you suspect an accounts receivable employee of siphoning money. You may want to talk to that person’s supervisor and a member of your IT department to get information on work habits, unusual behavior or signs of file tampering. Remember, though, that people may be reluctant to share information if they feel it reflects poorly on them or if it might land someone else in hot water.

Restraint is critical

When you sit down for an interview, set the tone with some introductory questions and ask the interviewee to agree to cooperate. In most cases, you’ll be looking for information that helps prove or disprove your suspicions, and the interview will be fact-finding in nature. It should last long enough for you to obtain all the information the subject has to offer. But don’t prolong sessions unnecessarily.

Aim for an informal, relaxed conversation and be sure to remain professional, calm and nonthreatening. Don’t interrupt unnecessarily, suggest that you have preconceived ideas about who did what, or assert your authority unnecessarily. If you suspect someone is withholding information, try asking more detailed questions. And if someone says something you believe is untrue, ask for clarification. You might suggest that your question was misunderstood or that the employee didn’t give it enough thought before answering.

Finally, never make threats or promises to encourage an employee to change a statement or confess. If the case ends up in court, such tactics could make the evidence you collect inadmissible. If someone persists in lying, ask them to put their statement in writing and sign it. Then turn the statement — and your suspicions — over to fraud experts.  

Give it to the experts

If you decide there’s evidence that fraud has occurred, engage a forensic accountant to investigate further. This expert will interview potential suspects and witnesses to get to the bottom of the matter while gathering critical evidence of a crime. Contact us for help and more information.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

When people hear the term “forensic science,” they usually think “CSI.” What comes to mind when you hear the term “forensic accounting”? Similar to forensic scientists offering opinions about scientific matters, forensic accountants may be called on to investigate and serve as financial experts in commercial litigation. Here’s how.

Who they are

Forensic accountants specialize in conducting fraud audits and investigations to detect irregularities and troubling trends, looking for both telltale and subtle signs of white collar crime. Certified fraud examiners (CFEs) are specially trained in fraud discovery, recognition, documentation and prevention. They’re also generally knowledgeable about human behavioral factors and motivations that contribute to the commission of fraud, such as the ability to rationalize fraudulent conduct.

Often, forensic accountants are retained to detect misrepresentations of financial data or to locate missing funds. It’s important to investigate fraud suspicions as early as possible to help mitigate potential losses.

What to expect

When you or your attorney engages a forensic accountant, you can expect the expert to work closely with you to tailor an investigation to the situation at hand. Depending on the type of fraud suspected, the investigation may be performed on a comprehensive, companywide or random, spot-check basis.

Forensic accountants work to determine the scope of the fraud, including its duration and participants. Investigations typically require extensive document review. In a case involving asset misappropriation, for example, experts might search for forged documents.

They also look for evidence of compliance — or noncompliance — with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Of course, GAAP compliance doesn’t guarantee legitimate accounting, so an investigation might also focus on specific areas that wouldn’t necessarily be caught in an audit, such as the use of assets at the operational level. Are they being used as intended or for the benefit of an employee? Are all of the assets accounted for?

When to expand the scope

Special investigations also can be effective in uncovering high-level financial fraud. A board usually receives its financial and operational information from a company’s executives. Investigations enable board members to get deeper, more detailed information without going through management. Experts can interview individuals “in the trenches” and review raw data, and then communicate their findings directly to the board.

Fraud investigations might be used to monitor the activities of top executives — even if only for policy lapses. Management members often are given greater latitude and may be tempted to bend the rules. When this occurs, it can influence a company’s ethical environment and encourage other employees to disregard policies or commit fraud.

When to call

If you suspect a financial impropriety, contact us. We can help minimize fraud losses, preserve confidentiality and admissibility of evidence, and possibly even reduce litigation costs. Call us at 205-345-9898, or email us at info@covenantcpa.com.

© 2019 CovenantCPA