Criminal Minds: Sources and Methods Fraudsters Deploy

Class participation was a key element in the entertaining session, “Criminal Minds: Sources and Methods Fraudsters Deploy,” by R.A. Wilson, CFE, CPP, CSCP and Tracy K. Webb, CSCP. In their team-taught breakout session, attendees were alert and involved as Wilson and Webb looked inside the mind of fraudsters.

“In a class I teach at Utica College, I ask my students to write a ‘how-to embezzle from their employer.’ Because if you want to catch a criminal, you have to think like one,” said Wilson.

Wilson went on to describe the six main groups of fraud symptoms:

1.    Accounting anomalies: unusual processes and procedures
2.    Internal control weaknesses: overridden or absent controls
3.    Analytical anomalies: unrealistic relationships, odd occurrences
4.    Extravagant lifestyles: starts as need; exceeds to greed
5.    Unusual behavior: first as fear or guilt; becomes stress, which develops into a pattern
6.    Tips and complaints: usually from employees; categorized as a fraud symptom because many turn out to be unjustified.

Wilson described the case of a real-life accounting anomaly. In it, "Brenda" appeared to be smart, polite and courteous — the ideal company image. However, for years she covertly stole thousands of dollars each month from her employer.  When the company couldn’t make payroll or pay its bills, Brenda continued her concealment by depositing $4,000 into the company’s account. The problem? Her check was insufficient. 

Fraudsters’ criminal minds operate the same whether they are a Brenda or a C-suite Gordon Gekko-type. Yet, the methods for finding the fraud, no matter the culprit, are the same.

One such method, the “curious incident,” was highlighted in depth. Wilson told the story of “Silver Blaze,” one of 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories. The story focuses on the disappearance of a famous racehorse on the eve of a big race and on the apparent murder of the horse’s owner. However, when Sherlock Holmes steps onto the scene, he focuses on what he calls “the curious incident.”

Wilson shared this quote from the story:

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

He encouraged attendees to look for the “curious incident” when seeking out any of the six symptoms of fraudsters. 

Wilson and Webb concluded the session by saying that when evaluating the sources and methods fraudsters deploy, it might be helpful to remember that "you can't bust them unless you know what they can do." They reminded attendees that one should always try to “think like a fraudster” to help prevent and detect fraud in any organization. 

For even more conference coverage, visit