NEW PALTZ, N.Y. – If you saw a new dollar every second of your life, you still wouldn’t see nearly enough money to account for all of the fraud that occurs in one year worldwide.
That was one of the memorable takeaways for attendees of the fraud and forensics presentation on Monday, June 25 at SUNY New Paltz.
Gary Cassiello, CPA, partner and Christian Coburn, CPA, manager, spoke to a group of about a dozen attendees, including six rising seniors interested in the accounting field, as part of the Career Opportunities in the Accounting Profession (COAP) program. Theirs was one of several events slated for the four-day series, which was sponsored by the Mid-Hudson Chapter of the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants.
“There’s hardly any organization that isn’t touched by fraud,” Cassiello said.
He wanted students to internalize just how widespread fraud really is – from almost imperceptible losses in inventory, like a single employee taking a soda or candy bar, to the disappearance of millions of dollars.
Much of a fraud consultant’s work involves being aware of red flags within an organization and considering motivations that employees may have for cheating the system – especially when employees have the means to do so.
Once a fraud consultant has been called in, usually by an attorney, he or she has to select a practical way to begin sifting through an organization’s financial records. When it comes to finding information about individuals or companies, there are several free online resources that anyone can use, not just forensic accountants, to access public records. Some of these are government websites, but even social media pages can be used to aid an auditor’s investigation. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are riddled with personal information about your intimate relationships, friendships, whereabouts and interests.
Coburn cautioned students to show restraint with their social media activity, because of the impression a poorly-timed image or comment can have.
“You’ve got to think four, five, six years down the road when you’re looking for jobs,” Coburn said. “Better to be smart now, rather than have a problem down the road.”
Students were alarmed by how much personal information the presenters were able to uncover in just a few searches with free, easily-accessible websites. That’s merely the starting point for a thorough forensic investigation.
Caleb Simmons, 17, from Newburgh Free Academy was one of the attendees.
“[It was] definitely very informative,” he said. “A lot to take in.”
Simmons is strongly considering pursuing a degree in accounting, but wants to explore other branches of the industry, including taxation.