Forensic accountants are like a cross between accountants and private investigators.
They investigate crimes that can be caught by looking at the books. These
include crimes like check and credit card fraud, money laundering, extortion,
mail and insurance fraud and telemarketing fraud.
At the conclusions of their investigations, these accountants may also
find themselves in court. They may be the expert witnesses that sink a sneak
during a court case (called litigation).
They're called in when something's "a mess or amiss," says forensic accountant
These specialists use their accounting knowledge to investigate wrongdoing
or financial irregularities -- not all of which end up in court. They may
investigate everything from supplier kickbacks to breaches of contract to
what are called "due diligence" investigations.
These accountants do a lot of work for the insurance industry. For example,
they may calculate the costs involved in a fire claim that has destroyed a
business. Besides the straight "damage" side of things, there are the "loss
of profit" calculations needed to determine how much the company lost by being
out of business.
Forensic accountant Ron Sullivan says a strong background in public accounting
is an asset. "You're in a different type of business all the time."
Accountants work in regular office settings. They may work in their own
offices or travel to a client's place of business to do their work. Self-employed
accountants may work at home.
Most large accounting firms, and some smaller ones, have forensic accounting
divisions. Some firms specialize in forensic accounting. They have a definite
niche because big accounting firms often find themselves in conflict of interest
and need an outsider to resolve a problem.
Forensic accountants need to have a knack with numbers and a thick skin.
Sullivan says there's often a lot of negative feeling when a forensic accountant
is called in to examine a company's books. "Some of these cases are not pleasant,"
Investigate white-collar crime
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