Accounting courses teach fraud investigation


    Had Gil Grissom been more interested in business than biology, the fictional leader of crime scene investigations in Las Vegas just might have enrolled at Davenport University.

    That’s because the Donald W. Maine School of Business at Davenport offers an unusual, specialized and what students are seeing as a “sexy” undergraduate degree: accounting fraud investigation.

    The program teaches students core accounting classes, but then goes deeper into the discipline, and actually goes outside of it into other areas.

    “The big difference is, in addition to regular accounting, our program integrates knowledge of the investigation process, laws and computer security. So it takes in that accounting knowledge, but it also takes in what legal ramifications are there when fraud is discovered and how might someone work with computer security, the IT people, in order to help prevent fraud in the first place,” said Irene Bembenista, associate dean of accounting and finance at Davenport. “Or if someone is investigating fraud, they can speak intelligently with the IT people,” she said.

    Courses on criminal law, investigative techniques and procedures, security foundations and accounting fraud examination are offered in the program, with a slew of accounting and finance classes. Of course, vital to the program is to teach students how the investigative process works and how to recognize the signs that fraud either may have been committed in the past or currently is taking place.

    “With the investigative process, it’s first of all what is available to them as far as what they can legally investigate and where can they get the information,” said Bembenista.

    Let’s say a company executive suspects that someone in management is stealing from the firm or passing on company funds to someone in return for personal favors. Bembenista said the first thing a potential investigator is taught to do is determine who is in charge of the company’s accounting ledgers and who approves company payments.

    Students are then taught to look into the backgrounds of those individuals and where they can legally find information related to any transactions a suspect may have entered into during the time the fraud is thought to have been committed.

    “For an example, with the salary they’re making, what public records can be checked to see what they have? You can go and find out that they have property valued at $1 million, and in comparison to their salary, that seems out of place,” she said.

    Bembenista, who has taught at Davenport since 1995, said the process works after fraud has been committed or while a crime is in process. “It’s also about an upfront prevention before anything will ever happen,” she said.

    Detecting fraud isn’t necessarily harder to do today than it was prior to the electronic age that has given an investigator an almost unlimited source of virtual data. But being able to do that has become a specialty, as an investigator almost has to have as much IT knowledge as auditing wisdom.

    Bembenista said there is a demand in the market for accountants who are trained in the investigative aspects of the field.

    “There is a real high demand. When forensic accounting first came about, what they thought was (that) experience was the only way that accountants could ever become forensic accountants — that they’d just have to do accounting for years, and from that experience, the various incidences would come up. That viewpoint has changed,” she said.

    “They now say there is what they call the new generation accountants. They’re coming in with a good, solid foundation in computers, like understanding about network security. So they’re definitely looking to hire students who have that combination of skills.”

    Accounting fraud investigation is in its second year at Davenport and students have responded well to it —  even some IT majors are taking courses in the program.

    “If you will, it’s the sexy new career. They see that ‘accounting fraud investigation’ and are extremely interested,” said Bembenista.

    “As far as our new programs go, I would say our enrollment has been much more successful than other new programs that have been rolled out, in terms of enrollment and interest.”

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