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Finally, 21 percent of respondents said instances of workplace fraud had decreased in the past few years, 10 percent said it had increased, and 59 percent opined that it had stayed the same. Asked about the ease with which occupational fraud could be committed, 39 percent said they thought it was easier to accomplish, 41 percent said it had become more difficult, and 16 percent said it had not changed.36
Such studies are useful, but always leave one with questions: What if “taking things from the office” had been eliminated? Certainly, this constitutes occupational fraud, and if it means a trunkload of expensive inventory every other day,
THE STATE OF OCCUPATIONAL FRAUD
I think we are all interested. But, what if it is the occasional pen or mechanical pencil? Still occupational fraud, but then so is looking out the window and daydreaming about fishing, if we want to get technical about it. The issue of reporting is extremely important and is one, I believe, that warrants much further study. What the study seems to imply, nagging questions aside, is that there may be a significant amount of occupational fraud, of at least some sort, in Canada.
Given these characteristics of fraud, we in the forensic profession may, as the saying goes, “Be in a heap of trouble.” We know we have a huge problem on our hands: it probably measures in at least the hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Every indication we have is that it is not shrinking much and may be growing.37 We know from experience that most of it remains hidden and that it tends to continue unless stopped. That is one of the more interesting aspects of occupational fraud—it almost always keeps going. The person robbing a bank does not stand there, unless they are truly stupid, for six hours and keep robbing it. They would surely get caught. They might go down the street and rob another bank or come back a week later and rob this one again, but they do not continue to rob the same one in a temporal sense.
Fraudsters, on the other hand, and especially occupational fraudsters, usually do precisely the opposite. Once they have committed a fraud and not gotten caught, they gain a greater sense of confidence. They may repeat it endlessly at a like amount or increase the amount of their next take to test the system. Uncaught and absent some truly significant personal event to change their behavior, they may continue for years or decades. Thus the bank robber is like a shark that swims up, takes a quick, violent bite, and swims away. The occupational fraudster is more like the parasite that seeks to remain attached to the lucrative host for as long as possible, feeding constantly.
It may also be that some of these parasites travel in packs. A survey conducted of members by the ACFE in March 2002 asked the following question: In your latest internal fraud case, how many people were involved?
The results were surprising, since many in the general population and many in the forensic field consider fraud to typically be the work of the lone perpetrator:38
We can only speculate at this point what these figures tell us. Are increasing numbers of people involved in the same instance of fraud because it is so com-
Number of Perpetrators
Percentage of Cases
3-5 5-10 Over 10
41 percent 21 percent 21 percent 6 percent 9 percent
plex that it requires a lot of assistance? Are these units or departments that have become infected and gone bad? Is this copycatting, where one employee sees another get away with something and decides, “Well, why not me too?” Or, is this some form of malevolent fellowship, where one dishonest employee shares his or her secrets with office mates, so others can dip from the well also? Unfortunately, absent further research, we can only guess.
While this may be interesting psychology or half-baked biology, it represents yet a further challenge to the forensic practitioner. Usually, time and experience have taught us to be wary of the strange—the strange person, the strange neighborhood, the strange noise, the strange food. With occupational fraud, the equation is reversed. New employees may possibly attempt fraud the first day on the job, but usually they do not. They need time to learn the policies, people, and procedures. As the saying goes, to “case the joint.”
Our potential adversary is not the new face, but the one we are used to seeing— the longer-term employee we may be used to chatting with most days or waving at in the company cafeteria. Such is the inherent nature of occupational fraud, and it is a characteristic that tends to make our already difficult jobs even more troublesome. We do not have our innate sensitivity to strangeness to protect us. The very nature of the fraud(s) being committed may compel the fraudster to stick around, since continued access to books, records, and accounts is required to keep the fraud hidden from sight.
Not only are we often familiar with those who commit fraud in the workplace, but it is their very familiarity with us and our organizations that make them so effective in their schemes and so significant a threat to their organizational homes. Diane Sears Campbell, in discussing the threat of cybercrimes to organizations, quotes Donn Parker, the author of Fighting Computer Crime: A New Framework for Protecting Information. Parker notes that one of the things that computer criminals utilize to commit their crimes is that computers are by definition predictable. Parker notes: