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The ACFE’s 2012 Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse is based on data compiled from a study of 1,388 cases of occupational fraud that occurred worldwide between January 2010 and December 2011. All information was provided by the Certified Fraud Examiners (CFEs) who investigated those cases. The fraud cases in the ACFE study came from 94 nations.

The frauds reported lasted a median of 18 months before being detected. Occupational fraud was found to be more likely to be detected by a tip than by any other method. The majority of tips reporting fraud come from employees of the victim organization.

The initial tip off from the whistleblower was up from 40.2% in 2010 to 43.3% in 2012. In 81% of cases, the fraudster displayed one or more behavioral red flags that are often associated with fraudulent conduct. Living beyond means (36% of cases), financial difficulties (27%), unusually close association with vendors or customers (19%) and excessive control issues (18%) were the most commonly observed behavioral warning signs.

The ACFE recommended “Providing individuals a means to report suspicious activity is a critical part of an anti-fraud program. Fraud reporting mechanisms, such as hotlines, should be set up to receive tips from both internal and external sources and should allow anonymity and confidentiality. Management should actively encourage employees to report suspicious activity, as well as enact and emphasize an anti-retaliation policy.”

The report stated “External audits should not be relied upon as an organization’s primary fraud detection method. Such audits were the most commonly implemented control in our study; however, they detected only 3% of the frauds reported to us, and they ranked poorly in limiting fraud losses. While external audits serve an important purpose and can have a strong preventive effect on potential fraud, their usefulness as a means of uncovering fraud is limited.”

Targeted fraud awareness training for employees and managers is a critical component of a well-rounded program for preventing and detecting fraud. Not only are employee tips the most common way occupational fraud is detected, but our research shows organizations that have anti-fraud training programs for employees, managers and executives experience lower losses and shorter frauds than organizations without such programs in place. At a minimum, staff members should be educated regarding what actions constitute fraud, how fraud harms everyone in the organization and how to report questionable activity.

The Report again showed the that small businesses are particularly vulnerable to fraud. The ACFE found “These organizations typically have fewer resources than their larger counterparts, which often translates to fewer and less-effective anti-fraud controls. In addition, because they have fewer resources, the losses experienced by small businesses tend to have a greater impact than they would in larger organizations. Managers and owners of small businesses should focus their anti-fraud efforts on the most cost-effective control mechanisms, such as hotlines, employee education and setting a proper ethical tone within the organization. Additionally, assessing the specific fraud schemes that pose the greatest threat to the business can help identify those areas that merit additional investment in targeted anti-fraud controls.”