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In the Fraud Examination and Forensic Accounting course, students in the Master of Accounting program at St. Edward’s University examine how to prevent and detect occupational fraud. Here’s a look inside the classroom.

Fraud examination is a specialized field that includes forensic accounting and litigation support work. Fraud examiners are the detectives of their industry, and they complete complex financial investigations by gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses and suspected perpetrators, writing reports, and sometimes testifying in court. The work can be exciting as they follow the money, but it also requires a diverse set of skills — many of which can benefit future managers and auditors as much as they help those going into the field. Here are six skills that students develop in the Fraud Examination and Forensic Accounting course at St. Edward’s.

Skill #1: Knowing how to use data

Looking for patterns and anomalies in financial and other data is key to a successful fraud examination. Knowing how relationships in the financial statements should work and being able to spot what is missing is also critical. These financial detectives can use sophisticated software programs such as ACL and IDEA to examine data and find patterns and outliers.

Skill #2: Understanding cyber

Criminals aren’t always after money: They may be looking to steal intellectual property or data, much of which is now stored digitally. Fraud examiners need to be able to conduct a basic risk assessment: What can be done to mitigate the threat? And what level of risk is a client willing to assume when it comes to protecting their digital assets?

Skill #3: Listening

One of the hardest things for anyone is to ask a question, then be quiet. The ability to be silent and let the other person fill in the void is essential in conducting a successful interview for a fraud examination. These professionals need to know what questions to ask — and notice when the answers don’t seem quite right.

Skill #4: Being an excellent communicator

Fraud examiners have to be able to present complicated information in a way that’s technically correct but also easily understood by a judge and jury. There are more than a few cases where suspects haven’t been convicted only because the accounting experts didn’t do a good job explaining the technicalities of the case in a simple manner.

Skill #5: Having an open mind

When firms bring in a fraud examiner, they either want to prevent fraudulent activity or they suspect a crime was committed. But it’s not always who (or what) they think. Fraud examiners must be objective and rely on the evidence: At the beginning of an investigation, no one can truly say where the evidence will lead.

Skill #6: Being empathetic

The best fraud examiners are those who remember that they’re dealing with more than numbers. Fraud perpetrators are real people, who may be experiencing tremendous adversity in their lives. It’s that caring concern for other human beings that can make all of the difference in a challenging case.

The Master of Accounting (MACT) program at St. Edward’s University helps students develop deep technical expertise in areas including accounting research, advanced federal taxation and fraud examination. CPA pass rates for St. Edward’s University graduates have been among the highest in the state.