Fraud is a complex and pervasive issue that transcends mere opportunism. It often arises from a web of motivations, both overtly criminal and misguided but well-intentioned. In this article, we delve into the intricate realm of fraud, its psychology, and the factors that drive individuals down this illicit path.
The Pandemic as a Breeding Ground
The COVID-19 pandemic undeniably provided fertile ground for fraudulent activities to thrive. Every component of the fraud triangle – pressure, opportunity, and rationalisation – intensified during these trying times. As people found themselves confined to their homes, under reduced scrutiny, the pressures of lockdown weighed heavily on them. Many rationalised fraudulent behaviour as a necessary means of survival.
During the pandemic, there were instances where directors and business leaders, albeit misguidedly, sought to salvage their struggling businesses. A blurred line often separated actions deemed unethical from those driven by desperation in the face of unprecedented challenges. While the circumstances have evolved since then, fraud remains a prevalent concern. The current economic climate and soaring cost of living continue to amplify the pressure and rationalisation aspects of the fraud triangle. However, opportunities for fraudulent activities have diminished somewhat as people return to the office.
The Spectrum of Fraudulent Behaviour
Fraud manifests along a broad spectrum, encompassing everything from genuine mistakes spiralling out of control to opportunistic individuals exploiting system vulnerabilities. Some are still desperately attempting to rescue their businesses, eventually succumbing to unethical, and at times, criminal conduct. Yet, it is exceedingly rare to encounter individuals who consciously set out to commit serious criminal-level fraud. Such cases are the exception, not the rule.
Rationalising Fraudulent Behaviour
One common thread in the tapestry of fraud is the act of rationalisation. Perpetrators often attempt to justify their actions by focusing on perceived injustices, such as feeling overworked and underpaid. Another fallacy they might cling to is the belief that fraud is a victimless crime, which is far from accurate. The consequences of fraud ripple through an organisation, affecting fellow employees, insurers, the business itself, and even tax revenues.
In some cases, individuals come up with all sorts of stories to defend their actions. An example involves a large-scale fraud, where the perpetrator insisted that they were operating a legitimate business within the confines of their employer. Their charm and persuasive skills masked a genuine belief that their actions were justifiable, even though external perspectives, including those of law enforcement, deemed their actions as theft.
The Role of Forensic Accounting
Forensic accounting plays a pivotal role in uncovering and investigating fraudulent activities. It entails an objective examination of financial accounts to determine whether fraud has occurred. This process may involve interviews with individuals within the organisation to provide context. However, it’s important to note that the majority of cases emerge from genuine concerns about observed misconduct within the workplace.
One of the key tools in forensic accounting is the plotting of a timeline. In opportunistic frauds, patterns often emerge, with individuals gradually escalating their fraudulent activities. They might start with small, inconspicuous amounts before growing bolder as they realise they can evade detection. Co-workers may notice changes in their lifestyle, such as lavish spending, acquiring new assets, or taking extravagant vacations. These red flags help investigators pursue additional lines of inquiry and facilitate the recovery of stolen funds.
Fraud is frequently perpetrated by individuals in positions of authority with excessive control and power. They can bypass controls to approve invoices and expenses, sometimes putting pressure on junior staff to comply.
Conversely, junior employees might resort to fraudulent activities when they are assigned tasks that grant them the authority to process payments without thorough oversight. This situation is frequently observed in smaller organizations where financial controls are centralized, and the division of responsibilities is restricted.
Detecting and Combating Fraud
There are common red flags that organisations should be vigilant about. For example:
- Unusual Financial Behaviour: Businesses should watch for employees who exhibit unexpected financial behaviour, such as extravagant spending that is inconsistent with their income.
- Reluctance to Take Time Off: Employees who consistently avoid taking holidays or personal days may be concealing fraudulent activities that they fear will be uncovered during their absence.
- Overprotectiveness of Responsibilities: Individuals who become excessively possessive or defensive about their specific job roles and responsibilities may be hiding irregularities in their work, potentially related to fraud.
To combat fraud effectively, organisations must establish a process that enables individuals to voice concerns safely and anonymously. It takes considerable courage, especially for junior team members, to come forward, and the leadership’s support is crucial in facilitating thorough investigations.
In the event that a case goes to court, members of the accounts department may be required to provide evidence. While this typically involves witness statements, there is a slight possibility of individuals having to testify in court.
The Future of Fraud Prevention
With the introduction of the ‘failure to prevent fraud’ offense in the Economic Crime Bill, businesses must proactively assess their fraud prevention and risk management processes. This groundwork will form the foundation of any potential defence. Conducting an internal review or seeking external expertise to evaluate and enhance existing processes is a prudent step, particularly in these challenging times.
Years ago, the pressure point often revolved around owning a car or achieving a certain status. Today, it’s the burden of school fees that weighs heavily. Some individuals would sooner face incarceration than withdraw their children from school.
It’s challenging not to empathise with our clients. By simplifying matters and embracing transparency, we have confidence that Revenue will work with us to provide a smoother disclosure process than clients anticipate. The British approach is one of compromise: greater honesty leads to reduced penalties, making for a fairer resolution.
DSC Metropolitan’s Remedial Services
DSC Metropolitan offers crucial remedial assistance to taxpayers facing financial irregularities. While tax authorities have introduced disclosure facilities like the Lichtenstein Disclosure Facility (LDF), Contractual Disclosure Facility (CDF) and the Worldwide Disclosure Facility (WDF), critics have noted their generosity in offering immunity from prosecution. However, these initiatives serve several purposes, such as aligning with government budgetary constraints, asset recovery, and cost-efficiency.
At DSC Metropolitan, we emphasise collaboration over intimidation, recognising the effectiveness of these schemes. The CDF, in particular, has proven valuable for clients with minor tax issues, as it allows total disclosure and potential rectification of unwise financial decisions.
If you are facing tax challenges, you can confidentially seek our assistance for remedial tax work and penalty mitigation.
Contact Doug Shanks: Mobile 07718 752577 | Email firstname.lastname@example.org
@ Doug Shanks