Fraud Week 2020: Got Situational Awareness?

By Lowers & Associates,

Fraud Week 2020: Got Situational Awareness?

Looking at the Fraud Triangle During COVID-19

Today, we continue our special 5-part Fraud Week Coffee Break Series with another episode to address important fraud prevention topics with insight from our Certified Fraud Examiners and subject matter experts. Fraud Week is an annual movement, organized by the Association for Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), to champion the need to proactively fight fraud and help safeguard businesses and investments from the growing fraud problem.

For this episode, we interviewed Carlos Rivera, CFE, MAFF, Senior Vice President – Caribbean & Latin America of Lowers Forensics International and Grant Mizel, Financial Analyst, Emerging Markets for Lowers Risk Group. Rivera and Mizel offer their insight to help us understand the importance of situational awareness to an organization’s ability to detect and prevent fraud. They point to the Fraud Triangle as a model for understanding why fraud happens, but also recognize that without situational awareness, the Fraud Triangle is meaningless.

Grab a cup of coffee and spend 7 minutes with Rivera and Mizel:

Formulated in 1953 by criminologist Donald Cressey, the Fraud Triangle theorizes that fraud occurs when a perpetrator feels financial pressure, they are presented an opportunity, and/or they can rationalize the theft. For the Fraud Triangle to be valuable, organizations must be situationally aware. What’s going on in, around, and outside your organization? Which of these internal or external factors might be impacting the opportunities, rationalizations, and incentives that can lead people to commit fraud?

As Rivera points out, “Removing separation of duties and internal audit departments certainly creates the opportunity for employees to commit fraud. However, you have to consider the financial pressure and rationalization that goes along with a national catastrophic situation. In many instances, you’ll have employees who receive salary cuts that may not only feel financial pressure but also rationalize it by claiming what they believe is rightfully theirs, or you may see an employee rationalize through necessity which I believe can be just as powerful of a motivator.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has, unfortunately, led to situations where people have less supervision, more opportunity, and way more financial pressure than before.

As a result, in its September 2020 Fraud in the Wake of COVID-19 Benchmarking Report, the ACFE reported, “77% of respondents said they had observed an increase in the overall level of fraud, with one-third noting that this increase has been significant.” Furthermore, the ACFE reports, “Our findings indicate this uptick is likely to continue; 92% of respondents expect to see a further increase in the overall level of fraud during the next year, and nearly half expect that increase to be significant.”

Mizel remarks, “You talk about the Fraud Triangle and opportunity, when you give folks the opportunity, they are most likely going to take advantage. You can head that off by putting structures in place, rigor, documentation, automated processes… when you think about the employee, it’s not strange from a fraud examiner’s perspective that someone without oversight would take advantage of the situation.”

We hope you enjoyed this Coffee Break episode. Come back tomorrow to hear from Steven Schwartz, Chief Revenue Officer of Periculus, about cyberfraud during COVID-19.

Emotional Intelligence & The Allure of Insurance Fraud

By Lowers & Associates,

Emotional Intelligence and the Allure of Insurance Fraud

By Neil Watson and Keith Gray

Insurance loss happens for many reasons.  For a business, common causes include armed robbery, theft, customer injury, floods, fires, and storm damage; but any natural disaster, large-scale event, or man-made act can bring about a claim.  When an event involves the loss of physical stock or damage to property, the loss is immediate, and it creates an urgent need for the business owner to settle the claim so that the business can resume operations and avoid further lost revenue.

This desire to quickly return to business as usual is a natural one, but in the wake of an event, it’s not uncommon for the resolution process to test the business owners’ resolve.  And while most claims post-incident are legitimate, from time-to-time, human emotions will complicate the process and create an environment that enables fraudulent activity, sometimes in unexpected ways.

Why Does Insurance Fraud Happen?

The Fraud Triangle provides all the insight required to answer this question.  Our team has written extensively on this, but Donald Cressey’s hypothesis in his book “Other People’s Money” says it all: Trusted persons become trust violators when they conceive of themselves as having a financial problem which is non-shareable, are aware this problem can be secretly resolved by violation of the position of financial trust, and are able to apply to their own conduct in that situation.”

It’s true that some fraudulent claims start out as legitimate but become ‘exaggerated’ during the claims process due to perceived opportunity.  In other cases, if the business is not doing well and is losing money, desperation can create enough pressure to commit fraud.  In rare cases, the fraud may involve large organized criminal gangs; these are often well-planned and involve multiple parties where the sole intent of the activity is a rational attempt to defraud an insurance provider.

It’s for these reasons that impartial guidance through the claims process is crucial.  As an insured, it is important to work closely with your insurance broker and the loss adjuster in preparing your claim and validating your losses.  Without this professional assistance and oversight, fraud can easily find its way into the conversation.

How Does Insurance Fraud Happen?

Below are a few examples of insurance fraud we’ve seen over the years at Lowers & Associates:

  • ‘Padding’ legitimate claims to increase the claim amount
  • Including losses from previous shortages or events within a big ‘single event’ claim
  • Manipulating inventory, possibly running two sets of books, to allow for the tracking of actual inventory versus the falsely reported inventory
  • Exaggerating the damage suffered as a result of a natural disaster (storm), or even causing some additional damage not caused by the original disaster
  • Committing arson
  • Staging accidents or thefts

The current COVID-19 situation globally, coupled with other localized events (recent looting losses in the U.S. or the extreme poverty facing certain areas in Brazil), is resulting in retail sales for certain sectors falling by over 50% and as much as 100%, which is clearly not sustainable.

In such unprecedented times as these, the possibility of a spike in fraudulent claims is a real concern. There is an increase in both the pressure and opportunity factors, resulting in an increased likelihood that potential perpetrators may rationalize their fraudulent thoughts and act on them as a result. For business owners, it can be hard to find consistency and understand what their default problem-solving steps should be.  When the Lowers & Associates team is presented with uncertainty, we often lean on process and procedure to identify a way forward in our work together with clients.  This path can always be informed by intuition, experience, and empathy, but for a business, without process and procedure to provide impartiality, the risk of insurance fraud increases significantly.

What Can You Do About It?

Ideally insurers would commission a pre-risk survey to establish security protections, stock levels, and standard operating procedures to satisfy themselves that the risk meets their requirements.  While this is recommended, it is not always feasible due to time or cost restraints.

Post-event, once a claim has been filed, relying on the findings of a law enforcement investigation may not be feasible due to timing or any related circumstances related to the event (especially if it’s large-scale or a natural disaster).  And even if law enforcement is doing an investigation on an event, it may not be a priority, creating an extended period of uncertainty.  Lastly, law enforcement may also be very hesitant to provide any info that they do have knowledge of, especially when it is an active investigation.

To manage this process, business owners and insurers need independent third parties that are flexible, have experience across multiple industries and can dedicate the appropriate time required to work through a claim (i.e. gathering facts, evidence and necessary documents) to support the basis of the claim.  For truly complex fraud matters, business owners and insurers should expect the third party to have a Special Investigations Unit (SIU) with extensive experience in technical surveillance countermeasures (TSCM) and counterintelligence that regularly work on international assignments.

With enterprise risk mitigation and insurance solutions that include UAV/UAS, special investigations, forensic accounting, loss adjusting and more, Lowers Risk Group stands ready to support our clients through the claims process with the speed, accuracy and dedication you’ve come to expect from over 30 years in the business.  To learn more, contact us.

About the Authors

Neil Watson brings nearly 30 years of insurance industry experience to Lowers & Associates, where he currently serves as Global Operations Director.  With key insurance industry relationships in both the London and International insurance markets, Neil’s primary responsibility is to grow all verticals and assist in building out L&A’s claims adjusting capabilities.

Keith Gray has been with Lowers & Associates for over 15 years and currently serves as the VP of Client Relations.  In his current role, Keith provides oversight with respect to program coordination, management of a nationwide team of industry professionals, investigation, and client communication.  Keith possesses a degree in Accounting and is certified as both a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) and Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist (CAMS).

  Category: Occupational Fraud
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The College Admissions Fraud Triangle [Infographic]

By Lowers & Associates,

Can the Fraud Triangle Help Us Understand How the Higher Ed Admissions Bribery Scandal Happened?

 

High-profile stories of fraud in corporate America are commonplace, but the details surrounding Operation Varsity Blues – the biggest college admissions bribery scandal of its kind to be prosecuted by the US Justice Department – reveal how fraud is an equal opportunity threat.

Pressures, opportunities, and rationalizations of all sorts combined to create a situation for coaches, parents, admissions personnel, and test administrators to deceive the admissions system. In total, $25 million was reportedly paid in bribes and 50 defendants were named in the case.

Criminologist Donald Cressey’s Fraud Triangle offers a framework for understanding the factors that lead people to commit fraud. In the infographic below, we use the fraud triangle as a model for understanding how the college admissions scandal happened.

Colleges and universities are not immune to fraud, and it’s imperative that administrators have protections in place to safeguard their reputations and resources. The infographic outlines a few key prevention measures.

Check out the full infographic here:

college admissions bribery scandal fraud

  Category: Fraud Awareness
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Fraud Week 2016: 6 Top Fraud Prevention Resources

By Lowers & Associates,

fraud prevention resources

This week is International Fraud Week, an annual awareness effort organized by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) to shine a spotlight on fraud. It is estimated that fraud costs approximately 5 percent of annual revenue for organizations worldwide. The seriousness of the global fraud problem is why, throughout the year, we provide our clients and other organizations with tips and information to fight fraud and safeguard businesses and investments from the growing fraud problem.

Here we share 6 of our most-read fraud-related resources:

 

Whitepaper: Occupational Fraud – A Hidden Killer of Organizational Performance

Our latest whitepaper, Occupational Fraud: A Hidden Killer of Organizational Performance, provides an in-depth look at the complexities of occupational fraud, so you can prevent, detect, minimize, and/or recover from it.

Get your copy of Occupational Fraud: A Hidden Killer of Organizational Performance>

 

Infographic: Fraud Triangle

The value of the fraud triangle is that it helps us to look at the objective factors that must be present for fraud to occur. Recognizing these objective factors helps to define actions you can take to help prevent fraud, partly through organizational policy controls and partly through managing the relationship with employees to encourage openness and trust.

View the Fraud Triangle infographic>

… Continue reading

Organizational Fraud: The Motivation to Steal

By Lowers & Associates,

fraud week

Ordinary people can do extraordinary things, including committing fraud. The question is, what motivates an ordinary person to morph into a fraudster?

“Pressure,” or motivation, is one of the three causal factors of Donald Cressey’s Fraud Triangle, along with opportunity and rationalization. A quick summary of the theory is that a person commits fraud when under difficult or threatening personal circumstances (pressure) and he or she has access to a valuable target for personal gain (opportunity) that they can justify internally (rationalization).

The pressure factor in fraud risk is idiosyncratic and dynamic. Individuals’ circumstances are as highly varied as their perceptions and reactions are to them. The main thing is that the propensity for fraud emerges when a person’s circumstances create perceived pressure that leads him or her to exploit an opportunity when it appears. In other words, every person in every organization has the potential to commit fraud under the right combination of circumstances. … Continue reading