The Red Flags of Fraud You May Not Know

By Lowers & Associates,

Fraud Red Flags

It would be really good to know who in your organization is most at risk of perpetrating a fraud. You could then take steps—counseling, reviewing controls, rotating jobs—to protect against that risk.

Theoretically, the Fraud Triangle does a good job of stipulating who might be a fraud risk. It says people are more likely to commit an occupational fraud when they have motivation, opportunity, and a rationale to excuse their crime. The rationale is an individual factor which organizations cannot address in advance, but there can be indicators based on motivation and opportunity.

The 2018 Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse contains some concrete information that is consistent with this theory. In research for the Report, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) identified 17 behavioral “red flag” traits that might be associated with a perpetrator of fraud. These are primarily indicators of motivation or pressure that may cause a potential fraudster to flip into active fraud.

85% of the fraudsters in the 2,690 cases ACFE reviewed had at least one of the red flags, and 50% had more than one. They are at least somewhat predictive.

The most common red flags have to do with financial difficulties (motivation, pressure). Since 2008 when the first edition of the Report was published, the six top red flags, in order, have consistently included:

  • Living beyond one’s means
  • Financial difficulties
  • Unusually close association with a vendor or customer
  • Control issues, unwilling to share duties
  • Divorce/family issues
  • “Wheeler-dealer” attitude

Much is written about these common behavioral red flags of fraud, but there are other red flags organizations should be aware of when it comes to predicting and preventing fraud. So-called human resources-related red flags and non-fraud-related misconduct can offer valuable insight to those responsible for anti-fraud programs.

Human Resources-Related Red Flags

According to the ACFE’s 2018 report, 39% of fraudsters had experienced some form of HR-related red flags prior to or during the time of their frauds. The most common of these red flags were negative performance evaluations, and fear of job loss.

Non-Fraud-Related Misconduct by Perpetrators

According to the ACFE report, 45% of fraud offenders had committed some form of non-fraud workplace violation, which could potentially indicate a link between occupational fraud and other forms of workplace misconduct. The most common non-fraud violation was bullying or intimidation, which was observed in 21% of all cases.

To anticipate occupational fraud, the organization has to be well acquainted with its members at all levels of authority. Regular or routine evaluations (background checks, interviews, work reviews) would help to identify individuals at risk, and help them avoid failure. A fraud prevented saves the organization from damage to people, brands, and profits.

  Category: Fraud Awareness
  Comments: Comments Off on The Red Flags of Fraud You May Not Know

Benchmarking Fraud: How Does Your Organization Compare?

By Lowers & Associates,

benchmarking your controls

The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners 2018 Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse offers a treasure trove of data you can use to assess how your organization’s fraud profile stacks up against other organizations in terms of industry, size, and location.

The Report is based on case data reported from Certified Fraud Examiners (CFEs) from all over the world. It lends itself to benchmarking your organization because it allows you to compare your own experiences against the medians reported from broadly similar organizations. Perhaps most important, you can learn about how other organizations responded to fraud.

Your risk of fraud.

Industry sector makes a big difference in the incidence and cost of fraud. Private, for-profit companies have the highest incidence and the highest median loss, where not for profits have much smaller losses and fewer frauds overall. In between are publicly traded companies and government agencies. An interesting comparison is between private vs. public for-profit businesses, with the private ones suffering higher losses. In general, private businesses face less scrutiny than public ones.

One counter-intuitive finding is that defrauded small organizations (less than 100 employees) suffered losses almost twice as high as large organizations (100 or more employees) in absolute terms. It’s not likely that the difference is attributable to the amount of money available—larger organizations offer fatter targets.

Among all types of fraud risk, corruption is one of only two types of fraud that is significantly more likely in large organizations (the other being non-cash fraud), perhaps because size offers more opportunities for small organized cliques to penetrate weak points, or due to a larger network of connections. Corruption is prevalent in almost every industry type, with the lone exception of professional services.

Your fraud prevention measures.

The presence of anti-fraud controls, such as surprise audits, proactive data monitoring/analysis, codes of conduct, etc. is shown by the ACFE Report to reduce the medial losses associated with fraud. It is perhaps predictable that small organizations in the study were far less likely to have a full range of anti-fraud controls in place. They tend to have only the basics, such as internal audits, management review, and external reviews of financial statements. Right on cue, 42% of frauds in small organizations were caused by lack of internal controls, compared with only 25% for larger organizations which tend to have a far more complete and robust set of controls in place.

One important anti-fraud control is the presence of a tip line. This was present in a little over 20% of small organizations, but fully 80% of large ones. The reason the disparity is important is that tips are the most common way a fraud is detected.

Fraud is a threat to all types and sizes of organizations, but two tendencies in the data stand out.

  • First, large organizations deploy more controls, and ACFE finds that every type of control tends to depress fraud.
  • Second, large organizations are more likely to experience fraud by corruption, which is an intentional organized attack at the weak points in an organizations’ links between units, internal or external.

The good news is that controls do work. Small organizations that may not have enough control due to cost or scale need to find ways to implement variations of these controls. The potential payoff from fraud averted or detected quickly is too large to not implement the controls.

What can the lessons and benchmarks embedded in the ACFE’s Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse teach you about your own organization’s risks? How can you become better protected?

  Category: Occupational Fraud
  Comments: Comments Off on Benchmarking Fraud: How Does Your Organization Compare?

How Organizations Respond to Fraud

By Lowers & Associates,

How Organizations Respond to Fraud

You discover your erstwhile trusted employee has been skimming funds to support a gambling habit. What do you do?

Your first response is possibly unprintable, and understandably so. Your cooler head will prevail, and look at a small series of options for recovery, and maybe a dollop of justice. If there are losses, especially substantial losses, you will look at the circumstances of the fraudster carefully and evaluate the alleged crime for prosecution. You will look into the possibility of recovery and what the sources of recovery might be. The disruptive impact of being the victim of a crime might very well turn your thoughts away from revenge to the more practical goal of remediation.

The case studies analyzed in the 2018 Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse suggest a range of options organizations choose in the wake of a fraud. The Report, a study published every other year by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), includes actions both through internal mechanisms and through external legal channels.

How are fraudsters punished?

It will come as no surprise that 65% of the fraudsters were simply terminated. 12% of organizations agreed to a settlement with the perpetrator and 11% of organizations say the perpetrator was no longer with the organization.  What you might not expect is that 6% of organizations took no action and another 8% put the perpetrator on probation or suspension. The methodology of the study asks participant organizations about their biggest fraud case in the recent past, so a no action result suggests there are some very complicated circumstances below the surface. At the least, these widely disparate outcomes imply that organizations conduct an investigation of the fraud, and the evidence might point to a prudent course of action other than termination.

The perpetrator’s position in the company impacts their punishment.

The perpetrator’s role in the organization clearly modifies the organization’s response. An owner or executive is much less likely to be terminated (44% compared with 65% overall), and also much more likely to receive no punishment (12% compared with 6% overall). 72% of ordinary employees who committed a fraud were terminated.

Law enforcement is not always involved.

In the legal realm, uncertainty is increased by the fact that the alleged fraudster is innocent until proven guilty. The outcome of a civil action or criminal prosecution is not a given. Still, in 2018, 58% of frauds were referred to law enforcement and 23% resulted in a civil suit—the majority of these legal actions were resolved favorably to the victim.

Legal uncertainty abounds.

Yet the legal uncertainty is reflected in the fact that 12% of fraud cases are settled by agreement even before any legal action is taken (18% of owner/executive cases). In the group of civil cases, 27% are settled by agreement.  And, fully 15% of civil cases result in a judgment for the alleged perpetrator.

The risks deter some organizations from taking legal action. 38% of these organizations cited bad publicity as the main reason, and other risks might also impose costs. Compounding the reasons to avoid legal action is the fact that in 53% of cases the victim recovered nothing, zero dollars. The more victims lose, the smaller the proportion they recover.

It is clear that organizations look at the cost-benefit value in deciding on what course of action to take in response to a fraud. Revenge may feel good, but it doesn’t serve the organizations’ interests.


  Category: Occupational Fraud
  Comments: Comments Off on How Organizations Respond to Fraud

Lowers Risk Group Joins Movement to Shine a Spotlight on Fraud

By Lowers & Associates,

Fraud costs organizations worldwide an estimated 5 percent of their annual revenues, according to a study conducted by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE). The ACFE’s 2018 Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse analyzed 2,690 occupational fraud cases that caused a total loss of more than $7.1 billion.

The seriousness of the global fraud problem is why Lowers Risk Group announced that it will again be participating in International Fraud Awareness Week, Nov. 11-17, 2018, as an official supporter to promote anti-fraud awareness and education. The movement, known commonly as Fraud Week, champions the need to proactively fight fraud and help safeguard business and investments from the growing fraud problem.

Lowers Risk Group joins hundreds of organizations who have partnered with the ACFE, the world’s largest anti-fraud organization and premier provider of anti-fraud training and education, for the yearly Fraud Week campaign.

During Fraud Week, Lowers Risk Group will post a series of educational articles on its risk management blog at and will share fraud prevention tips and facts on its LinkedIn page.

Mark Lowers, President and CEO of Lowers Risk Group, remarks, “The ACFE has done an incredible job bringing awareness to the issue of fraud detection and prevention, and we are proud to be a supporter of this important effort.”

ACFE CEO and President Bruce Dorris, J.D., CFE, CPA, said that the support of organizations around the world helps make Fraud Week an effective tool in raising anti-fraud awareness.

“The latest statistics tell us that fraud isn’t going away, and companies that don’t have protective measures in place stand to lose the most,” Dorris said. “That’s why it is reassuring to me to see so many businesses, agencies, universities and other organizations involved in the Fraud Week movement. The first step in combating fraud is raising awareness worldwide that it is a serious problem that requires a proactive approach toward preventing it.”

“Since our first Fraud Week almost 20 years ago, the movement continues to grow,” Dorris said. “I heartily thank all of the supporters of Fraud Week for making it what it is today.”

For more information about increasing awareness and reducing the risk of fraud during International Fraud Awareness Week, visit

The 2018 Report to the Nations is available for download online at the ACFE’s website:  The Report is in PDF format.

About the Lowers Risk Group

Lowers Risk Group provides comprehensive enterprise risk management solutions to organizations operating in high-risk, highly-regulated environments and organizations that value risk mitigation. Our human capital and specialized industry enterprise risk management solutions protect people, brands, and profits from avoidable loss and harm. For more information, visit

About the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners
Based in Austin, Texas, the ACFE is the world’s largest anti-fraud organization and premier provider of anti-fraud training and education. Together with nearly 85,000 members, the ACFE is reducing business fraud worldwide and inspiring public confidence in the integrity and objectivity within the profession. For more information, visit



  Category: Occupational Fraud
  Comments: Comments Off on Lowers Risk Group Joins Movement to Shine a Spotlight on Fraud

How Anti-Fraud Controls are Evolving

By Lowers & Associates,

Occupational fraud awareness is the focus of Fraud Week but it’s also a rising concern of organizations year-round. At least that’s the message in the data from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners: 2016 Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse.

The report compares the implementation of a wide range of anti-fraud controls across reported cases, and finds that every single type of control was more prevalent in 2016 than it was in 2010. This is true even for very widely used controls like more traditional types of financial audits and management review. An important example is the external review of financial statements, the single most common anti-fraud tool, whose implementation rate increased .08% to 81.7%.

Workforce Participation is Key

More interesting, is that the types of controls that have increased the most are those that leverage workforce participation and cultural restraints. The implementation rate for a hotline increased 8.9%, anti-fraud training for employees increased 7.6%, the establishment of an anti-fraud policy by 6.8%, and a code of ethics, already high, increased 6.3%.

It’s useful to think of the anti-fraud policy and code of ethics as part of the cultural framework, the stated intentions for acceptable behavior. These standards have to be demonstrated from the top down, and built into expectations for every employee. They have to be used when fraud is detected to devise an appropriate sanction in response, without equivocation.

Hotlines and Anti-Fraud Training are On the Rise

The largest rates of implementation increase for hotline and anti-fraud training for employees reflects actions taken to facilitate the cultural shift. Unlike the cultural standards that justify these tools, but which exist primarily in the beliefs of employees, hotline and training are concrete policies an organization can implement and measure. The connection between hotline and fraud detection is a fact: 39% of frauds detected come via a hotline. Training is less obvious, but it moves directly against the efforts of potential fraudsters to make up rationalizations for stealing. Training helps remove excuses, and clarifies the intentions of cultural policies.

Given the performance of hotlines, it is no wonder they are being adopted by many organizations. The key to this performance is availability, security, and privacy. The employee who reports suspicious behavior via a hotline has to feel secure, that it will be taken seriously and that it will not jeopardize his or her social standing in the enterprise.

Anti-fraud training helps employees interpret the code of ethics or anti-fraud policy in the context of their working lives. It may teach them how to recognize suspicious behavior or patterns of abuse, and how to report them. The ACFE report is full of “red-flag” behaviors that can indicate fraud or abuse, and employees who recognize these are better able to multiply the strength of the fraud prevention effort.

It is encouraging that so many organizations both recognize the threat of occupational fraud and take steps to prevent it., The fact is, that organizations of all types worldwide lose about 5% of topline revenue to fraud means the fight is far from over. In fact, given that fraud is an individualized crime, the effort to prevent it can never succeed completely. But it can win many battles, perhaps one that saves your organization.