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Road to Becoming a CFE

Safe lockIt seems like a long time ago, but my road to becoming a CFE started when I was in high school. The only thing I really cared about then was playing soccer. Soccer was my life and I accepted that. Sad to say I couldn’t play soccer throughout the school day or my life would have been set early. Instead I had to find some other things that interested me, and surprisingly that other thing was accounting. Why accounting you may ask? Well on the inside of my jock persona there was a nerd deep down inside who enjoyed working with numbers and solving puzzles.  I was taking accounting classes at school, and I heard of the new big thing in accounting that was emerging, called forensic accounting. I’ve always had an intrigue to how the criminal mind works, and I knew that this is a great way to get another perspective on it. Having a career using numbers and solving puzzles already sounds great, but adding solving crimes into the mix is the icing on the cake. I knew that this was a career I wanted to head toward.

Later on I enrolled in West Virginia University’s school of Business and Economics; and yes you guessed it, I was majoring in accounting. The combination of having to study a lot for my classes and realizing that I needed 150 credits to sit for the CPA test soon had me disgruntled. I also knew I wasn’t going to go to school for a fifth year to get all my credits, so I was cramming all my classes into four years and a summer. The combination of all these things was not helping my morale any. Don’t get me wrong I did enjoy my classes, but the accounting field doesn’t always provide a strong sense of excitement.  You can compare studying and doing work in your accounting classes to let’s say, J-walking.  That quick little burst of excitement when you jut out into the street is like you getting your balance sheet to balance. Then as soon as you cross that road you are back to the lackluster life of staying on the sidewalk, which is trying to remember tax law.  By the time graduation came I was ready to take a break from accounting, but I still had to take those last four summer classes.

Those last four classes that I was going to take were in a program, West Virginia University provided, called Forensic Accounting and Fraud Investigation. I was tired of school, but found myself to still have a little spark left wondering what these classes were going to have in store. This was what originally put me over the edge to want to become an accountant, so I was praying that it was going to be everything that I fabricated it to be in my head.

After going through the Forensic Accounting and Fraud Investigation program I found myself flashing back to why I wanted to start a career in accounting. The courses showed me excitement that comes from analyzing all the data, and finding the underlining fraudulent story that was really occurring. I had case studies that involved money laundering, theft, bribery, etc. I also got to work with The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and got to conduct a simulated search and seizure of a crime scene, along with a mock trial. I heard story after story of how fraud in a business was being used to fund lavish lifestyles, hide drug dealer’s money, and even fund terrorism. These classes served me as almost a hype man that got me back to being excited about accounting. I did have a lot of work to do in these classes, but it was about something that I really enjoyed and found interesting so it made it all worth it.

While taking these classes my teacher made it an assignment to join the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. He also pushed for us to become CFE’s when we get out of college. Before then I didn’t even know the credential of a Certified Fraud Examiner existed. After going through this program it reassured me that this was an area in accounting that I would want to go into, and having the CFE credential would be a big step to get me started.

When it came time buying the study material for the test there were two options. I could get either buy the study program or just the books. Just the books were about $500 cheaper, so of course my cheap accounting side came out and that’s what I went with. The flaw is that if you get the program you can take the test as many times over without having to pay again. That’s silly though why would I want to spend $500 more than I have to, I’m smart. Well I soon realized why you would want to spend 500 extra dollars. The book I studied from was over a 1,200 pages long and it was a mixture between a dictionary and a law book. Exciting stuff right? Ok, it wasn’t’ that bad. It did hit a lot interesting topics. For example it took the crime money laundering and broke down the information into the different ways it occurs, the types of businesses these acts are most likely to occur in, along with much more. It was real interesting stuff, but just a lot of information to remember. My crutch in accounting has always been working with numbers and there was none to be found. It all came down to what information I knew. So without any guidance of what I should be studying it’s hard to pick out what you need to know for each section. It’s like taking the CPA test without the Becker program. You can do it, but it’s going to be that much harder on you. Luckily I remembered quite a bit from my fraud classes in college, which gave me a good foundation to what I was studying.

So I continued to push through studying away.  It didn’t help that I had a lot of life distractions in my way. The T.V. was always on, and the dog constantly had to go out. Just kidding, but I did have more important distractions. I was getting married, and finding a job was kind of a necessity. Through this process I came across the company Yount, Hyde & Barbour. This seemed like just the place for me. I already knew the area of Winchester since I grew up there most of my life. Also unlike most firms I could obtain experience in both tax and audit, instead of just one or the other.  I was also ecstatic to hear that they provide fraud investigation services as well. I knew this was a great place to gain experience and it gave me that last little spark I needed to get through taking the CFE test. I didn’t pass all the parts right away, but a little bit after starting my job I finally passed all the sections. After paying for the retakes for the test I’m proud to say I still paid less than I would have if I got the study program, so my cheap decision prevailed in the end.

My advice for anyone interested in forensic accounting or fraud investigation is to become a Certified Fraud Examiner. It’s a great credential to have, and you will learn a lot in the process of studying. You get to touch the areas of what makes a person commit fraud, the different types of fraud or crimes that occur, along with the ways and techniques on how to conduct a fraud investigation. For someone that is new to this type of work I would recommend buying the studying program for the test. It will make your life much easier and it will guarantee that you will pass the test without any additional cost. If you have a little foundation in forensic accounting or fraud investigation than you could probably be alright with just studying from the book.

Now that I passed the test I now have to play the waiting game. I have to wait a little under two years now to be an actual Certified Fraud Examiner (need 2 years’ experience), and I also have to wait for a case to come my way. I’ve enjoyed the process so far and I look forward to what’s still to come. For now I can just anxiously await and keep learning what I can so that when my time comes I’ll be ready.

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