Fraud is an ever changing issue, constantly evolving along with technology and attempting to keep one step ahead of its investigators. The increasing complexities of fraud require ever more complex and innovative investigating, and the level of fraud in general has risen with the fall of the economy.
The shift of private banking and finance to integrate new technology such as smart phones, laptops or games consoles, as well as new ways to manage money online has presented new opportunities to fraudsters and massively complicated the task of fraud investigation.
Although the methods of investigation have changed, fundamental parts of the job remain the same. Developing specific skills in certain areas will help to specialise your talent and focus it towards the area of fraud you might want to work in.
In general, fraud investigators will usually collect and evaluate evidence to establish whether fraud has been committed. Where you work will depend on the specific area of fraud that you specialise in. For example fraud investigators could work for the private sector with online businesses, insurance, or banks, or in the public sector working with the council, police, or investigating benefit fraud.
Collecting evidence may involve covert surveillance or interviewing subjects which can involve long or odd hours and may carry risks of confrontation. With more technology-based fraud, evidence is collected through computer forensics or investigatory data analytics. Presenting or assembling the case may involve writing up reports or even giving evidence in court.
There are no qualifications required for fraud investigators, however there are some related degrees. The most notable are counter fraud qualifications such as Portsmouth Universities BSc (Hons) in Counter Fraud and Criminal Justice Studies or other courses recommended on the website of the Institute of Counter Fraud Specialists.
There are also many related degrees such as Law or Criminal Justice studies. Even subjects like English, Maths, Sociology or Anthropology can demonstrate communication or analytical skills which can be useful. Knowledge of legislation or certain legal acts is also important to progress and become successful in the field, but it isn't always essential at entry level.
What may effect your chances of getting a job is the match between your personal skill set or area of interest, and the type of fraud being investigated. There are many types of fraud and therefore many areas to specialise in.
Types of Fraud
Different types of fraud involve different technologies, industries and methods. Therefore each type generally requires a specific type of investigator. Some may overlap in terms of skill, and some investigators may be able to investigate several types of fraud. Which skill set you will need will often depend on the type of media the fraudsters use and who they target.
Individuals are targeted by fraudsters in many different ways. Individuals are often targeted because of wealth or vulnerability, and often both, for example the elderly are a prime target because they often have savings and may be more trusting and less savvy about technology or scams. Sadly, those living with alzheimer's or dementia are even more likely to be targeted due to their vulnerability.#
Individuals can be targeted by paper, on the phone, online or face to face. Investigating each type of fraud will require different methods, skills and at times, qualifications. For example to investigate deception of an individual online through account ‘phishing’, IT literacy and knowledge of the internet is essential.
This type of fraud can also be committed over the telephone, which can be more upsetting for the victims as they’ve spoken to and trusted the fraudster. A much publicised version of this scam has been known as the 'boiler room' where a small call centre cold calls people under the disguise of a stockbroker and persuades them to buy non-existent shares. Another scam called 'recovery rooms' has been set up which is designed to track victims of boiler rooms and asks for a fee in order to recover lost money.
Fraud committed face to face can be the most upsetting for victims as often a more trusting and personal relationship has been formed consequently and abused. There have been some recently publicised cases which involve vulnerable people being deceived by neighbors or friends that they thought they could trust. A common and somewhat upsetting fraud at the moment is fake charity fundraising.
Fraud on an individual level is investigated by the Police and in part, the UK Financial Services Authority. Fraud is often international and one operation may involve organisations in many countries to investigate the criminals. An operation on boiler rooms for example resulted in a raid by British and Spanish police on a call centre in Spain. ‘Boiler Rooms’ are now investigated by the Serious Fraud Office as well as Police services.
Corporate fraud can occur from both within and outside a corporation and the scale of corporate fraud can differ. For example fraud can be committed through internal methods such as falsifying invoices, rouge accounting or price fixing. This can happen little and often, skimming small amounts of money which aren't at first noticeable. It can also happen on a much larger scale for example the recent case of the UBS rogue trader who lost over a billion pounds.
Fraud from outside the company can also occur in many forms. For example on a smaller scale, invoices can be sent for things which didn't exist, and on a large scale, whole companies can be set up for the purpose of fraud. An example of these is called 'long firm fraud' where a seemingly legitimate company with a good credit rating is set up and is used to order large amounts of a product which is then sold off or taken without payment. Another is known as a 'Phoenix Company' which is shut down in debt to the investors, but the directors have no obligation to pay the debt back and are free to start up again. Insurance fraud is another example.
Corporate fraud investigators often work for agencies or organisations which are hired by a firm if it suspects fraud is occurring. These officers use a variety of techniques, but are most commonly investigative, statistical, and technological. For example computer, data, and accountancy forensic experts are used to build evidence and study the finances of the firm.
If the directors of a firm are committing fraud in the UK, they may be investigated by The Insolvency Service, The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and the Serious Fraud Office.
Fraud in the public sector can take many forms, but all involve defrauding the taxpayer. One of the most frequent types of fraud is benefit fraud. Benefit fraud costs the UK over a billion pounds a year#. This is investigated by specialist benefit fraud officers which are normally employed by the department of work and pensions for work related frauds such as falsely claiming jobseekers allowance, and by local councils for fraud relating to local authority benefits such as housing and council tax.
Working in these areas is possible by applying through one of these authorities. Often however only entry level jobs will be externally advertised and to progress through administrative levels to the position of an investigator would need to be done through level transfers or promotions which can take some time. Investigators are required to complete PINS (professionalism in security) training, but this is done in-job.
Benefit fraud investigators often have to interview many people face to face or conduct covert surveillance in the field, both due to the nature of how the fraud is committed and how widespread it is. Those being investigated can become aggressive and an ability to stay calm and professional under these situations is a plus.Investigators can also spend long periods of time on surveillance so a good attention span and perseverance will be needed.
Many want to become benefit investigators because they have a strong sense of whats right and wrong and would enjoy redirecting taxpayers money from fraudsters to those who really need it. This passion is important, however it is worth bearing in mind that the majority of investigations are complicated matters of relationships and legal statuses so catching an athlete on incapacity benefits will be unlikely.
There are other organisations that local authorities can draw on during investigations which include The Local Authority Investigation Officers Group (LAIOG), The National Anti Fraud Network(NAFN), and the Audit Commisions National Fraud Initiative.
Some Organisations which are involved in the detection or investigation of fraud:
Financial Services Authority,
Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs,
The Home Office,
The Insolvency Service,
Department of Business, Innovation and Skills,
National Fraud Authority,
Office of Fair Trading,
The Crown Prosecution Services Central Fraud Group
Serious Organised Crime Agency
Department of Work and Pensions.
Summary of useful knowledge and skills:
Compiling and evaluating large amounts of information
Analysing financial data
Speaking publicly (LINK TO JADE)and testifying as a witness
Forensic computer data abilities
Forensic accountancy ability
Communicate well- orally and through writing (link to communication skill page)
A knowledge of court procedures
A knowledge of relevant legislation and legal acts
Flexibility in time
Techniques in Interviewing and Negotiation
Some useful links
Short documentary- inside the lives of British fraudsters
Anatomy of a corporate fraud investigation
Association of certified fraud examiners career center
Association of certified fraud examiners credential qualification details.
UK univrsities with degrees related to fraud
UK local councils recruitment
Local councils fraud officer job guide.
benefit officers- tricks of the trade
Public Jobs Direct Fraud Officer career guide