From working with the fraud squad to uncovering bribes, forensic accountant David Cafferty's career is never dull

I didn't get any initial training as a forensic accountant, though I did go on to qualify as a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). The basic tools for the role are an accountancy qualification and the right mindset; you need to be able to think laterally. A forensic accountant needs to understand the legal system, types of fraud, relevant legislation, interviewing and analysis skills and how to apply them. You also have to be able to get into the head of the fraudster, which is where the forensic accountant comes into their own. Most are employed by the major accounting firms. They can also be found in many government departments, private investigation firms and police forces.

The way I came into it was that I was working in an organisation that was the victim of a fraud. The police fraud squad investigating it didn't have their own forensic accountant at the time so they asked my boss if they could borrow me. That gave me an interest in fraud and then three years later I got a job with the same police force, who had been given the budget to recruit its own forensic accountants.

I went on to work with the Ministry of Defence Police Fraud Squad. I got involved with cases from the outset, trying to think of the business reasons behind why a suspected criminal activity had occurred. Next I would do preliminary investigations either working on my own, with a police officer or with internal audit. Finally I'd assist the police in the development of the case. Pre-raid I would tell them what information I needed them to obtain; during the raid I would help them identify accounting/financial records; and post-raid would involve the detailed analysis of lots of paperwork and assisting with interviews of the accountants and financial staff.

The first thing you're looking to establish is what crime is suspected, and any possible suspects. Then you have to quantify the loss, which can take some effort, but to do so you look for cover-ups, patterns, similarities and coincidences in the figures.

That's all to do with general fraud, but I also used to look for evidence of bribes. I worked on an arson case where the motive was suspected to be fraud and all I had were boxes of charred remains to look through.

If it was decided that the case would run then I might be a professional witness, and there were also occasions when I would act as an expert witness for the prosecution.

This is just the police side of the role. When I left the fraud squad I was at a firm whose main clients were insurance companies. This is where my CIMA qualification was really helpful, as it was all about understanding how the business worked. They would look at a claim and check for figures that had been padded out, or numbers that should have been included and weren't. They had a specialist disaster team, which is put together to assist with claims assessment following an event such as 9/11 or a natural disaster. I also worked on fidelity claims where a company has been a victim of a theft but has to prove the amount that was lost.

Other work could encompass calculating shares following a divorce, liability in a VAT case or uncovering money laundering. At the moment I'm working in Abu Dhabi as a fraud-risk management consultant to a major oil company. My job is to put procedures and policies in place that will help prevent fraud.

There's a lot of travel involved with forensic accounting as you're in demand all around the world. The nature of the job means you have to be meticulous, so it's high-pressured but you can have a lot of fun!

If you have any questions about forensic accountancy, contact David at michael.cafferty@btopenworld.com and he will do his best to respond

What is forensic accounting?

It is the integration of accounting, IT and investigation skills. It enable lawyers, insurance companies and other clients to resolve disputes, and a forensic accountant can be asked to communicate financial information in a courtroom. They have to look beyond the numbers and deal with the business realities of situations, and be familiar with legal procedures. Insurance companies, banks, the police and government are common employers.

Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA Global) www.cimaglobal.com

The Financial Training Company (FTC) www.financial-training.com

The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) www.aat.co.uk

Institute of Chartered Accountants, England & Wales (ICAEW) www.icaew.co.uk

Mayuri Patel

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