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Cooking the Books

What’s the most costly type of white-collar crime?

On average, a company is likely to lose more money from a scheme in which the financial statements are falsified or manipulated than from any other type of occupational fraud incident. The costs frequently include more than just the loss of assets — victimized companies also may suffer lost shareholder value, lower employee morale, premature tax liabilities and reputational damage.

common-types-of-fraud-happening-in-business-1BIZ TIP: Common Types of Fraud Happening in Businesses

Let’s take a closer look at what’s at stake when employees “cook the books.”

Low Frequency, High Cost

The Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse published in 2016 by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) found that less than 10% of the fraud schemes in its survey involved financial statement fraud. However, those cases clocked the greatest financial effect, with a median loss of $975,000. Compare that amount to the median losses for asset misappropriation ($125,000) and corruption ($200,000).

What makes financial statement fraud especially problematic is that the costs can quickly snowball out of control. For example, when an executive fudges the numbers to make a company appear more profitable, the company will likely incur greater liability for taxes or dividends.

Plus, it might be necessary to take on debt to make those payments, leading to higher interest costs. Or an acquisition of a healthy company might be pursued to hide the actual underperformance. In the end, more fraud may be necessary to pay for the original scam.

how-auditors-assess-risk-when-preparing-financial-statements-1BIZ TIP: How Auditors Assess Risk When Preparing Financial Statements

Common Schemes

The ACFE defines financial statement fraud as “a scheme in which an employee intentionally causes a misstatement or omission of material information in the organization’s financial reports.” Common ploys include:

  • Concealed liabilities,
  • Fictitious revenues,
  • Inflated asset valuations,
  • Misleading disclosures, and
  • Timing differences.

does-your-company-have-an-effective-anti-fraud-policy-1BIZ TIP: Does Your Company Have an Effective Anti-Fraud Policy?

Revenue recognition is a particularly ripe area for financial statement fraud, especially as companies start to implement the new revenue recognition guidance for long-term contracts. Early revenue recognition can be accomplished through several avenues, including:

  1. Keeping books open past the end of the accounting period
  2. Delivering products early
  3. Recording revenue before the full performance of a contract
  4. Backdating sales agreements

fraud-prevention-check-up-2EGUIDE: Fraud Prevention Check-Up

Preventive Medicine

Victims of financial statement fraud often find their long-term survival severely threatened in a relatively short period of time. Hiring an outside forensic accounting specialist to evaluate internal controls can help identify red flags, ferret out ongoing schemes and deter would-be fraudsters. Contact us for more information.

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© 2017

Biz Tip Topic Expert: Todd Clemens, CPA, CFE, CGMA

Todd Clemens, CPA, CFE, CGMA

Todd is a Senior Manager at SVA Certified Public Accountants and works with closely-held businesses in the manufacturing, distribution, and construction industries. His specialties include offering assurance services (audits, reviews, compilations, forecasts, and projections), mergers and acquisition services, fraud and litigation support services, and outsourced CFO services.

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