Business fraud is a global epidemic permeating every industry and affecting companies and consumers worldwide. The 2021 Report to the Nations by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) found that organizations lose 5% of their annual revenues to fraud schemes. As businesses increasingly move online, new fraud tactics like phishing scams, invoice fraud, money laundering, and CEO fraud now rival classic frauds like embezzlement and payroll fraud.
With billions lost each year and legal impacts along with reputation damage, no business can ignore the issue of fraud. We will define business fraud, break down major fraud types with case studies, showcase troubling statistics, and provide expert tips for fraud prevention and detection. Arm yourself with information to fortify your organization against threats from within and without.
Defining Business Fraud
The ACFE broadly defines occupational fraud as:
“The use of one’s occupation for personal enrichment through the deliberate misuse or theft of an employer’s resources or assets.”
Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Payroll fraud
- Check tampering
- Skimming revenues
- Fake vendor invoices
- Identity theft
- Financial statement manipulation
- Inventory theft
- Money laundering
- Data theft
Though motivations for why employees and outsiders commit corporate fraud differ, the end goal focused on illicit financial gain ties all instances together. Businesses must guard against various fraud risks from all sides.
While certain industries like banking and government attract most fraud, the ACFE found the top threats across victim organizations include:
- Asset misappropriation (89% of cases): Employees pilfering inventory, pocketing company cash or manipulating financial statements.
- Corruption (38%): Directors and personnel taking bribes from external entities in exchange for contracts, data or competitive insights.
- Financial statement fraud (10%): Falsification of income statements, profit reports or balance sheets to appear more profitable.
Cyber fraud has also emerged as an alarming new fraud avenue, skyrocketing by 79% since 2018 among victim organizations according to the ACFE. Phishing attacks, data theft and online scams accounted for nearly 1 in 5 fraud cases.
Major Types of Business Fraud
While the threat landscape continues evolving, several fraud types repeatedly plague companies across industries. Let’s examine their definitions, inner workings and real-world examples.
Accounting fraud refers to intentional manipulation of financial statements involving revenue overstatements, concealed liabilities or inflated assets. These tweaks abet companies in committing securities fraud, obtaining bank loans, impressing investors or inflating stock prices.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) prosecuted General Electric in 2017 for Widespread Accounting Violations resulting in a $50 million penalty. By concealing insurance liabilities, GM materially misstated earnings in 2002 and 2003 to appear healthier amidst financial struggles.
To prevent such dangerous fraud, internal controls like multi-departmental quarterly review boards can verify financial statement accuracy alongside external audits.
Payroll fraud constitutes employees falsifying hours worked or salary amounts or creating completely fake employees and pocketing their paychecks. A 2018 U.S. Department of Defense Audit found rampant payroll fraud and abuse totaling $100 million wasted annually.
Tactics to combat payroll fraud include:
- Requiring manager approval for payroll changes
- Programming customized flags and notifications within payroll systems for suspicious requests
- Conducting surprise payroll audits
- Checking employment verification letters
- Monitoring planned versus actual payroll expenditures
- Comparing employee signatures on paperwork to detect potential signature forgery cases
With invoice fraud, businesses receive fake invoices impersonating legitimate vendors or showing inflated amounts for real vendors. Caught off-guard accounting departments unwittingly pay the fraudulent bills.
Shark Tank star Barbara Corcoran lost $388,000 to such a scam. Fraudsters often slip-in fake PDF invoices amidst a slew of authentic emails to go unnoticed.
Combatting invoice fraud involves:
- Watching for last-minute invoice changes in terms or amounts
- Verifying vendor payment info changes directly through phone calls
- Confirming details with external departments that oversee particular vendors
Vendor fraud differs from invoice fraud given actual approved vendors deliberately defraud their clients once in a business relationship. Tactics can span overcharging, product substitution, overbilling, kickbacks for contracts and service misrepresentation.
Nigerian firm Sade Telecoms scammed a Dubai school out of $408,000 in one recent vendor fraud instance through electronic payment manipulation.
Vendor vetting and background checks plus ongoing transaction monitoring constitute crucial processes to combat vendor fraud.
Money laundering enables businesses or individuals to conceal illicit fortune origins through complex transactions and make ‘dirty money’ appear legitimately earned. Wachovia bank notoriously helped launder $380 billion for Mexican drug cartels before an investigation forced it to pay heavy government fines as punishment.
Anti-money laundering (AML) software, transaction monitoring and Know Your Customer (KYC) checks all assist in detecting and preventing laundering. Government regulations also establish AML programs as mandatory for banks and other businesses to uphold.
Phishing constitutes digital scams aimed at stealing sensitive data like credit card and Social Security details or login credentials for corporate accounts through fake emails or websites. Even high-profile companies like toymaker Mattel have been targeted.
Cybersecurity training helps employees recognize phishing red flags, while technical fixes like multi-factor authentication and spam filters add protection. Monitoring potential data breaches remains key too since stolen credentials can access company coffers.
CEO fraud, also called ‘business email compromise scams’, involves cybercriminals impersonating company leaders like CEOs or CFOs to email employees demanding urgent payments to fraudulent accounts. Over $26 billion has been lost globally to such scams.
Workplace policies clearly establishing payment procedures and multi-departmental authorization for significant sums can counter this fraud. Cybersecurity principles like email authentication also minimize counterfeit communications.
Troubling Statistics on Business Fraud
Globally, typical organizations lose 5% of revenues to fraud annually amounting to trillions in losses. More startling statistics include:
- The average cost of each corporate fraud scheme stands at $1.5 million in losses
- 95% of fraud experts surveyed say lack of internal controls exacerbates business fraud
- The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) found over 75% of corporate fraud instances studied took months or longer to detect highlighting prevention flaws
- The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) reported $4.1 billion in losses to cybercrime impacting businesses in 2020
Such data spotlights how fraud remains a glaring blind spot for many entities. Internal policies milquetoast in safeguarding funds and data necessitate revamping.
Expert Advice for Preventing Business Fraud
With dire financial implications and enduring customer trust impacts when fraud infiltrates a company, prevention mechanisms should run robust. Experts recommend:
- Implement Strong Internal Controls: Multi-departmental oversight for finances plus transaction approval procedures with built-in activity monitoring controls fraud risk. Institute mandatory surprise audits regularly too.
- Perform Extensive Vendor & Employee Screening: Background checks help avoid partnership with fraudulent vendors while revealing employee red flags as well during hiring.
- Provide Fraud Education: Yearly fraud detection and compliance training ensures all personnel stay updated on policies and vigilant of warning signs.
- Monitor Transactions Closely: Behavioral analytics tools can automatically flag anomalies in payments data or timesheets indicating fraud. Experts should vet flagged actions.
- Update Cybersecurity: Encrypt and back-up data regularly. Install anti-phishing and malware protections alongside firewalls and confirm devices utilize complex secure passwords.
- Create a Whistleblower Hotline: An anonymous tip-line and strict anti-retaliation stance encourages employees to report fraud suspicions promptly during early stages before major losses.
Expert Insights on Combatting Evolving Fraud Threats
As hackers grow more sophisticated and fraudsters find new technology-aided avenues like virtual payments ripe for exploitation, companies must diligently adapt prevention strategies while tracking emerging fraud must stay appraised of developing fraud landscapes within their respective sectors to tailor robust counter-fraud programs.
Some industry insights include:
Banking: “[Financial institutions] must constantly be assessing the effectiveness of their fraud systems against new and emerging attack types.” – Shai Cohen, SVP Fraud Solutions at RSA
Insurance: “Emerging risks like cryptocurrencies and cyber fraud require a flexible, data-centered fraud strategy addressing lack of historical fraud data.” – Dennis Toomey, VP of Counter Fraud Technology at BAE Systems
Healthcare: “Fraud migration to telehealth platforms during the pandemic means [providers and payers] will need to focus on patient verification and televisit validation controls now more than ever.” – James Christiansen, VP of Fraud Prevention at Optum
Steps All Businesses Must Take Immediately
Regardless of your company’s particular fraud vulnerabilities, following fundamental fraud prevention best practices constitutes the first line of defense:
- Perform regular external financial audits
- Install business management software with activity tracking
- Conduct thorough background checks on all vendors
- Maintain an updated employee fraud policy manual with clear examples of misconduct
- Require cybersecurity training for all staff
- Implement an anonymous whistleblower hotline
- Confirm clear internal controls for financial decisions alongside multi-departmental oversight for major transactions
- Screen invoices extensively prior to payment approval
Remember – risk management excellence separates fraud-savvy businesses from those drowning in financial crime. Diligent prevention also costs companies infinitely less than post-fraud incident response and recovery.
Conclusion: United We Stand, Divided We Fall
In an age where hackers halfway across the globe can silently syphon company funds or malintentioned executives misleadingly report financials, fraud threats loom from all sides. New work models introducing remote employees and off-site contractors further obscure transparency.
Yet cooperation represents the ultimate fraud-combatting weapon. As ethical companies implement layered internal controls while government agencies ramp up information sharing and joint fraud investigations with global allies, the era of rampant business fraud nears its end. Technological aids like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in spotting suspicious financial activity also assists in mitigating fraud earlier than ever before.
Nevertheless, companies must remain vigilant regarding evolving fraud tactics, close blind spots within internal policies and foster a compliance-focused culture across all levels to manage contemporary fraud risks. With focus and persistence, we can conquer the fraud epidemic – one company at a time.