A healthy dose of professional skepticism is essential in fighting fraud, even if it goes against human nature to be skeptical of people we’ve come to trust. It’s important because someone interested in committing fraud will prey on trust.
One of the key drivers is that we get comfortable with people. We give people the benefit of the doubt instead of resetting that level of skepticism. Moreover, there are times we let our optimism take control of us!
Informed skepticism is important for a variety of stakeholders. If board members, finance executives and others challenge their own assumptions, organizations will not only deter fraud but also make detection more likely.
Here are my six key steps to fighting fraud with professional skepticism:
- Play the role of the independent reviewer or inspector, particularly of your own assumptions. A professional skeptic continually challenges beliefs and belief-based risk assessments. Critical self-assessment is necessary to demonstrate to others why and how beliefs and assessments are justified.
- Resist complacency. Question whether you are placing undue weight on previous risk assessments or discounting evidence inconsistent with your expectations.
- Be alert to pressure. Pay particular attention to pressure to truncate risk-assessment procedures or investigations. Also, look out for unwarranted assumptions for the sake of meeting a deadline or goal.
- Understand the sources of evidence. Identify and assess risks from multiple perspectives, using multiple sources of evidence. Ensure your conclusions are grounded in that evidence.
- Be aware of the relative reliability of evidence types. In general, documentation from internally generated documents – particularly those generated manually or not linked to other reporting systems – is less reliable as evidence than documents generated by external sources such as banks or suppliers.
- Don’t be fooled by charity or other good deeds. There is a psychological phenomenon called moral equilibrium that’s best described as a behavioral scorecard. Do something good and add a point to your positive column. Do something bad and add a point to your negative column. Making decisions every day adds or subtracts points to either column. Your brain will naturally seek equilibrium between the two columns and try to balance your scorecard, which of course will lead to positive or negative behaviors or actions — though you might not always be conscious of how these decisions affect you. Not all good deeds are bad, but be skeptical. I’ve seen this in several bribery scenarios.
Read more here!
I welcome your thoughts and suggestions.
Jonathan T. Marks, CPA, CFF, CFE
Adapted from a previous article written when Marks was with Crowe.
Robert Prentice, J.D., professor in the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin (UT).