Psychology Of The Fraudster Profile Of Fraudsters Criminology Essay

It is important to understand the profile of a typical fraudster, by type of fraud he/she has committed, in order to control and detect a fraud. In case of an asset fraud, the person is generally someone who was not suspected, oftentimes least suspected. The profile of white-collar criminals is very different from blue-collar criminals, or street criminals. This statement makes fraud even more difficult to inhibit or identify.

Who Commits Fraud?

According to the principles mentioned above, one might conclude that fraud is caused mainly by factors external to the individual that include financial, economic, social, and political factors, and poor controls. But, what about the individuals? Are some people more inclined to to commit fraud than others? And if so, is that a more serious cause of fraud than the external and internal environmental aspects as discussed earlier? Data obtained from criminology and sociology gives the same impression.

Start by making a broad view about people:

Some individuals are honest all the time.

Some individuals are deceitful all the time.

Most individuals are honest some of the time.

Some individuals are honest most of the time.

A study was conducted to ask employees whether they are honest at work. Forty percent said they would not steal, 30 percent said they would, and 30 percent said they might. A part from those overviews about people, what can one say about fraud committers? About Lying, Cheating and Stealing, Gwynn Nettler, suggestions these understandings on cheaters and deceivers:

People who have experienced failure are prone to cheat.

People who are not liked and who hate themselves are more likely to be more deceitful.

People who are thoughtless, capable of being distracted and unable to delay fulfilments are more likely to involve in deceitful crimes.

People who have a sense of right and wrong (fear of anxiety and punishment; that is, awareness of disclosure) are more resistant to commit a crime.

Intelligent people are more likely to be honest than uneducated people. Middle and elite-class people tend to be more honest than lower-class people.

The easier it is to fraud and cheat, the more people will do so.

Individuals have different needs and levels at which they will be adequately driven to lie, cheat, or steal.

Lying, cheating, and theft increase when people are under stress to attain important objectives.

The struggle to survive leads to deceit.

Individuals lie, steal and cheat on the job in a variety of individual and administrative situations.

The ways that are followed are:

Personal variables



Personal requirements/needs


Organizational variables

Type/scope of the job (meaningful work)

Preparation/training provided

Credit/acknowledgment system

Significance of administration and management

Clarity of duties

Clarity of job-related objectives

Interactive trust

Motivational and moral environment (ethics and values of superiors and co-workers)

External variables

Amount of competition in the industry

General financial conditions

Social values (ethics of challengers and of social and political role models)

The question rises; Why Do Workers Lie, Steal and Cheat on the Work?

There are 25 reasons behind employee crimes that are looked by authorities in white-collar crime (criminologists, sociologists, psychologists, auditors, risk managers, police, and security experts):

The employee believes he can escape from it.

The employee thinks he/she badly needs or desires the money or articles that are stolen.

The employee feels unsatisfied or disappointed about some part of the job.

The employee feels upset or unhappy about some aspect of his personal life that is not related to job.

The employee feels mistreated by the employer and wants to get even.

The employee fails to think through the penalties of being caught.

The employee thinks: ”everybody else cheats, so why not me?”

The employee thinks: ”they’re so big, stealing a little bit won’t damage them.”

The employee doesn’t know how to manage his/her own income so is always penniless and ready to steal.

The employee feels that defeating the organization is a contest and experiment and not a matter of financial advantage alone.

The employee was economically, socially, or traditionally deprived during childhood.

The employee is compensating for an emptiness felt in his personal life and needs love, care, and friendship.

The employee has no willpower and steals out of an impulse.

The employee believes a friend at work has been subjected to embarrassment or misuse or has been treated unethically.

The employee is just simply lethargic and will not work hard to earn enough to buy what he/she desires or needs.

The organization’s internal controls are so relaxed that everyone is attracted to steal.

No one has ever been put on trial for stealing from the organization.

Most employee thieves are caught by coincidence rather than by audit or design. Therefore, fright of being caught is not a warning to theft.

Employees are not encouraged to discuss personal or financial problems at work or to seek management’s advice and guidance on such matters.

Employee stealing is a situational phenomenon. Each theft has its own former situations, and each thief has his/her own purposes.

Employees steal for any reason the human mind and thoughts can call up.

Employees never go to jail or get strict prison punishments for stealing, deceiving, or cheating from their employers.

Human beings are weak and susceptible to to sin.

Employees nowadays are morally, ethically, and mentally ruined and bankrupt.

Employees tend to follow their superiors. If their superiors steal or cheat, then they are most likely to do the same.

Laws must be sensible, fair in application and applied quickly and efficiently to be respected and obeyed. Company strategies that relate to employee honesty, like criminal laws in general must be sensible, reasonable, and projected to serve the company’s best economic interests. The test of reasonableness for any company fraud policy is whether its terms are understandable, whether its punishments or preventions are appropriate to a real and serious matter, and whether its application is possible in a well-organized and legally effective way.

But what particular employee actions are serious enough to be banned and/or punished? Any act that could or does result in significant loss, damage, or destruction of company assets should be forbidden. What is acceptable or considered significant will vary by organization, but wherever the limitations are defined, they must be well conversed, demonstrated by upper management, and applied as essential.

The greatest warning to criminal conduct is a guaranteed and impartial justice; that means immediate detection and uneasiness, a quick and fair trial, and punishment according to the crime: loss of civil rights, honours, property, individual freedom, or societal approval. Having said all that, why is it that, regardless of the terrible consequences of criminal conduct, it still happens?

Obviously, it is because the rewards obtained frequently go beyond the risk of uneasiness and punishment; that is, the troubles caused by punishment are not as severe as the pleasures of criminal conduct. The latter seems to be mainly true in cases of financial or white-collar crimes. Many times, when a fraud is noticed, the extent of punishment and penalty of the crime is sometimes without even paying back the fraud damages. So while prospective white collar criminals may believe they might get trapped, but still the consequences are below the satisfaction which they get by committing the crime.

High-Level and Low-Level Thieves

At high levels of administrative life, it is easy to steal because controls can be avoided or bypassed. The amounts that high-level managers steal, therefore, is likely to be greater than the amounts low-level employees steal. For example, according to the 2008 ACFE (Association of Certified Fraud Examiners) RTTN, executives average about £834,000 per fraud, managers about £150,000, and employees about £70,000. The number of events of theft, however, is greater at low levels of administrations because of the large number of employees found there.

The ACFE RTTN has gathered a profile of fraudsters based on the information collected from CFEs (Certified Fraud Examiner) in its assessments. The more expensive frauds, in terms of cost or losses, are committed by fraudsters who (a) have been working with the company for a long time, (b) receive a high earnings, (c) are males, (d) are above 60 years of age, (e) are well educated (the higher the educational degree completed, the higher the damages), (f) work in groups rather than alone, and (g) have never been accused with anything criminal.

The most common frauds, however, are done by fraudsters with a different profile. These fraudsters (a) have been a worker for about the same amount of time as the high-level thieves, (b) earn much less, (c) could be either male or female (sex doesn’t matter), (d) are between the ages of 41 and 50, (e) have completed high school, (f) work alone, (g) and have generally not been charged with any criminal conduct. Hall and Singleton provide a similar profile for a usual fraudster in general. These criminals are (a) in an important position in the company, (b) are usually male, (c) are over 50 years old, (d) are married, and (e) are well educated. This profile is similar to the one from the ACFE RTTN, and leads us to this general conclusion: A white-collar criminal does not look like a criminal!

Who Is Victimised By Fraud Most Often?

Measures to protect against fraud by either organization insiders or outside dealers, suppliers, and contractors must be sufficient; that is, they must achieve the goal of control-cost-feasible protection of assets against damage, loss, or destruction. Cost-feasible protection means minimal expenses for full protection. Generating an organizational police state would be too much control. A sensible viewpoint on controls and countermeasures is the best, and may require involving staffs in creating control policies, plans, and procedures. A well-adjusted viewpoint considers the costs and benefits of the proposed new controls while developing a trusting culture that includes loyalty and honesty. A distrusting culture is often associated with frauds. However, complete trust with no answerability is the main cause of fraud.

Fraud is therefore most widespread in organizations that have no controls, no trust, no ethical values, no profits, and no prospect. Similarly, the more these situations exist, the higher the risk of fraud. Observed evidence shows that the most common factor in all frauds committed is the lack of setting apart of duties with no compensating control- a situation commonly presents in small business units. Small businesses and establishments (e.g., charities) have a higher risk of fraud than any other size business, because they are more likely to have one accountant, no isolation of duties, and no compensating control, and those factors are the most common in fraud.

Start with the amusing hypothesis that most people are honest. It’s a nice way to look at the world, and it recalls childhood memories about learning that honesty is the best policy and George Washington telling his father, “I cannot tell a lie.” Unhappy to say, human past and human nature tell a different story, and so do the statistics that study them. While most societies clearly dislike violent crime and physical harm, many societies hold financial fraud, whatever its scale, as a less disgraceful offense. Charles Ponzi, creator of the Ponzi scheme, was famous in some regions as a folk hero and praised by many of the people he helped. Investors and executives, whose frauds can upset thousands or tens of thousands of lives, have historically been “punished” with comparatively light punishments or serve their time at a low-security federal “tennis camp.” Some scholars have called this attitude toward white-collar crime “a falsification of our general societal admiration for intelligence.”

During much of the past century, psychologists and sociologists worked hard to understand the inner workings of people who commit white-collar crime. Edwin Sutherland’s White Collar Crime, the most significant work in the field argued in 1939 that an individual’s personality has no relevance to a tendency to commit such crimes. Somewhat, he said, economic crimes create from the situations and social bonds within an organization, not from the biological and psychological features of the individual.

Sutherland also made the useful and obvious, observation that criminality is not limited to the lower classes and to social misfits but spreads out, particularly where financial fraud is concerned, to upper-class, socially well-adjusted people.

Over the many decades since White Collar Crime was published, convincing studies have concluded that two aspects should be kept in mind while analysing the psychology and personality of the fraudster:

The natural abilities of an individual, which differ widely and influence behaviour, including social behaviour

The social abilities that are derived from people and in turn shape how the individual deals with other people

From these studies of psychology, two common forms of financial fraudster have been noted:

Calculating criminals who want to compete and to affirm themselves

Situation-dependent criminals who are anxious to protect themselves, their families, or their businesses from a disaster

Since these studies were published, a third form of criminal has appeared out of disastrous business failures and humiliations. We will call them power brokers.

Calculating Criminals

Calculating criminals are hunters. They tend to be repeat criminal acts, they have higher-than-average intellect, and they’re relatively well educated. They typically start their careers in crime later in life than other criminals. These hunters are generally motivated to risk taking-no surprise there-and they lack feelings of anxiety and sympathy. A correlated view, somewhat different in its prominence, was offered in a 1993 study of Wall Street’s insider-trading scandals by a team of psychologists who proposed that individuals eager to commit such crimes had an “external locus of control”-that is, they do not have inner direction, self-confidence, and self-respect and were driven by their desire to fit in and be accepted. Additionally, the study found that they describe success by others’ standards.

Situation-Dependent Criminals

But the main bulk of corporate criminals are not hunters at all. They are situation-dependent offenders: apparently ordinary people who commit crimes without the intending to harm others. This is significant in understanding white-collar crime, because nearly all news reporting and much of the scholarly literature in the area focuses on “shocking, highly publicized, and largely a typical cases” and ignores the more common and ordinary criminals and offenses that account for most white-collar crimes.

Typical White-Collar Criminal

Older (30+ years)

55% male, 45% female

Appeared to be from a stable family

Above-average (postgraduate) education

Less likely to have criminal record

Good mental health

Position of trust

Comprehensive and full knowledge of accounting systems and their weaknesses

Previous accounting experience

Source: ACFE

At the start of an investigation, the forensic accounting investigator often sits down with the client and examines the organizational chart. The forensic accounting investigator and the client talk about each employee one by one, about each employee’s work, and about what is known of the lifestyle of each. “What about Amanda?” the forensic accounting investigator might say, pointing to an employee on the chart. “No, it could not be Amanda. She has been with us for 20 years,” the client responds. “She is always helping others with their duties. She is nice and rarely takes time off. My wife and I have been to her home. Our sons are on the same football team.” The client may believe that what he knows, or thinks he knows, about Amanda’s character and removes her from the list of suspects of fraud. In fact, an experienced forensic accounting investigator will understand that Amanda fits the profile of a white-collar criminal. This is not to propose that all nice people are criminals but, rather, that most white-collar criminals give the appearance of being nice people, thereby fitting the exact profile of Amanda.

Power Brokers

Many of today’s highly placed corporate criminals show features of each of the previous two categories, but they are different enough in their methods and motives to possess a category all their own: power brokers. Like many of us, you have read about their excesses and asked yourself how respected business leaders could have been so fooled as to believe that they could grab the financial and human resources of their companies to line their own pockets and deceive a wide range of investors, including their own employees. Are the U.S. corporate leaders now facing criminal charges, which began their careers with the intention of creating a company that would enrich themselves while finally destroying the dreams and plans of thousands of innocent victims- are employees and investors alike? Were all of them hunters? Probably not. But a combination of hunter characteristics and the circumstances of their positions led them to commit financial crimes.

Fraudsters Do Not Intend To Harm

Generally speaking, situation-dependent criminals carry out their frauds with no purpose to harm any one. A high-ranking executive of Westinghouse Electric Co. who was accused of price-fixing in 1961 was asked whether he thought his behaviour was illegal. He responded: “Illegal? Yes, but not criminal. Criminal action means hurting someone and we did not do that.”

It is critical to an understanding of the psychology of such people to accept this key point: most of them carry out their frauds with no intention of doing harm, and they believe-they are able to convince themselves-that what they’re doing is not wrong. These people may even convince themselves that what they’re doing is for the good of the company and everyone associated with it, including employees, investors, creditors, and other constituencies. Or they may believe that they deserve the spoils they seize because they rationalize their crimes as immaterial, innocent, or deserved-but not wrong. In most cases, they start small, but with time as the fraud grows in size, usually encompassing more than one scheme.

Kinds of Rationalization

In many admission-seeking interviews, suspects confess to their crimes, but rarely do they say, “I stole the money.” Instead, they bring up their rationalization for the crime. Such rationalizations can be of many kinds:

• “It was a loan, and I had every intention of paying it back. See (pulling out a spreadsheet), I kept track of all my loans so that I could pay it all back one day.”

• “That accounting rule is confusing and subjective. Accounting for the transactions in the manner I chose is entirely acceptable.”

• “My boss has been cheating on his taxes for years. I’m just getting my share.”

• “Everyone in this industry takes kickbacks. I’m sure my employer is aware of it, and that’s why they don’t pay me very much. They expect me to supplement my income with ‘gifts’ from our suppliers.”

• “I’m the hardest-working employee here, and I know my boss would give me a substantial raise if he could do it without other people knowing. Instead, I take a little bit, but I’m actually saving the company money because only I get the ‘raise.’”

• “What do you expect me to do? You give me no health insurance coverage, and I need to provide for my children and my parents. They depend on me, and I can’t let them down.”

• “There are a lot of good people here. If I didn’t make up a few entries to give the appearance to corporate that we were making budgeted income, they would close our division and put 50 people out of work. I did it to save their jobs.” In sum, rationalization enables a person to take that final step toward crime.

Motivations for Fraud

……………..In a 2001 article, “The Psychology of Fraud,” the authors noted that fraud, “like other crime, can best be explained by three factors: a supply of motivated offenders, the availability of suitable targets and the absence of capable guardians-control systems or someone to mind the store.” Financial motivators obviously have a big impact on the cause of financial crime. These can range from an employee with an inability to pay her domestic bills to a senior executive under financial strain because he knows that market factors have adversely affected the business and analysts will be watching the latest results with eagerness. In this case, the strain may go beyond pure financial impact, but also to stature and reputation. Take the recent case of Computer Associates and its former CEO, Sanjay Kumar, and two other company executives. The government’s indictment noted, “Computer Associates prematurely recognized $2.2 billion in revenue in FY 2000 and FY 2001 and more than $1.1 billion in premature revenue in prior quarters.” The government also noted that “the SEC alleges that from 1998 to 2000, Computer Associates routinely kept its books open to record revenue from contracts executed after the quarter ended in order to meet Wall Street quarterly earnings estimates.”

Computer Associates agreed to settlements with the SEC and the Justice Department to the tune of $225 million and agreed to reform its financial accounting controls. Some theorists have taken a big-picture approach and argued that white collar crime is the inevitable outcome of the competitive ethic of capitalism. According to this theory, competition is the field on which egotism and recklessness can have full play.

We are constantly bombarded by images of the wealth and success that can be achieved through winning in the great experiment in social Darwinism in which we live. The inevitable result of such competition is the recognition of the economic inequality of winners and losers, which can be internalized as the constant fear of failing. This discontent may be sufficient to make a person see white-collar crime as the great equalizing act. The drive for money and the trappings of success are, therefore, the motivators of the act.

The situation in which the potential white-collar offender finds him- or herself plays a most significant role in determining whether a crime will be committed. The corporate culture lived daily at the workplace can often create enormous pressures to commit criminal acts. Examples are common in the famous cases of price-fixing, bribery, and manufacture of dangerous products that occurred throughout the last century.

A corrupt corporate culture can lead to the inversion of all values. Loyalty can easily slip into complicity. Criminal behaviour becomes normal. Team-playing becomes conspiracy. Fear of dismissal, ostracism, or losing the favour of superiors can be compelling forces in the world of a department or small company. In such an atmosphere, one learns criminal behaviour “in association with those who define such behaviour favourably,” as Sutherland contended.

These acts cannot be explained by a personal history of instability and deviance since stability and conformity are the principal characteristics of these criminals’ lives. Even while committing the crimes, white-collar offenders are able to lead their conventional lives, which are, indeed, their camouflage. Their conventionality and stability are the foundation of the trustworthiness that gives them the opportunity to commit the crime in the first place. It is this life of conventionality that gives the criminal act the character of an aberration. It is, however, the white-collar criminals’ power of rationalization that is one of the most amazing aspects of their behaviour. They are able to behave normally and aberrantly at the same time without feeling conflict. This behaviour is possible through the use of techniques of “neutralization.”

These are acts of mental deftness that allow persons to violate behavioural norms without simultaneously seeing themselves as deviant or criminal. Such self exculpating explanations can occur both before and after the commission of a criminal act.

The most common rationalization noted several times already in this unit is that financial crimes do not hurt other people. Embezzlers commonly tell themselves they are merely “borrowing” the money and intend to return it later without anyone else being affected. Many embezzlers justify it because they had to do it to pay mounting family bills. “Everybody’s doing it” is frequently heard as an argument for systematic wrongful company behaviour. Corporate offenders often consider laws as an unjust or unnecessary form of government interference disrupting free market forces. They may even argue that breaking the law was necessary for the survival of the company.

Employees frequently offer a moral justification for their thefts with the argument that their employer “owed” them the money. Fraud simply expressed their grievance. For example, they feel exploited and underpaid or hurt after receiving a smaller-than-expected bonus. Many feel justified after being passed over for promotion; others feel they can do the job just as well as, if not better than, the person with the higher education. Personal antipathies, anger after a reprimand from the boss, and the like can all be self-serving explanations for fraud.

In rare cases, mental illness can drive a person to commit fraud through a wish to damage the company. Others can be motivated by pure egotism; they commit fraud just to show how smart they are. Yet others are driven by anti capitalist ideologies and think they are destroying the system from within.

Auditors’ Need to Understand the Mind of the Fraudster

In the introduction to Why Smart People Do Dumb Things, Mortimer Feinberg and John J. Tarrant begin:

If you are of above average intelligence-and if you have mastered the use of high intelligence to solve problems and achieve goals-it is the premise of this book that you are at risk [of perpetrating a fraud] because of the strength of your cognitive equipment.

The book recounts tale after tale of successful professionals and politicians who did something dumb and ruined their lives. It is also a book that can help auditors understand the mind of the white-collar criminal. Because auditors, within the time at their disposal, cannot verify every transaction, they must make assumptions based on audit evidence gathered until the point of the decision. The more auditors understand about why criminals do what they do, the better prepared they may be to determine the nature, timing, and extent of audit procedures relative to the risks identified during the planning stage and modified, as may be warranted, on the basis of the audit evidence found. Professional skepticism is the attitude that must drive the financial statement audit. If we lived in a perfect world in which no one made mistakes, or lied, or cheated, or stole, audits would be unnecessary. But we don’t, and so audits are required. Even with effective auditing, at the end of every audit and forensic accounting investigation, uncertainty will remain.

As auditors continue to focus on the fact that smart people do dumb things and on the conditions under which white-collar criminals may act, auditors may be able to better select transactions worthy of expanded testing and know also how to evaluate the results of those tests. The so-called fraud triangle, offers three conditions that tend to be present when frauds occur:

• Incentive or pressure

• Opportunity

• Rationalization and attitude


As auditors focus on the number of people they encounter in the course of an audit, they would probably agree that a great many of those people would no doubt have opportunities to commit fraud. How many others also have the undisclosed incentive and ability to rationalize that are demonstrably part of the fraud triangle? There is no easy way to judge this.

In the design of controls to prevent financial crime and in the performance of audit procedures, it is important to keep in mind the expression, “Locks on doors keep out honest people.” Predators, as noted earlier, have a good chance of circumventing most of the controls a company puts in place. Fraud deterrence and detection controls are designed, theoretically, to stop everyone else, but they won’t, because it is unrealistic to expect controls that can be designed to stop everyone. Collusion, for example, may well defeat a well-designed control and may not be detected in a timely manner by individuals performing daily control activities.

The best fraud deterrence mechanism is simple: create the expectation in your organization that wrongdoers will be caught and that punishment will be swift and commensurate with the offense. The emphasis on expectation is important. It can be brought about in a number of ways. Effective training and education on the importance of ethical conduct, background checks on all employees, regular fraud audits by forensic accounting investigators, and a strong internal control system are among the means. To create that perception, employees must also be well aware that their activities are being monitored, and all employees with access to financial assets and transactions must have a healthy respect for the robustness of the control system. If employees believe they will be caught and punished for wrongdoing, that belief may be enough to keep them from adding rationalization to incentive and opportunity.

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