Friday, May 24, 2013
UAA Students Helping Fight Financial Crime
Justice for Fraud Victims project uses accounting students to catch criminals
Police say it's happening more and more each year. Small businesses are getting ripped off by employees but they can't do anything about the fraud, simply because they can't afford the costs it would take to investigate – which is why a group of local college crime fighters are trying to change that by using numbers to get justice.
Although their numbers are small, what the Justice For Fraud Victims project is doing is huge: using college accounting students who are getting some real world experience and solving real world crimes. Accounting students Karen Courtney and Christon Petersen are trying to get $20,000 of stolen funds back to an Anchorage medical office. And they are using techniques you can't learn in a college textbook. That's because every signature, endorsement, and check are real transactions they are poring over.
“With this case we looked at a lot of checks because we thought there might be check fraud going on, we thought there also might be payroll fraud going on, with hours being manipulated,” said Pat Berry, who a mentor on the project from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.
The Justice For Fraud Victims project is one of only two programs in the country, one at Gonzaga, and now UAA, and the team of high level accounting students are helping victims of suspected financial fraud with forensic investigations that can cost as much as $25,000 to $30,000. Reporting is often time consuming for small businesses and non-profits, which keeps police from catching the culprit. “If someone comes to the police department and says my employees ripped me off, help help, we will say okay well how did they do it and how much,” said Det. Michele Logan, who works in the financial crimes unit for Anchorage police. “Someone needs to come up with the numbers and figure out how they did it and bring that to us, because we don't have the resources and the staffing to figure out your loss for you, you have to come to us with your books already audited.”
The Justice For Fraud Victims project is a win-win not just for the students in this classroom but also for the community to help get white collar criminals off the streets. It's a hands-on experience that's jump-started their careers. “[It] gives students the opportunity to learn a heck of lot more than reading a book, reading a case,” said Dean Elisha “Bear” Baker, who is with UAA’s College of Business & Public Policy. “We've actually gotten to know the victim, we've gotten to know the crime, we've gotten to see what's actually happening,” said Karen Courtney. “Its does become more personal and it really does feel like your making a positive influence on the community.”
It's a unique concept to getting justice that these number crunchers are proud to be part of, because while they are working to catch current crimes, it may stop future ones as well. “Yeah I feel like a crime fighter,” said Christon Petersen. “It kind of shows an example of everyone it gives them an idea that they will be prosecuted too. A lot of people have a mentality that they can get away with it if they are not prosecuted.” The program is the result of a partnership between law enforcement in Alaska, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, and UAA. The Justice For Fraud Victims project is a pilot program this semester but could be expanding. The goal is to help out more businesses in need. Organizers are encouraging anyone in the community to contact them at 786-4146