Forensic Accountants: Specialists in Demand

Forensic accounting has gained renewed attention due to recent accounting scandals, but it has always been a part of the profession. In fact, forensic accountants were credited with putting Al Capone in prison on tax-evasion charges.

Whether it's nabbing gangsters, identifying corporate misdeeds or exposing terrorists, these specialists are in demand, with new opportunities emerging. According to Accounting Today, 60 percent of the top 100 accounting firms are expanding their forensic and fraud services.

Forensic accounting professionals are one part accountant, two parts detective and legal expert, and they are involved with a variety of projects, including fraud investigation and prevention. These professionals are also called upon to analyze business transactions and serve as expert witnesses during litigation. In addition, they often work with government organizations such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency and Internal Revenue Service on initiatives such as searching for suspicious corporate financial activities and evaluating banking records of suspected terrorists.

While there is not a traditional educational or career path to follow, forensic accountants typically possess a bachelor's degree in accounting or business administration, are certified public accountants (CPAs) and generally have experience in auditing or law enforcement. There are some professional certifications available, with the certified fraud examiner (CFE) the most common.

Required skill sets include accounting and analytical abilities, creative thinking, and communication skills, both written and verbal. A solid understanding of information technology is also important; forensic accountants should be familiar with how different systems can be used to commit as well as prevent fraud and be able to identify deficiencies in information systems and securities.

For more information on this specialty, you can review the American Institute of CPA's materials on the subject at http://www.aicpa.org/antifraud/homepage.htm.

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