Although forensic accountants have been around for a long time, many people still don’t know what they are or what sort of electronic evidence they search for in their jobs. We live in a digital world where almost everything is stored electronically in some form or another. Forensic accountants have the task of finding electronic evidence and often testifying and acting as expert witnesses in court cases. Forensic accountants search for emails, missing accounts, files, and similar documentation to help determine if a crime has been committed and by whom.
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What is a Forensic Accountant?
A forensic accountant is a certified public accountant (CPA) who has specialized training in forensics and forensic accounting. The very minimum education a forensic accountant should have is an undergraduate forensic accounting degree. Forensic means “for use in court” and accountant deals with “money,” so it’s easy to understand that a forensic accountant looks for money-related crimes and testifies in court cases regarding these crimes. They may work specifically for one company or may be called in to investigate potential theft or fraud and then to testify in court as an expert witness.
Forensic accounting generally involves two parts: investigation and litigation support. During the investigation portion, the forensic accountant determines if there has been a crime committed, such as fraud, missing money, falsification of documents, employee theft, etc. During the litigation portion, the forensic accountant helps the parties determine if the crime can be resolved or if it needs to go into court.
What is Electronic Evidence?
Electronic evidence is any type of information or data that is stored electronically and can be used as evidence in a court case, trial or lawsuit. Electronic evidence may be in the form of emails, letters, financial documents or any files that are stored on the internet. Records that are stored by an Internet service provider can also fall in the category of electronic evidence.
How to Become a Forensic Accountant
To become a forensic accountant, an individual must have at least a bachelor’s degree in forensic accounting. The candidate should also earn the CPA credential, which can be accomplished by completing 30 graduate credits beyond the forensic accounting degree and passing the 4-part Uniform CPA examination. Forensic accounting students typically complete courses in legal elements in fraud, accounting, prevention techniques, forensics, investigations and electronic evidence.
To be a good forensic accountant, the candidate should be ethical, detail-oriented and analytical. The individual should also possess have good oral communication skills, according to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).
Career Outlook for Forensic Accountant
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that accountants and auditors overall should see an employment growth of 10% during the decade of 2016-2026. The AICPA reports that forensic accounting is in high demand, and it should continue to be in demand as more and more digital and cybercrimes are being committed every day. According to PayScale, forensic accountants earn an average annual wage of $65,697 as of September 2018.
Financial theft and abuse is becoming more common in the workplace today, particularly in the cyber world. To combat, solve and prevent these crimes requires the services of a qualified forensic accountant. Crimes involving money and fraud can cost the company’s millions of dollars, and being the forensic accountant that finds the electronic evidence to solve these crimes can be very rewarding.