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How to be a Forensic Accountant

Career News August 26, 2013

We love forensics on TV, such as CSI and NCIS, but there is a whole different world of forensics in the economy and finance. In execution, there will be hours and days poured over books that seem right, but just do not add up, for various reasons. It is into this abyss, the forensic accountant dives, not for the excitement, but the satisfaction of unscrambling a riddle that its creator did not want you to find.

Reports sent to the government must be revised, examined, and investigated if something seems conspicuous. Forensic accountants are the ones who look into this, though they can be independent, government-based, or even employed by companies to check their own employees. Companies can also hire a forensic accountant to check on another company, which has an interest in merging or partnering.

To be a forensic accountant you would, obviously, need to be good with details. Such a person would have to be a “wiz” at standard accounting and know all the rules and good practices. Then, knowing this, he or she must be able to think out of the box, for often that is where your “prey” resides, in the nether world of obfuscation and criminal intent. Forensic accountants can make a starting salary of at least $46,000 though the pay is affected by the highest college degree earned.

The Education Needed to Become a Forensic Accountant

This job doesn’t necessarily require a master or doctorate degree. Most undergraduate accounting programs aren’t tailored to a specific type of accounting. Still, most forensic accountants do have at least a bachelor’s degree. A master’s degree in public accounting can also be useful, not to mention work experience.

You will need additional classes and two years of experience to take the Uniform Public Account Examination certification test. Most firms require you to be certified before hiring. You are not tied down to an accounting bachelor’s degree, but it must be related to proceed to either forensic or fraud accountancy certification. You can go to any school and study online to prepare for the position.

Other Career Options

Along the way to your educational goals, you can also become an auditor, detective, lawyer, and, of course, an accountant. If you are looking to connect with history, forensic accounting traces its roots back to Al Capone, Eliot Ness and the days of prohibition and the Untouchables. You could say that guns blazing were no match for the pencil pushers, who eventually caught Capone on tax evasion charges. Most of the big busts against the mob in the 50’s and 60’s followed the same route, and this was from accountants piecing together the truth from well constructed lies. Today, it is the same thing, with Madoff, and Milken, and others, forensic accountants make the case.

Where Can You Work as a Forensic Accountant?

You can work with corporations, private investigating firms, the IRA and they are still with the FBI. There are freelancers and specialty groups. The field is diverse and has the constant opportunity for continued growth, especially with the new Affordable Care Act, new avenues for fraud will be rife, and more people will be needed to chase it down.

If you decide that this is an area that interests you, check with your advisor and plan your curriculum around that desire. There will be a strong job market for forensic accountants well into the future, but as with any occupation, if you want the plum jobs, you need to make yourself stand out.

There will probably never be a TV show called, Magnum: Forensic Accountant, but there is a strong history that you will be attached to in this profession. One where you can truly solve mysteries and make cases that would, otherwise, not exist.

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