On the lookout for fraud

Published 12:20 am Sunday, September 11, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Deanne Tanksley, CPA, for the Gillon Group in downtown Natchez, recently earned her fraud examiner certification.

NATCHEZ — Deanne Tanksley might not be lying low on stakeouts, tapping into phone lines or going undercover, but she is a detective of sorts.

Tanksley, an accountant with Gillon Group in Natchez, recently earned certification as a certified fraud examiner. CFEs undergo hours of training in which they learn to detect accounting fraud, and more importantly — identify methods of fraud prevention.

“We can look at a client’s internal control structure and find holes where someone can commit fraud,” Tanksley said. “Just because nothing has happened yet, and everything seems fine, it’s not always the case.”

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In fraud detection, Tanksley said she could be called in to analyze suspicious cases — anything from the unsuspecting church lady stealing tithes, to fat cat criminals like Bernie Madoff.

“But we try to focus more on prevention,” Tanksley said.

The greatest benefit to fraud prevention is protecting the person who would have to answer for fraud and may not even be aware of it, Tanksley said.

“If you have a good internal control structure, no matter who is sitting in that chair, they are protected,” Tanksley said. “If there is no structure in place, it leaves gaps where someone can take advantage.”

Tanksley said with an economic downturn comes desperation, which is what leads perfectly nice people to commit fraud.

“Say you have sick relatives, and you have to pay a doctor’s bill today,” Tanksley said. “You take a little bit and say, ‘I’ll pay it back tomorrow.’ But before you know it, you’re in over your head.”

Tanksley said in those cases, she has to slip into psychological profiling — not just asking questions about the business’ processes, but looking at a subject’s lifestyle to determine if they are a fraud risk.

But Tanksley said she wants to believe in the good in people first.

“I’m a bit of a Pollyanna,” Tanksley said. “Everyone is so good and wonderful. There shouldn’t be a need for (fraud examination), but there is.”

With modern technology, Tanksley said it is easier than ever to commit fraud.

“The electronic age has created a lot more issues,” Tanksley said. “You have to stop and think how to put those security gates in place. You have to think ahead of the fraudster.”

Tanksley said she has wanted to pursue the certification for years, and she is glad she finally got the chance to do it.

“Maybe it’s because I’m nosey,” Tanksley said. “I like digging into stuff and looking at things.”

Tanksley has not waded into any cases since being certified, but because she has been educated in internal control systems, and came across fraud as an auditor — she joked she would make an outstanding fraudster herself.

Tanksley said any business could benefit from of an strong internal control structure, so bosses know that everything that come in the door gets where it needs to be.

The CFE said it is also important to keep up with ongoing fraud cases.

“I want to know how they got caught, and apply that to our client base,” Tanksley said.

Tanksley has been a certified public accountant for more than 23 years. A native or Arkansas, she joined the Gillon Group in 2002 where she is in charge of audit and assurance services.

Tanksley earned her fraud examiner certification from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. She said she took the course, and the tests, in Washington, D.C.

Only 50 people in the state are certified, Tanksley said, and she is the only CFE in the Natchez area.

Besides working cases, Tanksley said CFEs are also certified to speak at accounting conferences.

“This is just another service we can provide to Natchez,” Tanksley said. “And that is a valuable service to a lot of business owners.”

William H. Gillon III, CPA and member in charge at Gillon Group, said that is what it is all about.

“As our audit partner, Deanne’s achieving the CFE designation will allow the firm to enhance and expand our audit services,” Gillon said. “Prior to now, any entity in the Miss-Lou that had need for the services of a certified fraud examiner had to employ someone from outside the area.”

Janis Holder, firm administrator at Silas Simmons LLP, said one of its associates will be taking the courses at the end of the year to become certified as well.