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Course Showcase: Introduction to Financial Fraud

Posted: March 25th, 2024

MBA 742: Introduction to Financial Fraud is an elective course in the UW MBA Consortium that has gained popularity in the last several years as cases of business fraud have dominated news cycles and affected businesses both large and small.

The basis of the course is that fraudulent financial reporting and misappropriation of assets are major problems for businesses of all sizes. Knowledge about how fraud is committed and how to spot the potential for fraud is valuable for managers at all levels.

Jennifer Thompson, the course instructor, brings her professional experience as a certified fraud examiner to the class.

“I have investigated many different fraud cases, including embezzlements, scams and financial misreporting,” Thompson says. “I’m also a certified public accountant and data analyst and have spent over 20 years in the accounting profession.”

She wants MBA students to know that they do not need to be an expert in accounting to take this course.

“Financial fraud is in small part numbers, but more so psychology and human behavior. We need more people to be aware, to understand the warning signs and to take action to reduce fraud risk,” Thompson says.

Thompson says one of her favorite things about teaching in the MBA program is the variety in background and experience among the students.

“It contributes to fantastic discussion points as students explain how fraud has impacted them and the different forms it takes in their industries.”

Class discussions tie personal experience and professional best practices together to create meaningful dialogue.

“Many have firsthand accounts of prior frauds that either they witnessed or heard about from their former employer,” Thompson says. “Sharing common experiences helps the groups to understand the depth of fraud’s impact and, sadly, how frequently it occurs.”

Wallace O’Connor recently took the course and says it helps the students think outside the box about the concepts of occupational fraud and helps them understand their role as a person in addition to the big picture.

“It asks students to change their perspectives to critically think about risks, actions (or inactions) of the company and individuals in new or different ways,” O’Connor says.

The core message is that a fraudster can be anyone — your office neighbor, the well-dressed executive, the person who worked for the organization for 30 years or even you or me.

“Because of this, we talk about the fundamentals of internal controls and what role they play in preventing or detecting major fraud schemes. We also discuss the role of leadership and its impact on the tone of the organization and willingness to take risks,” O’Connor says.

Thompson tries to impart to the class that fraud impacts everyone.

“It does not matter what industry, profession or role — occupational fraud has no boundaries and is ridiculous in financial and reputational costs to individuals and organizations,” Thompson says.

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