Do you secretly wish you could land a job as a superhero fighting for truth, justice and the American way? Would you settle for doing the same job for a bank? Perhaps you should look into becoming a financial fraud investigator.
Consumer finance companies of all types -- credit card issuers, mortgage bankers and insurance companies, to name a few -- are constantly guarding against such financial fraud as identity theft, property flips and injury fakers. They hire professionals to protect them against crooks and catch those who successfully charge their corporate gates.
"These people may not even have college degrees," said Dave Owen, vice president of intelligence for iDEFENSE, a Fairfax, Virginia, firm that provides intelligence support to international companies and governments worried about everything from teenage hackers to sophisticated organized crime operations.
The company's financial intelligence experts are typically either technology gurus or streetwise investigators with law enforcement or military backgrounds. Whatever their education or background, explains Owen, they have learned about security measures, like firewalls, and specialize in the financial field.
Technical people with information technology expertise do security engineering or forensic analysis -- in English, that means setting up defenses against criminals or chasing after them in cyberspace.
Several colleges now offer classes or degrees in forensic computing, but some technical investigators gain understanding of the field by working their way through corporate systems and earning certifications along the way.
Owen also hires people with investigative backgrounds, including former military service personnel who, after retiring, add degrees in computer science or certifications to their resumes and then provide systems or investigative support.
Former FBI agents also jump easily into the private sector, where they can expect a 30% to 100% pay raise from the $50,000 to $90,000 they earned working for Uncle Sam, Owen says. "If they're very technically adept, they can easily get into the $120s and $140s, and if they're in senior management, the sky's the limit, depending on the organization's size," he said.
Entry-Level Crime Fighters
What's out there for you if you're a recent college graduate? Insurance investigators regularly post entry-level job openings. Take one of these positions, and you'll earn $30,000 to $40,000 a year doing video surveillance, background checks and local investigations.
Accountants with Guns
If you're currently in the finance arena, and you meet the 35-or-under age requirement, you can also break into the fraud field by signing on with the financial area of a law enforcement agency, such as the FBI.
After all, the FBI needs accountants as much as it needs undercover drug agents. The agency even has its own accounting test for those who haven't passed the CPA exam. The FBI also hires financial analysts, paying them $45,000 to $58,000, depending upon experience.
"You may find you like law enforcement and want to stay," said Lynn Wilburn, president of Houston-based Wilburn Investigations. But if you decide you'd like to move out of the bureau, you'll be well equipped for work in the private sector.
The Corporate Route
If you're too old to go into law enforcement, you can work your way into quality control, a modified version of fraud investigation. Like other investigation companies, Wilburn hires quality-control staff to assist lenders with mortgage and loan applications. He notes that this is a great area to develop an investigator's nose for fraud.
As Wilburn and other experts point out, the key attributes for any good fraud investigator are hardly computer science degrees or CPA designations. If you're considering entering the field, it's most important that, like any crime-fighting superhero, you have a nose for sniffing out trouble and an instinct for detecting corruption.
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