University of South Florida St. Petersburg



Forensic Accounting Track Gives Students Tools for Success in High Demand Field of Financial Investigations

Picture of Al Capone with the text "Al Capone was brought down by forensic accounting."

When the infamous gangster Al Capone was convicted in 1931, it wasn’t for murder or any number of countless crimes one would associate with the mob boss of Chicago. It was for tax evasion. He was brought down by forensic accounting.

Combining bookkeeping, psychology, investigations and law, forensic accounting is a multidisciplinary field that is used by insurance companies and law enforcement. An online search for forensic accounting reveals jobs with the FBI and IRS who are looking for individuals who can “track and link funding sources to criminal activity” and whose “expertise is applied to counterterrorism, cyber-crime and public corruption” activities.

“The field of forensic accounting is exciting because of the many disciplines it contains and variety of areas you can find yourself working in,” said Debra Sinclair, Associate Professor of Accounting at USF St. Petersburg. “As a forensic accountant, you can work on cybersecurity and white-collar crimes with lawyers, psychologists or criminologists.”

At USF St. Petersburg, graduate students can elect to take a track and develop a stronger concentration in forensic accounting as part of earning their MBA or Master of Accountancy. The track immerses students in the current theory and practice of this investigative accounting as it relates to economic crimes and fraud. To complete the focus track, students must complete nine credits either in person or online.

“In my current job I do auditing and really enjoy the investigative mindset and connecting a puzzle, which is why I wanted to further specialize in this type of work,” said Jorge Martinez, who is pursuing a Master of Accountancy with a forensic accounting track.

“I have really liked the discussions and work on fraud from classes I have taken and am now thinking about applying to the FBI in the future,” added Martinez.

Recently, because of its affordable price at less than $15,000, support services and quality of classes, the forensic accounting track within the MBA program at USF St. Petersburg was ranked #1 in the country by MBA Central.

There are currently around 30-40 graduate students taking the focus track. Those who have already completed the track have landed jobs with the IRS, Duke Energy and accounting firms like Ernst and Young.

Due to heightened awareness and growing intolerance of fraudulent activity, demand for forensic accountants is rapidly increasing, according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. A 2018 PwC Global economic crime and fraud survey found that 49 percent of companies who responded had suffered fraud, up from 36 percent in 2016. The report also stated that organizations are increasing spending and resources on combatting fraud.

“You can’t go wrong with a degree or concentration in forensic accounting, because with it you are qualified to also do a lot of regular accounting work like auditing, which finds out if there is anything suspicious going on,” said Sinclair.

The field, which also includes business valuations and risk management, is in a period of rapid change because of new technology. There is a major shift towards digital and textual analytics – analyzing large series of data as well as items such as email and video.

USFSP faculty are looking to incorporate new technology and greater disciplines into the forensic accounting focus track to ensure students are fully prepared to enter the field upon graduation. New courses focus on computer forensics and data analytics. A program in Forensic Studies and Justice launched last year within the College of Arts and Sciences will offer greater opportunities for potential collaboration among disciplines.

“Fraud in one form or another has been around since man has walked the planet,” said Sinclair. “It’s not likely to go away anytime soon.”

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