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March 30, 2023

Blowing the Whistle on Fraud

Melanie Bell


Fraud. The word makes me think of those emails I used to get from a so-called Nigerian prince. Who hasn't run into a fraud scheme at some point?

Ever since I fell for an official-looking phishing email, I’ve learned to be wary. Those threatening calls from insurance companies or the IRS? They don't usually come from the entities they claim to be. Especially if there’s plenty of noise from a call center in the background!

I've also avoided becoming an "accidental perpetrator" of fraud. I once ordered a package of heavy-duty cleaning wipes from Amazon. When they didn't show up after the website claimed they were delivered, I asked the company to resend them. The next day, the cleaning wipes appeared on my doorstep. Yet a new supply was in transit.

I could easily have kept two sets of cleaning wipes for the price of one. But I followed the procedure and reported to Amazon that I'd now received the original package. They then recalled the other one.

The Whys Behind Fraud 

In her book "Fool Me Once," forensic accounting professor Kelly Richmond Pope delves into the psychology of fraud. She looks at the reasons people commit, fall for and report it.

She sets out to raise readers' awareness of potential frauds they may encounter and encourages them to speak up when they see something suspicious. 

Who commits fraud, and why? Who falls for it, and why? In the case of the phishing email I mentioned, I fell for a false sense of urgency and the belief that some software needed to be updated. Sure, that is the sort of thing that does happen, but it's best to check the email address before clicking on a link. 

A Near Miss With Crossing the Line

And what about my own narrowly averted commission of fraud? My episode with the cleaning wipes may sound low stakes. After all, would any harm have been done if I'd kept a second set without reporting that the first had arrived? I would have simply been benefiting from someone else's mistake.

But it's easy to shift blame in such an instance. What if, instead of cleaning wipes, my employer had accidentally overpaid my salary? You can see how simple it is to cross the line from innocence into what is, in fact, crime.

If it's that easy to commit fraud, no wonder it's so widespread.

Fraud and Fraudsters

"Fool Me Once" covers the whole fraud spectrum, from simple examples like mine to grandiose cases like that of comptroller Rita Crundwell. She had sole oversight of the finances of Dixon, Illinois and stole $53 million over the years, which she spent on 400 horses and other luxuries.

The book offers a wealth of juicy and enlightening information about fraud, the people behind it and why they did it. And it turns the tables on many people's views of whistleblowers.

Often, they face negativity for being "snitches," but I can see Pope’s point that it takes moral courage to speak up. 

The book encourages us all to cultivate this type of moral courage, along with commonsense vigilance – such as keeping an eye on any financial transactions we have a say over. We can't always avoid fraud. But we can practice keeping our eyes open. 

And if we happen to receive an extra batch of cleaning wipes, the least we can do is send them back!

Listen to Our "Fool Me Once" Book Insight

We review the best new business books and the tested classics in our monthly Book Insights, available as text or as 15-minute audio downloads.

So, if you're a Mind Tools Club member or corporate user, download or stream the "Fool Me Once" Book Insight now!

If you haven't already signed up, join the Mind Tools Club and gain access to our 2,400+ resources, including 390+ Book Insights. For corporate licensing, ask for a demo with one of our team.

Melanie Bell

About the Author:

Melanie has worked as a writer, freelance and in-house editor, university writing instructor, and language teacher. She is the author of a short story collection, "Dream Signs," and a non-fiction book, "The Modern Enneagram." She has written for several publications including Huffington Post, Cicada, and Contrary Magazine. She is a certified teacher of the Enneagram, a personality typology that illuminates people's core motivations.

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