Webinar presenter Karen Webber answered a number of your questions after her presentation, "Investigating Financial Exploitation: Think Like A Forensic Accountant." Here are a few of her responses.
Audience Question: Can you tell us a little bit more about what do you mean by bank cheques? Are they different from personal cheques and also what do you mean by teller notes?
Karen Webber: Sure, So a bank cheque, I'll use an example — buying a car, typically when you go in and you buy a car you're putting a down payment down, they don't take your personal cheque, right? You have to go to the bank and cash your cheque, a certified cheque, a teller cheque whatever you want to call it, to go and buy that car. When you go and request copies of a cheque, the bank typically turns over just those personal copies of the cheque you write. They don't turn over copies of cashier cheques that may have been written. Hopefully, that answers your question. It's basically a cheque that's certified one. It's different from the personal that you would write. In terms of teller notes, those are a number of things. When you go to a bank and you have a transaction, the teller enters information into their system which might be, if it's a transfer, where the transfer is going, what financial institution, what account number. They might also take notes of who came in, who requested it, that kind of thing. Requesting teller notes is helpful just to see what is the nature of the transaction when the individual showed up at the bank window.
Audience Question: We would love to use a forensic accountant in our APS work. Who's paying for the services of the forensic accountant in New York, are they contracted with the local county?
Karen Webber: The way it works for New York state now, funding for forensic accountant services is actually in our state budget. That occurred as a result of the successful pilot program funded by the Administration for Community Living. At the time, ACL had, I think, put out a request for proposals from different states about how to investigate elder abuse: Can states come up with an idea on how we can effectively investigate these cases? Well New York came back and – this was due to the work of Lifespan, New York City elder abuse center – said we've been working with this Forensic Accountant and having great success. We want to create this multi-disciplinary team and add a forensic accountant to work on these cases. The grant was ultimately awarded to New York. It was so successful that the governor included it in his budget. So that is how it started. The funding now flows from the state to a not for profit agency. I contract with another not for profit agency that administers the funds.
Audience Question: They would like to know what is the approximate, the ballpark figure to hire a forensic accountant as a prosecutor?
Karen Webber: You should be prepared to pay three figures per hour, much like an attorney. You can also ask whether they would like to do some piece of it pro bono or they would offer a reduced rate for a government agency or a not for profit. Depending on what area you're in, I expect the payment to be a $100-$300 an hour.
Audience Question: And is there a ballpark figure for the number of hours for a typical case or there is no such thing as a typical case?
Karen Webber: Yeah, there is really no such thing. When you get these cases, they are Pandora's box. We get records and we think we know that there is only one checking account. Then we see another transfer to an account we are not aware of and it's back and forth. Usually, when I take on a case, I say get me 20 hours to dig in on what we have and figure out what we're missing. We don't have to find everything. We just need to find enough. We can work together to decide. Is this enough evidence to move this case forward or do we really need to turn every stone apart? There are ways to control the costs for sure.
Audience Question: Karen, what do you do when a bank still refuses to release the information even when you provide them with Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act?
Karen Webber: That's really tough, there's a lot of education that needs to go on at the bank level. Here in New York state, the way that the banks have been handled is through our Bureau of Adult Services that oversees our APS units. It is typically APS caseworkers who can't get these records, so they report the "bad bank" to our Bureau of Adult Services. Bureau of Adult Services tells the Department of Financial Services which oversees the banks and say, hey this bank isn't playing by the rules. DFS, Department of Financial Services, goes down and hopefully helps encourage them to turn over their records. That's how it works in our state. It doesn’t work 100% of the time. We still have a lot of trouble.
Audience Question: Does Bureau of Financial Services, do they have oversights over banks in New York? Is that how you identify them as point of contact?
Karen Webber: Exactly.
Audience Question: Identify the state entity that manages the banks and monitors then, it sounds like. What options do nonprofits have if law enforcement or APS doesn't feel like there's enough information or evidence to open up a case but there are clear concerns of potential exploitation?
Karen Webber: : Earlier in the slides we talked about that. That's one of the times when you might want to go to an attorney. Some attorneys have a pro bono requirement or you can go to legal aid services and say I need assistance, I need help compiling enough evidence to make a compelling case. Pull a forensic accountant if you can, pull an attorney if you can. We had on a couple of occasions where I was hired privately for the exact reason, like I can't get anybody interested in this, can you put something together? That's an option.
Audience Question: You have mentioned it and I just missed it. Maria suggested that when you're trying to figure out where to get inventories of accounts that it is a good idea to get a copy of the victim's credit report as a way of identifying those traditional accounts and again you may have mentioned that and I may have missed it.
Karen Webber: You know I did not. That's often where we start. That's a great suggestion. I'm glad you shared that.
Audience Question: Karen, are there any specific software applications you use to try to organize data and just try to start creating these crosslinks or do you just Excel, what do you use for that?
Karen Webber: Yeah. Excel is a great place to go if you have just a limited amount of information. I always go there. We use a software called PerfectAudit, you can access it at perfectaudit.com and what it does is that you can – and for government security purposes, they have the security clearance, they abide by all of these confidentiality rules – you upload this PDF statement to PerfectAudit and it spits out an Excel file of all transactions. It does require some cleaning up to effectively sort and filter all that data, but in general, you get the date of the transaction, the text description that they pulled from the bank record in another column and then the amount in another column. That will help you quickly summarize information. I think they give you like the first 250 pages free and 40 cents per page after that. ScanWriter is another software. ScanWriter is a bit more expensive. It’s a software that resides on your computer. That I think costs about $4000 or $5000 for one license of the software and then about $240 a month. They have a specific reader for specific banks built into their system. If you have a statement from Bank of America, you select the Bank of America reader and it spits outs the data in a much more specific format, same thing, an Excel file that you can sort and filter. It just really depends on which program you want to use and how much you want to pay for it really.
Audience Question: What are the most common techniques a defense attorney may use to discredit the findings of a forensic accountant.? I know you mentioned couple CPA thing to confirm they are. Are there other techniques they commonly use?
Karen Webber: Well, I said that in my presentation that we are not allowed to give opinions. Make sure when you are working with a forensic accountant that, in terms of prosecution, that there is no opinion given in the report or at least if there is an assumption please identify that. Everything should be fact-based. When I do my report, I can't really say this is this. I can say this appears this. It really comes down to credibility and experience. The facts are the facts. The numbers don't lie, right? There really hasn't been too much time spent on cross-examinations as long as you don't have an accountant that's making an opinion within the report, it’s usually pretty straightforward.
Audience Question: Do you have any tips on banks that charge what seems to be an excessive amount for record copies? Do you have any suggestions how we can get them to reduce those fees or it is just as it is where it is?
Karen Webber: We have had some success explaining that there is a financial exploitation case and someone has been completely wiped out of their assets how can they possibly pay this? Sometimes that worked. More of the big banks are willing to waive it. The small community banks that are paying an hourly person to process these records sometimes won't. Make your case to help them understand this woman or this man has no money to pay these fees, please give us a break?
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