From global Ponzi schemes to small-scale counterfeiting operations, financial crimes are abundant in the 21st century. According to the International Association of Financial Crimes Investigators, such misdeeds – often known as white-collar crime – can involve unlawful conversion of property ownership, fraud, tax evasion, embezzlement, identity theft, money laundering, forgery and other scams.

“A single scam can destroy a company, devastate families by wiping out their life savings, or cost investors billions of dollars,” the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) notes on its website.

In seeking to solve these crimes, investigators may also uncover related offenses, such as cybersecurity breaches, burglary and elder abuse.

In the public sector, police detectives, special agents, forensic accountants and other law enforcement professionals investigate financial crimes for agencies such as the FBI, the U.S. Department of Treasury, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Secret Service.

In the private sector, loss prevention specialists, fraud analysts, security personnel and consultants may investigate white-collar crimes on behalf of multinational corporations, financial institutions and retailers.

Potential Salaries for Investigators

Compensation for financial crimes investigators varies, particularly in the private sector, where certifications may play a role in compensation levels.

According to the 2015/2016 Global Salary Study by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), individuals with the Certified Fraud Examiner credential had a median annual compensation of almost $92,000. Women had a higher median ($97,400) compared to men ($85,000).

Salary ranges, like employment opportunities, are determined by numerous factors. Those can include a candidate’s educational qualifications, work history and professional credentials, as well as regional market conditions and whether the employer is a public agency or private firm.

Educational Requirements for Investigators

According to the ACFE study, Compensation Guide for Anti-Fraud Professionals, the majority of anti-fraud professionals have a four-year degree. The findings indicated that few people enter the field without some form of education beyond high school. Among Certified Fraud Examiners, for example, 93.5% held a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Similarly, special agents and forensic accountants employed by government agencies such as the FBI and IRS typically must possess at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or college.

Job Outlook for Financial Crimes Investigators

The digital age is reshaping how financial crimes are committed – and investigated. Identity theft, spamming and credit card fraud are among the growing number of cyber crimes facing 21st century crime-fighters. As a consequence, there could be heightened demand for fraud examiners, forensic accountants and other financial crimes investigators who are adept with the latest technology tools.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects job growth of about 4% to 5% for all categories of investigators in the public and private sectors between 2014 and 2024. For accountants and auditors, a category that includes forensic accountants, employment growth of 11% is forecast for the same 10-year period.

Is this Career Right for You?

In addition to possessing a four-year degree and applicable professional credentials, financial crimes investigators may also be expected to demonstrate a variety of core competencies and specific proficiencies.

Those may include the ability to:

  • Demonstrate sound judgment and discretion
  • Interpret case law and local, state and federal regulations
  • Present court testimony
  • Interview suspects and witnesses
  • Work in a fast-paced, deadline-driven environment
  • Prepare clear and comprehensive reports

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