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Forensic and Litigation Accountant

What They Do

Insider Info

Forensic accountants combine number crunching with detective work. They investigate crimes that can be discovered by examining financial records. These include crimes such as check and credit card fraud, money laundering, extortion, mail and insurance fraud, and telemarketing fraud.

Forensic accountants often testify in court regarding their findings. For this reason they are sometimes called litigation accountants. They may be the expert witnesses that determine the outcome of a court case.

"A forensic accountant is also a litigation accountant in that the work of a forensic accountant... might be put in front of some sort of tribunal or court of law," says Douglas Kalesnikoff, a forensic accountant.

"As a result, we have to prepare our work in that sort of manner, being objective and independent and be ready to testify to our findings."

These specialists use their accounting knowledge to investigate wrongdoing or financial irregularities -- not all of which end up in court. "As it turns out, many of the cases and matters don't go to trial for various reasons," says Kalesnikoff.

"Maybe there's in a criminal matter a guilty plea, or in a civil matter there might be a settlement before it reaches trial. But you're always preparing to go to trial and to be the expert witness in the area that you're investigating."

Accountants work in regular office settings. They may work in their own offices or travel to a client's place of business to do their work. Self-employed accountants may work at home.

Most large accounting firms, and some smaller ones, have forensic accounting divisions. Some firms specialize in forensic accounting. They have a definite niche because big accounting firms often find themselves in conflict of interest and need an outsider to resolve a problem.

Forensic accountants need to have a knack with numbers and a thick skin. There's often a lot of negative feelings when a forensic accountant is called in to examine a company's books.

"Often you're dealing with conflict situations," says Kalesnikoff. "You're dealing with individuals who don't like what you're doing, who will attempt to discredit you, will be hard to deal with, may be guarded, may be suspicious of you, [and] maybe just dislike what you're doing because you might be uncovering something."

At a Glance

Investigate white-collar crime

  • These experts often have to testify in court
  • A knack for numbers and a thick skin are mandatory
  • A degree and years of experience are needed for this specialty


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OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.