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How to Become a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)

The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), an independent organization that provides anti-fraud training and sets standards for the proper conduct of fraud investigations, oversees and administers the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) credentialing program. In order to become a CFE, candidates must hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and have at least two years of qualifying experience in accounting, criminal justice, fraud investigation, loss prevention, and/or a legal profession. The ACFE also extends certification eligibility to candidates who do not have two years of professional experience provided those candidates hold a master’s or doctoral degree and/or relevant certifications in accounting, finance, and/or information systems security. Eligible candidates must join the ACFE, pass the CFE certification exam, and agree to abide by the CFE Code of Professional Ethics prior to certification.

What Is a Fraud Examiner?

A fraud examiner is a professional investigator trained to identify fraud and other types of financial crimes by examining financial records, analyzing financial transactions, and conducting forensic audits. Fraud examiners work for banks and other financial institutions, state and federal law enforcement agencies, and legal and accounting firms. Like other types of investigators, they may also work in private practice as independent consultants for a variety of different clients.

The crimes investigated by fraud examiners vary by field and by case, but may include embezzlement, misappropriation of funds, tax evasion, money laundering, and illegal investment schemes. Depending on the nature of the investigation, a fraud examiner may be called upon to interview suspects, testify in civil and criminal trials, and/or prepare legal reports to be filed with a state or federal financial oversight agency.

Training for Fraud Examiners

Fraud examiners typically receive formal training in accounting, banking, business, and/or finance, as well as in criminal and civil legal proceedings and financial information technology and data storage systems. There are schools that offer a designated major in fraud and financial crime investigation as part of a bachelor’s degree program, and there are master’s programs in financial crime and fraud management. Some schools offer a fraud/financial crime investigations post-graduate certificate for students who hold an advanced degree in another discipline. Students in these programs typically learn to analyze financial reports and bank records, conduct forensic audits, identify suspicious and/or fraudulent transactions, and prepare reports for use in evidentiary hearings and other official proceedings.

It is not uncommon for fraud examiners to begin their educational trajectory by earning an associate or bachelor’s degree in a wide array of disciplines, including business, accounting, economics, sociology, and psychology. There are then various types of training programs that are designed to provide the skills required to work as a fraud examiner, including master’s degree programs. Some fraud examiners begin their careers working in the field of criminal justice or in accountancy, and many fraud examiners are Certified Public Accountants (CPAs). All of these pathways can lead to a career in the field of fraud and financial crime investigations and to eventual certification as a CFE.

CFE Certification

The ACFE bills itself as “The world’s largest anti-fraud organization and premier provider of anti-fraud training and education.” As part of its mission to maintain high standards in the practice of fraud prevention, detection, and deterrence, the ACFE administers the CFE certification program. While CFE certification is not required in order to work in the field of fraud investigations, many employers and clients prefer to hire fraud examiners who hold a CFE certification, and certification from the ACFE can be useful for career advancement.

The CFE certification process involves joining the ACFE and then passing an exam that tests for knowledge and proficiencies in four areas:

  • Fraud Prevention & Deterrence
  • Financial Transactions & Fraud Schemes
  • Investigation Methods
  • Civil & Criminal Law

The ACFE offers students a $399 Student Package, which includes one year of membership in the organization and an online CFE Exam Prep Course. Student members are eligible to take the CFE exam once they have met the education and work requirements at no additional cost.

Candidates for certification have thirty days to complete the 8-hour CFE exam, which is administered online in four discrete sections. Upon completion, candidates must submit their exam with an affidavit attesting that the exam was completed without outside assistance. A passing score of 75% or higher is required on all four sections of the exam for certification. In addition to the CFE Exam Prep Course, the ACFE offers a four-day, classroom-based CFE Exam Review Course and publishes a 2000-page Fraud Examiners Manual that can be used to prepare for the CFE exam.

Steps to Becoming a Certified Fraud Examiner

While there are a range of different educational and career paths that can lead to CFE certification, typical steps include:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, which may include coursework in accounting, business, finance, economics, psychology, sociology, criminal justice, and/or computer science.
  2. Begin working in one of several fields relevant to fraud investigations, including accounting, finance, banking, law enforcement, and computer forensics, or complete a master’s program in forensic accounting, fraud investigation, financial crime management, digital forensics, or another related field.
  3. Join the ACFE.
  4. Prepare for the CFE certification exam by taking the CFE Exam Prep Course and/or the CFE Exam Review Course.
  5. After meeting the educational and professional eligibility requirements to sit for the CFE exam, register to take the exam.
  6. Complete the exam in the time allotted (8 hours over thirty days) and receive a passing score of 75% or higher.
  7. Pledge to abide by the CFE Code of Professional Ethics.

Additional Resources and Certifications for Fraud Examiners

The ACFE provides a range of professional and educations resources on its website for those interested in pursuing a career in the field. While the CFE certification offered by the ACFE is generally considered to be the most widely recognized general credential for fraud examiners and investigators, there are several other certifications offered by other professional organizations in the field of fraud and financial crime prevention and detection. These include:

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