Forensic accounting is an area of professional specialization in the field of accounting that focuses on civil and criminal litigations involving fraud and other financial crimes. Training in forensic accountancy and financial investigations is grounded in core accounting proficiencies, which include understanding the intricacies of financial reports and the auditing processes, knowledge of federal and state laws regarding financial transactions and reports, and familiarity with the quantitative and technological tools used to analyze financial information. In addition, forensic accountants have specialized knowledge of criminal investigative techniques, civil litigation procedures, evidence management, insurance and tax fraud, and cyber criminology. Forensic accountants and fraud investigators are often Certified Public Accountants (CPAs), and they may hold additional professional qualifications like the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) certification offered by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, or the Certified in Financial Forensics credential offered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).
A master’s degree in financial fraud & forensic accounting is a specialized master’s in accountancy degree that includes general training in accounting as well as targeted training in the skills and knowledge used to investigate and prevent financial crimes. Students in these specialized master’s programs learn general theories and practices of accounting, including: how interpret financial reports and documents; the procedures for performing audits and financial valuations on individuals, partnerships, and other business entities; and how state and federal tax and financial disclosure laws apply to individuals, businesses, and corporations. In addition, a master’s in financial fraud & forensic accounting curriculum includes coursework in the criminal justice system, civil and criminal litigation, financial crimes and investigations, and business and financial IT systems security.
Online master’s in financial fraud & forensic accounting programs offer the same curriculum as their campus-based equivalents. These programs utilize distance-learning technologies to deliver lectures and other instructional activities online, providing students who cannot or who would prefer not to travel to a college or university a more flexible and convenient way of earning a master’s in forensic accountancy. Students in online master’s in financial fraud & forensic accounting programs log on to a learning management system (LMS) to access course materials, view lectures and other presentations, and participate in discussion groups. They interact with instructors and classmates through the LMS or via email and text messaging. In addition, some online master’s program may require students to attend a limited number of campus-based sessions.
Master’s programs that offer specialized training and instruction in financial fraud & forensic accounting are typically offered through schools with an existing master’s in accounting program. These programs may be positioned independently but are typically offered as concentrations or tracks within a master’s in accounting program. The elements that distinguish a master’s in forensic accounting curriculum from a general curriculum in accountancy include targeted courses in financial investigations, financial crimes, and financial litigation procedures. Programs that offer this specialized coursework may be designated using several different names. These include the following:
Through independent research of online master’s in accounting programs, OnlineEducation.com identifies master’s programs in financial fraud & forensic accounting based on their curricula regardless of how they are named. Programs that offer a foundational curriculum in accounting theory and practice and coursework that targets the complexities of financial fraud investigations are classified as master’s in financial fraud & forensic accounting programs. In addition, programs on the site must be offered by regionally accredited, non-profit colleges and universities. They must also offer all or most of their instruction online. Programs that require students to attend more than two campus-based sessions per year are considered hybrid programs and are not currently listed on the site.
The master’s curriculum in financial fraud & forensic accounting encompasses three primary areas of study: business and accounting practices; criminal and civil investigations of financial records and transactions; and professional ethics and communications for financial investigators. Students in these master’s programs develop a foundational knowledge of accountancy. This involves learning the basic principles of financial reporting, studying the financial structures of businesses and other organizations, and understanding the economic theories and policies that govern financial transactions. Some programs may require that students complete some of this coursework prior to enrolling, and they may offer preparatory online coursework that allows students to fulfill certain undergraduate prerequisites in economics, business, and accounting. The specialized curriculum in financial fraud & forensic accounting introduces students to advanced auditing procedures, the legal framework for identifying fraud and financial crimes, and the processes for collecting evidence of financial irregularities and communicating these findings in civil and criminal cases. Many online masters’ in financial fraud & forensic accounting programs also provide instruction in cyber criminology, white-collar crime, and investigations related to divorce and other types of family litigation.
The table below provides an overview of coursework that is typical of a master’s in financial fraud & forensic accounting curriculum. The courses and their descriptions are drawn from actual online programs in financial fraud & forensic accounting.
|Introduction to Forensic Accounting and Fraud Examination||An overview of forensic accounting in civil and criminal cases, fraud prevention and detection, investigative procedures, asset recovery, and the IT systems used in fraud investigations.|
|The Practice of Financial Accounting||The common methods and processes of financial accounting, including business valuations, economic damage calculations, fraud investigations, and internal control evaluations.|
|Financial Litigation||The theory and practice of forensic accountancy in the context of civil lawsuits and criminal trials.|
|Business Valuations||Methods for determining business assets and liabilities for formal transactions, tax purposes, or in cases involving litigation.|
|Detection and Prevention of Fraudulent Financial Statements||The use of financial statements to review, detect, and investigate fraud, including income smoothing, off balance sheet financing, fictitious sales/revenue, and understatement of liabilities.|
|Fraud and White Collar Crime||An exploration of different types of fraud and financial crimes, how these activities are identified and investigated, and how evidence of fraud and/or criminal behavior is presented.|
|Economic Damages and Family Law||Calculating damages in cases of fraud pertaining to individuals, including personal injury, wrongful death, wrongful termination, and business interruption, as well as investigating family disputes over marital assets, child support, alimony, and retirements assets.|
|Criminology||The legal framework of forensic accounting, including civil and criminal lawsuits, depositions and trial testimony, the discovery process and rules of evidence, and attorney/client privilege.|
Admissions requirements for online master’s in financial fraud & forensic accounting programs vary by program, but the basic perquisite is an undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university. Programs may also require students to have completed specific undergraduate coursework in subjects like economics, business, and financial accounting. Students who have not completed these perquisites may be able to take these courses online in preparation for enrolling in a master’s program. Schools that offer online master’s in financial fraud & forensic accounting programs may also take into account an applicants undergraduate grade point average, standardized test scores (GMAT or GRE), and/or prior work experience in the fields of business and accounting. In addition, these programs may require applicants to submit a personal statement and two or more letters or recommendation as part of the application process.
Online master’s programs are generally designed to accommodate a wide range of students who may or may not be working while earning their degree and/or have commitments outside of school. Prospective applicants should examine several structural and instructional variables that may make certain programs more preferable than others. There are three clear areas of differentiation that may be important considerations for prospective applicants. These program format areas are: online instructional methods; enrollment options; and required campus visits.
Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: There are two primary methods for delivering online coursework. Synchronous instruction takes place in real-time and requires students to be logged on to an LMS for live lectures and other activities. It is the type of online instruction that is most similar to a traditional classroom setting in that students must be present online when the course meets. In contrast, asynchronous instruction does not involve scheduled lectures. Instead, students have access to lectures and other course materials at their convenience, 24-7. Synchronous instruction is a method that may be preferable for students who prefer a more structured learning environment. Asynchronous instruction affords more flexibility for students who may not be able to log on at scheduled times, but it also requires a greater degree of self-discipline and motivation to keep up with lectures, readings, and assignments.
Part-Time vs. Full-Time Enrollment: It is common for online master’s programs to offer students the option of part-time or full-time enrollment, which can be helpful for students who have significant commitments outside of school. Full-time enrollment allows students to graduate in a shorter period of time by taking the equivalent of three or four courses per semester. Students who enroll full-time in an online master’s in financial fraud & forensic accounting program typically complete their degree in less than two years (15-18 months). Students who enroll part-time in the same program, which typically means taking one or two courses per academic semester, increase the time to completion and may take two or more years to graduate. Different programs have different enrollment policies, some of which are more flexible than others. Prospective applicants should research programs carefully to determine which ones best suit their needs.
Campus Visits: Campus visits are a component of some but not all online master’s programs. These visits, often called intensives or immersion sessions, are a required part of the instructional curriculum. They may be used for orientations, or to provide students with in-person lectures, workshops, and/or networking opportunities. Students who value the opportunity to meet instructors and classmates face-to-face may prefer programs that incorporate these on-campus sessions. For students who cannot or would prefer not to travel to a campus or another designated location for these sessions, there are online master’s programs that offer 100% of their instruction online. OnlineEducation.com does not currently include master’s in financial fraud & forensic accounting programs that require more than two campus visits per year.