In 2004, Scott Cohen, CFE, director of internal audit for the NATO Airlift Management Agency, was three years away from retiring from the U.S. Navy when a friend suggested he begin to think about his post-retirement career. Like many professionals making a career transition, Cohen ruminated over his experience, his credentials and, more importantly, what it was going to take for him to enter the job market as a competitive candidate. It didn't take him long to discover that the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) resources and the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) credential were the vital tools he needed to make a smooth transition. "It's a case of not really knowing what you're missing until you learn about it and then wondering how you ever did your job effectively without it," Cohen said.
What made you decide to become a CFE?
I was having lunch with an IRS agent in Saddam Hussein's former palace in Baghdad. The idea of being an accountant in law enforcement was intriguing. He explained that part of his job was to seize records and computers, and sometimes, people were not willing to part with them. I asked how I could get involved doing that sort of work, only to learn that at the age of 40, I was too old to apply for a federal law enforcement position. But he said that I could be trained as a forensic accountant or fraud investigator, and I would be the person to whom he would turn over the records for analysis.
I looked into several options and decided that while no one qualification would provide all the training I would need, the CFE credential would provide a solid basis for any further study. The approach is interdisciplinary, drawing on ideas from criminal justice and the law, sociology, accounting and economics. Fraud issues are never one-dimensional, and understanding the fundamentals in different disciplines is important to understanding how a problem occurred or can occur and what can be done to detect or prevent fraud.
How did you prepare for the CFE Exam? Where were you in your career when you studied and passed the exam?
I attended the ACFE Global Fraud Conference and sat through several lectures, not really knowing from the outset what being a CFE meant. Although I am sure that I missed a lot of details, I was excited by what I saw. The speakers and the people attending were enthusiastic about what they did and were willing to share their stories. One of the lectures I attended discussed the best way to prepare for the CFE Exam, and I confirmed what I was told with several of the CFEs at the conference.
I ordered the CFE Exam Prep Course offered by the ACFE. It took about two and a half months to feel that I was ready to take the exam. At the time, I was stationed in Baghdad as the chief of logistics for the NATO Training Mission – Iraq. The program allowed me to study when I was able and I used the Fraud Examiners Manual as a reference when I needed something explained in more depth. (As the director of internal audit, I still use the manual and recently wrote the organization's Fraud Management Policy using the template provided).
When I was ready to take the exam, I planned to take each part on successive Saturdays. While this seemed a bit drawn out, I figured this would give me the best chance at success. And it was a strategy recommended in the lecture at the conference. I did the first part and felt good about how I'd done. Then the bombing started and mortars were falling close enough to the headquarters that it was not safe to go anywhere. So, I did the second part. And the bombs were still falling. Before long, I'd completed all four parts. Exhausted from the tests and the stress from hearing the rounds fall near us, I went to dinner at the dining facility located behind the palace. Not knowing who the people were that I sat with at dinner, we introduced ourselves, and as it turned out, they worked for the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction and three of the five people were CFEs. I was exhausted but happy that I’d found a little fraternity of like-minded individuals.