The Masquerade – There Will Be Fraud

west_indian_day_carnival“We are honored to have this guest post from our Richmond Chapter member, Rumbi Bwerinofa, CPA/CFF. Rumbi is a Director of the Queens/Brooklyn Chapter of the New York State Society of CPAs and a member of the NYSSCPA Litigation Services Committee. She is the editor of TheFStudent.com, where she discusses financial forensic issues.”

My husband is working on a photographic project, documenting the New York City West Indian-American Day Carnival. This Carnival, also called the Labor Day Parade, is, arguably, the largest parade, street fair or festival in North America, with estimates of between one and three million people attending the festivities. It certainly is the biggest cultural event of the year. With thousands of participants involved in being parts of parading groups, bands and floats, preparations for the Carnival begin months in advance of the big day. Last Friday my husband invited me to attend a Mas Camp with him. I went along, completely clueless about what a Mas Camp is and what happens when people go to a Mas Camp. It was a great opportunity to tag along and get a sense of what he has been doing. Plus, I love Caribbean cuisine and he had promised dinner.

I learned that the parade is made up of floats surrounded by teams of costumed revelers that are known as masqueraders. The floats and masqueraders are dressed and decorated according to a theme and together they form a masquerade band, or mas band. In the months before Carnival, the band leaders set up a mas camp where people can sign up to be part of the mas band and order costumes. As I walked around the couple of mas camps that I visited, I saw various masquerade costumes on display with prices disclosed on signs close by. In addition to time and effort, people invest a substantial amount of money into their costumes and being a part of a mas band. Costumes run into the hundreds and, for some, thousands of dollars. For that kind of money, the revelers expect to receive a well-made costume that looks like the advertised version that they ordered and to be a part of a band that parades down Eastern Parkway in this celebration of Caribbean history and culture. But, where there is money, there will be fraud.

As I marveled at the themes, costumes and their prices, I noticed a yellow sign hanging on the entrance to the mas camp, which was a store front. The man giving us the tour of the mas camp explained that it was their certificate. The West Indian-American Caribbean Day Association (WIADCA) organizes and holds the Carnival. Mas band leaders attend meetings called by WIADCA and police precincts where they are told the rules and regulations of the parade, in order to preserve the spirit and safety of the parade. Mas bands are registered with WIADCA and issued certificates that they must hang in a visible location. This is so that, before anyone spends money at mas camp, they can check to make sure they are with a valid mas band and not a scam out to take their money and run. The certification gives assurance that the mas band will meet certain standards, will produce their costume and will be there on Labor Day morning for the march up Eastern Parkway. People can check with WIADCA, who keeps a register of all certified mas bands and they can also take complaints to WIADCA who in turn can discipline or decertify mas bands that do not abide by the rules and regulations.

This is the way it works with CPAs and credentialed forensic accountants. When a person seeks the services of a qualified professional, getting their word or seeing a lot of framed certificates is all well and good, but it must all be backed up by something that can be verified. The professional bodies that govern these credentials have a code of conduct and professional standards that forensic accountants must abide by. The bodies also have coursework and testing that must be taken to attain and maintain the credential. These professional designations also have continuing education requirements to help ensure that a person holding a particular credential is up to date on the knowledge and experience required by the designation. You know how, on television, cops knock on someone’s door and flash their badges and how, sometimes, a person yells, “I want your badge number”? Well, the same goes for credentialed forensic accountant. Whether that forensic accountant is Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF), a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) or holds a different forensic specialization, that credential will have its own unique number that has been issued by the governing authority. This means that if someone claims to be a CFE, you can verify their information with the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners and confirm that they are accredited and that their credential is currently active. If you cannot independently verify their qualifications, then you shouldn’t trust them with your money or with investigating any financial forensic matter.

There are several advantages to working with a credentialed forensic accountant:

  • You can consult the standards and areas of expertise covered by the credentialing body and find out what body of knowledge your forensic specialist possesses. In this way you can focus on retaining the services of the right type of expert.
  • Should your expert provide substandard services, you can take your complaints to the credentialing body, which will investigate and resolve your issue.
  • Knowing that they could face disciplinary action, including suspension or revocation of their credential, is an incentive for the certified forensic accountant to behave in an ethical and professional manner, per the rules and regulations of their credential issuing body.
  • If you have a matter that ends up in court, having an expert witness who holds credentials that are pertinent to the matter at hand tends to hold weight with the judge and jury and lend more credibility to the testimony of the expert. I mean, when receiving a diagnosis, who would you trust – a doctor or someone who watches a lot of medical shows?

So, be it dancing and celebrating as a masquerader at Carnival or having a financial forensic matter investigated, don’t you want to be sure you are placing your investment and trust in the right hands?

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