Spotting the character traits

Fraudsters can have many faces, but there are profiling techniques which can help to unmask them all, as Michael Dempsey discovers

In a world of sophisticated software and complex financial instruments, it is easy to imagine that all counter-fraud activity is equally intricate. But some of the most effective ways to undermine potential fraudsters can involve very basic measures.

Ed Savage is a security expert at PA Consulting, an organisation with extensive contracts across government, business and industry. He leads a team of cybersecurity experts and a lot of his advice is aimed at heading off fraudsters before they strike.

One remarkable, but very effective, tactic he recommends is to install mirrors in offices. Rather than pandering to employee vanity, this actually undermines the intent of fraudsters. People who can look up and see themselves at work are less likely to contemplate defrauding their employer, says Mr Savage.

These insights into human nature are what allow PA’s security consultants to point technology in the right direction. “For those who are predisposed to fraud, there’s generally a trigger event that encourages them to act,” says Mr Savage

It might seem odd, but apparently the period in which an employee might be tipped over into becoming fraudulent has a time limit of around 30 days. This is the window during which most potential fraudsters either proceed with their crime or decide to stick to the straight and narrow. And this is the point where those mirrors come into their own, putting subtle psychological pressure on the person who is contemplating an illegal act.

There are a series of points where the smart employer has a chance to spot a likely fraudster. Mr Savage warns every business to take pre-employment checks very seriously. Credit records are a useful indicator of whether a person is reliable, but the critical area to study is an individual’s identity.

Credit records are a useful indicator of whether a person is reliable

“Identity is key” says Mr Savage, “you must check whether someone is pretending to be somebody else.” Among the community of active and practised fraudsters stealing another person’s identity is seen as a proven route into organisations and an effective means of covering your tracks.

Once a prospective employee’s identity has been verified, there’s the question of continuous monitoring for fraud. “You can’t watch everybody all the time, but there are priorities you can put in place that mean you’re checking the right people,” Mr Savage advises. Staff who are in a position to sign off large sums of money merit regular attention.

And whistleblowing should be seen as a virtue. “If you want to have a security culture, you must encourage whistleblowing,” he says.

There is no one simple personality trait that will give away a fraudster. But according to PA, a poor attitude to authority and an aberrant moral compass are worth watching out for.

Someone who has committed petty theft in the past is less likely to operate under the same principles as honest staff, so screening for previous misdemeanours is very valuable. In addition, it’s important to watch for people who are accessing information that’s not relevant to their role. Also, somebody who consistently arrives early or stays late may be using that time to operate a scam while colleagues are absent.

In sum, the fraudster has many faces, but a diligent and comprehensive approach to security should reveal them all.