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Become an FBI Agent With An Online Forensic Accounting Degree

“Corruption was rampant nationwide” in the early 20th century when the agency that would become the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) emerged during President Theodore Roosevelt’s second term, according to “A Brief History” on the FBI’s official website.

Even before its official start on July 26, 1908, the agency’s investigators “included a force of examiners trained as accountants” to “follow the money” and apprehend the politicians, racketeers and gangsters behind the corruption and criminal enterprises of the century’s first decade.

Since 1908, the FBI has continued to rely on special agent accountants, which today comprise of “around 15 percent of agents employed by the Bureau,” the FBI reports on its website.

Need for Accounting and Financial Expertise Expands

The agency has added more accounting and financial positions to respond to the increasing occurrence and sophistication of such money- and technology-related crimes. The FBI now has non-agent accounting positions, financial analyst roles and “a standardized, professional investigative support position known as a forensic accountant.”

The famous, large-scale cases described below illustrate some of the work done in these non-agent roles.

Taking Down the Greedy …

On June 29, 2009, U.S. District Judge Denny Chin of the Southern District of New York sentenced investment fraudster Bernie Madoff to 150 years in prison. Madoff had pled guilty to stealing over $64.8 billion from investors. In his remarks, reported in an FBI news release, Chin said, “No other white-collar case is comparable in terms of the scope, duration and enormity of the fraud and the degree of the betrayal.”

Madoff was arrested about six months prior when forensic accountant Special Agent Patrick J. Duffy was assigned to help oversee the Madoff investigation, which involved 14 agents, forensic accountants and financial analysts, according to a 2018 report in The Philadelphia Inquirer. Duffy, who had recently joined the FBI from accounting firm KPMG, and his team organized, cataloged, examined and analyzed more than 10,000 boxes of documents found in Madoff’s offices and warehouse.

About $15 billion of the $20 billion net cash lost was recovered, the report said. “We’re very proud of that” recovery, Duffy told the Inquirer. “In most Ponzi schemes, the rate of recovery is zero.”

… And the Glamorous

The diligent work of forensic accountant FBI Special Agent Laura Smith was key to the success of Operation Varsity Blues, the college admissions fraud case, which broke in March 2019. Actor Felicity Huffman was the first of the accused sentenced to prison. Another actor, Lori Loughlin, and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, also received prison sentences.

Smith’s thorough investigation included interviewing witnesses and reviewing documents such as telephone logs, cell site data, bank records, emails and wire-tap recordings obtained through subpoenas and search warrants. She interpreted and summarized the information to develop a 204-page criminal complaint detailing the alleged crimes and evidence against more than 30 subjects, which led to arrests and indictments.

Working as an FBI Forensic Accountant

If the FBI forensic accountant role interests you, Smith’s work on Operation Varsity Blues is a good example of the job’s responsibilities, which include:

  • Performing forensic financial analysis of personal and business documents
  • Developing financial profiles of individuals or groups identified as subjects
  • Preparing search warrants/affidavits
  • Gathering evidence
  • Accompanying case agents on interviews of subjects and key witnesses
  • Identifying and tracing funding and transactions
  • Producing reports of investigative findings and conclusions
  • Discussing strategies and other litigation support functions with prosecuting attorneys
  • Testifying in judicial proceedings

Fulfilling Requirements for the Role

FBI forensic accountants aren’t subject to special agents’ physical fitness, mobility or firearms requirements, but the FBI requires significant accounting education, certification and relevant work experience.

Education: A bachelor’s degree in accounting or bachelor’s degree with 24 semester hours in accounting are usually educational foundations that can kickstart your career in this field. Six of the 24 hours can be in business law.

If you are short on accounting hours, consider earning an online Master of Business Administration, which students can often complete in as few as 12 months.

Applicable Certifications: Individuals seeking an accounting role with the FBI should also seek specialized certification for one of the following roles: a certified public accountant (CPA), a certified financial forensics accountant (CFF-AICPA), a certified fraud examiner (CFE) or a certified internal auditor (CIA).

Work Experience: Those pursuing a job with the FBI can earn useful professional experience in other accounting fields such as forensics, public accounting-auditing and government.

Learn more about the University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s online Master of Business Administration with a Concentration in Forensic Accounting program.


Accounting Institute of Success: How to Become a CIA (Certified Internal Auditor): A Step-by-Step Guide

American Institute of Certified Public Accountants: CFF Exam

Association of Certified Fraud Examiners: Become a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)

Department of Justice:
First Parent in College Admissions Case Sentenced to Prison
California Couple in College Admissions Case Sentenced to Prison

Federal Bureau of Investigation:
A Brief History
Forensic Accountants: Following the Money
Bernard Madoff Sentenced to 150 Years in Prison

JD Supra: Varsity Blues, the “Charity” and How a Forensic Accountant Can Be a Silver Bullet!

National Association of State Boards of Accountancy: CPA Exam

The Philadelphia Inquirer: A Decade After Bernie Madoff’s Arrest, FBI Agents Reveal More About his Ponzi Scheme

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