How Do You Become a Forensic Accountant?

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In criminal and civil cases, whether the investigated party is guilty or not, forensic accountants are responsible for examining all of the applicable financial records. They search for inconsistencies, no matter how seemingly trivial or vague, and investigate the root of these inconsistencies, documenting as they go. If anyone wants to become a forensic accountant, there are quite a few qualifications involved.

What's Required?

At a minimum, a Bachelor of Accounting or forensic accounting is mandatory. Many firms or investigative agencies require a master's degree as well. Certain investigative agencies require specializations in the field, which can be achieved by earning any of the various certificates over and above the general level of education.

The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners lists some of these certificates, both general and specific. They include:

  • Certified public accountant
  • Certified fraud examiner
  • Chartered accountant

Certified public accountants, or CPAs, are licensed in their particular states whereas chartered accountants operate in not only all states but also outside the U.S. Outside of the U.S., the title of chartered accountant carries the same weight as the CPA designation within the U.S.

What, Specifically, Do Forensic Accountants Do?

They research all credits and debits and trace the history of any relevant cash flow. They also seek out assets for recovery during any legal proceeding. They are adept at analyzing all collected data to spot for trends criminal activity. In almost all cases where criminal activity is discovered, they must also testify in court as to their findings either simply as statements of fact or as expert witnesses whose opinions are given the weight of facts.

How Much Experience is Necessary?

Even those trained as forensic accountants must acquire three years' experience in the general accounting field before making the move into the forensic arena. With that experience comes the development of accounting curiosity and a desire to "figure things out."

To become a forensic accountant, one must also develop knowledge in a vast array of categories and also the skills necessary to research the topics for any unknown answers. Some of the applicable topics include:

  • White-collar crime
  • Bankruptcy and bankruptcy fraud
  • Securities fraud
  • Asset misappropriation
  • Embezzlement

Candidates for such jobs also need impeccable stylistic writing skills and a firm grasp of both written and verbal communication. Of course, it goes without saying that integrity, honesty, and trustworthiness are all obligatory. Any deviation of any kind from those three precepts could well spell instant career termination.

Related Resource: 25 Most Affordable Top Ranked Schools for an Online Master's in Accounting Degree 2018


When one wants to become a forensic accountant, one must be diligent in preparation. Studies, training, and self-discovery all play an equal role in the development of budding forensic accountants. Before applying either to schools or jobs in the field, however, as part of their preparations, prospective forensic accountants should plan ahead so that they never miss a qualification, required class, or future job posting. The job itself can be lucrative. According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, the 2017/2018 Compensation Guide for Anti-Fraud Professionals, top earners can make upwards of $150,000 annually.