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CFE used ACFE student membership to propel career

When I started my graduate studies my accounting teacher suggested I find a professional organization to grow with. I was intrigued, but I had a lot of questions. How would I know which one of the many groups was the right fit? Would an organization accept me if my experience was in a different field? As a cash-strapped and busy student, where would I find the time and financial support to join? Finding the answers took me on a special journey.

I began researching my professor’s suggestions. Many groups encourage students to attend their events by charging reduced admission fees or providing scholarships, which my accounting teacher encouraged us to apply for. At my school, the University of Colorado Denver, some professors give extra credit for attending these events.

Some organizations hold meetings on campus or in convenient locations. I’m not a social butterfly. But when I’d rearrange my schedule and pluck up the courage to attend events, I’d learn of the organizations’ missions and activities, find possible mentors and networking contacts, and gather industry information.

I learned from an ACFE email newsletter that the association offers to waive the registration cost to its Annual Conference in exchange for student volunteer time. I wrote the required essay, applied and won a scholarship along with several other students to attend the 25th Annual ACFE Global Fraud Conference in San Antonio, Texas, in 2014. The conference blew my mind! I met so many industry professionals with meaningful careers. I was inspired by the vision of the ACFE founder and Chairman, Dr. Joseph T. Wells, CFE, CPA. I admired the persistence of Harry Markopolos — the Bernie Madoff whistleblower — to follow the truth. I was fascinated by global cybersecurity advisor Marc Goodman’s grasp of the present and the future. I felt connected to this special group of people.

After the conference, the ACFE kept resurfacing in my life — a good sign that it might be a good fit. Someone would mention the association in class or I’d overhear it in passing conversations. I attended more ACFE events (at discounted student prices) and met more inspiring and fascinating people. Everybody welcomed me with open arms. I knew that I had found where I belong. I was more assured that this could be my career path.

Using experience and CFE knowledge to move up

While going to school at night, I’d work during the day in various roles. During this time I signed up for more fraud-prevention duties and worked towards obtaining my CFE credential. I passed the CFE Exam after a year of studying the material.

The ACFE training had sharpened my fraud detection skills. I learned to review new accounts and how to identify potentially fraudulent fund transfers. At one of my first roles, my new skills helped me identify an account impersonator. We then locked down this person’s account so they weren’t able to access confidential information. That was exciting!

One day a colleague transitioning from fraud investigations to anti-money laundering (AML) investigations told me the department was hiring. I requested an informational interview with the hiring manager, which helped me learn more about the job and the department. I then landed an official interview in which I was able to talk about my fraud prevention and AML skills, and how I could specifically tailor my skills to the job. I had advantages over other candidates — I was an internal candidate familiar with company systems, department functions and industry-specific information. Plus, I had a wide network of internal contacts. The department offered me the job, and I accepted.

Building a career level by level

As I continued to learn and grow in my job, I reflected on how my graduate studies and my involvement in the ACFE got me to where I am today. At school, I learned the essentials to set a foundational knowledge base. The ACFE added another level to the base with specialized anti-fraud skills. My employer then added industry-specific training to help me succeed.

For example, I sharpened my writing skills by submitting research reports on financial companies or accounting discussions during my studies. The ACFE provided training and networking with an amazing group of mentors. And my job provided hands-on practice to perform my daily tasks. I combined these resources to boost my career in fraud prevention and money laundering detection.

Most college students are trying to make the best of their situations during an exciting, transitional stage of life. And whether you choose to take a path similar to mine, I hope what I’ve shared is of value to you. Space doesn’t allow me to include the names of all those who’ve made a difference in my life, but I particularly thank the ACFE and its professionals, who’ve guided me to where I am today. Thank you with sincere gratitude!

Linh Dang, CFE, is an investigator at Charles Schwab & Co. Contact her at

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