I'm a CFE

Chrysti Ziegler, CFE

Chrysti Ziegler, CFE, the president of the ACFE Houston Area Chapter, was thrilled to discover the art of fraud fighting early in her career as an auditor. Her interest was piqued when she first learned about the idea of malicious intent. She was hooked. Her passion then grew for joining the force against fraud.

I was born and raised in Corpus Christi, Texas — the Sparkling City by the Sea. Growing up, I loved to dance. So as a hobby, I joined the high school dance team and a professional youth dance troupe. I was an officer of the high school dance team my senior year, and we won highest marks in competition against other Texas high school dance teams. My favorite activities were watching high school baseball and TV shows with my dad.

Aside from my adolescent plans to be a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader, my first true career goal was to be an astrophysicist. I love science in general, but the universe had a mystique that fascinated me. However, once I reached my junior year of high school, and the career choices became a little more real, I decided that an education in accounting would be the foundation to my future career. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would eventually find the perfect fit in the internal audit industry.

And now, I manage the internal audit function at CITGO. This includes the day-to-day execution of the internal audit plan and resource management. It also includes regular collaboration with stakeholders within the company and reporting to those stakeholders, including executive management and the board of directors.

Internal audit works alongside other functions within the company to thoroughly investigate any claims of fraud.

When an allegation of fraud has been reported, a special team of key personnel reviews the report and determines the action necessary to review and substantiate the allegation. Internal audit may be activated to perform all or a portion of the substantiation and report back to the special team for status updates and findings.

I became passionate about fighting fraud when I discovered internal audit. The variety of people, processes and systems that an auditor interacts with initially drew me to the job. But what sealed the deal was the examination, inquiry, inspection and scrutiny of details to independently corroborate a story. And when the idea of malicious intent was introduced into the story, my interest was fully piqued. I began attending ACFE meetings and seeking out fraud training and education. With every anti-fraud course or presentation I attended, my passion grew for joining the force against fraud.

My favorite investigative skill that I’ve learned is the uncomfortable pause. You know — those longer-than-normal moments of silence embedded in an interview. Yes, it’s awkward to me, too, but I have learned to stand my silent ground and I often obtain much more information from the interviewee.

As a fraud fighter, I dig deeper into red flags to shed light onto control gaps that not only lead to lost opportunities for optimization but also losses due to theft or manipulation. My job isn’t to find problems. It’s to help my auditee maximize results through better controls. I’ve learned that I’m only effective in my job if I partner with my operational counterparts to achieve that goal together.

I highly recommend networking with other fraud-fighting professionals. In the future, those relationships could result in a great job opportunity.

Early on in my career, I was attending a conference and one of the courses was presented by the forensics group from a Big Four accounting firm. I was captured by the presentation, which included fraud case studies and actual evidence from those cases. After the session was over, I approached the speakers and inquired about where to find more information and training on anti-fraud practices. They introduced me to the ACFE, which I immediately joined and began attending local chapter meetings. I eventually became involved in the leadership of the local ACFE Houston chapter — starting with assistant treasurer and every term taking a larger role. I’ve been the president of the chapter for the last four years now.

My career path direction has always been in internal audit, which includes anti-fraud controls in addition to financial, operational and IT controls.  Because anti-fraud skills have not been the sole focus of my job responsibilities, the CFE credential has benefitted my career by indicating the well-roundedness of my skill sets as a whole. In general, I believe that having the CFE credential sets me apart from other potential hire candidates, especially as companies with existing or past fraud events are looking for a leader who understands fraud identification and examination.

My advice for those starting out in the fraud-fighting field is to join the ACFE and the local ACFE chapter. Begin attending ACFE training events because this builds a new fraud fighter’s education and awareness of new and trending fraud schemes. At these meetings, I highly recommend networking with other fraud-fighting professionals. In the future, those relationships could result in a great job opportunity.

My life motto is be “net positive.” Give more than you take. Help more than you request. Do more than you don’t. Live more life than you leave on the table.

My greatest achievement is overcoming fear. From overcoming my fear of falling (I went skydiving) to my fear of rejection (I applied for bigger jobs), I face up to those fears and fight them head on. I don’t always get the prize, but facing the fears is the achievement won.

I love to travel. My most memorable experiences have been traveling with family and sharing those experiences with them.

Dick Carozza, CFE, is editor-in-chief emeritus of Fraud Magazine. Contact him at dcarozza@ACFE.com.