I'm a CFE

Monica Meeks, CFE

Financial services investigator, Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance

Monica Meeks is a U.S. Army veteran and veteran fraud investigator who first honed her fraud-fighting skills as a service member probing credit card fraud committed by Army officials. Now the financial services investigator for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, she shares lifelong lessons with students and fellow veterans, educating them about fraud and the value of earning the CFE credential.

I was born and raised in Salemburg, North Carolina, a tiny rural town of about 400 people — there were more animals than people where I grew up.

Growing up, I loved to climb trees, dance and perform in church productions. Playing Mary in the church Christmas show was always the highlight of the season for me. I wanted to be a model and a Jet magazine Beauty of the Week.

As a financial services investigator for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, I examine fraud, waste and abuse committed by insurance producers and others who conduct business with the state of Tennessee. My unit determines if a case warrants an official investigation. We review complaints and verify information about respondents and review supporting exhibits. We also interview complainants.

I discovered my passion for conducting interviews while working in human resources in the Army. At the time, I was pursuing a degree in HR but switched my major to criminal justice instead. I graduated college before I retired from the service.

Being an assistant inspector general at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, sparked my interest in fighting fraud. I investigated egregious instances of credit card fraud and abuse by senior Army officials. Reviewing credit card statements and obtaining signed receipts from various gentlemen clubs really gripped me. Fighting fraud matched perfectly with my analytical, ambivert personality.

I’ve been an investigator for 12 years, and I often think about older cases and track the evolution of my skills. Relistening to old interviews is humbling, but I can identify where I should have rephrased a question for clarity or asked a follow-up question. I’m a lifelong learner and especially enjoyed a critical-thinking course I took through the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). I’m always seeking improvement.

I worked on two multijurisdictional cases involving precious metals as investments. The returns and gains advertised to consumers by the companies involved did not perform as promised, and Tennessean investors lost millions of dollars. They were coerced into emptying their 401(k)s to purchase gold bullion, gold bricks, and gold and silver coins. The companies used fear tactics and told people the stock market would crash, but precious metals wouldn’t lose their value.

“The intersectionality of my life as a veteran and an investigator is a great achievement; it was a full-circle moment for me.”

Fraudsters do not discriminate; anyone can be a fraud victim. Establishing rapport with anybody is one of the best things I’ve learned. I am just as comfortable conducting interviews in Memphis, Tennessee, as I am in Tazewell, Tennessee. I love speaking to people who have been overlooked or marginalized and listening to their stories.

I first learned about the CFE credential while working for the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury. A colleague invited me to an ACFE Middle Tennessee Chapter luncheon. All the lead investigators in our office were CFEs, and I saw the credential as an opportunity for upward mobility. Becoming a CFE during my first year on the job is one of my proudest moments.

Being a CFE has opened so many doors for me professionally, such as speaking engagements. I recently presented for the Emerging Leaders Program at Austin Peay State University where attendees were very interested in learning about certification.

The CFE credential garners a lot of attention, especially from special investigation units. Some people are actually more impressed by the CFE credential than they are of a master’s in criminal justice. I once interviewed the director of a Memphis funeral home who was uncooperative with me until he noticed my CFE pin. He then divulged that he was a former a banker who had wanted to take the CFE Exam but never made the time for it. Discussing CFE certification relieved the tension. I joked with my colleagues that I would wear my CFE pin for future interviews.

Last fall, I spoke to students at the West Creek High School Academy of Criminal Justice & Homeland Security in Montgomery County, Tennessee. I dared them to be different and told them they don’t need to look or speak a specific way to be successful fraud fighters. I advised them to listen more than talk and described how I started my criminal justice career as a uniformed officer with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and how much I learned from it.

I spoke to over 5,000 former service members in an AARP Telephone Town Hall on fraud. Veterans are disproportionately targeted by scammers, so to raise awareness and have conversations with fellow veterans was a highlight of my career. The intersectionality of my life as a veteran and an investigator is a great achievement; it was a full-circle moment for me.

I am a huge karaoke fan, and my go-to song is Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” It’s a no-fail song that gets any crowd going. I especially love karaoke nights with my sister veterans of the Women Veterans of America Chapter 47, Screaming Eagle Lady Warriors, which I’m the commander of. The best part is getting the newbies to sing.

Jennifer Liebman is assistant editor of Fraud Magazine. Contact her at jliebman@ACFE.com.