I'm a CFE

Julie Aydlott, CFE

While conducting forensic and fraud examinations involving small organizations, Julie Aydlott saw just how devastating fraud could be for businesses with limited resources. Aydlott and a colleague founded Business Fraud Prevention, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to providing free training and resources to help small business owners implement internal controls and fight fraud.

I spent most of my childhood in Loveland, Colorado, until we moved to San Diego, California, when I was 15. My dad died when I was four, and my mother raised five children on her own; however, she built an impressive career, working her way up from bank teller to bank president and owner.

I was the only girl in the Fort Collins and Loveland Baseball League — you could say I was a rebel. Not all the players liked it, but once they saw I could play well, they accepted me. Well, except my boyfriend. I caught the game-winning ball he hit to the outfield, preventing his homerun. We won the school championship, and he broke up with me.

As the owner of Aydlott Fraud Examinations, I conduct fraud and forensic examinations for civil and criminal cases. I work on business tax violation and embezzlement cases, mainly involving small- to medium-sized organizations. I’m a QuickBooks expert and provide forensic examinations of those data files.

I’m also the president of Business Fraud Prevention, Inc., a nonprofit I founded with Nichole Rodriguez, CFE. We empower small businesses against fraud with free fraud-prevention and internal-controls training. I’m a passionate advocate for small business owners, and I’ve seen clients suffer because they don’t have the know-how or resources necessary for segregated job duties. As the ACFE’s Report to the Nations has shown, small businesses rank highest in median losses from fraud. (See ACFE.com/RTTN.)

When I discover fraud, I immediately protect the evidence. Whether evidence is physical or digital, data integrity is essential. Completing an inventory of the documents as you receive them is important for the chain of custody — exhibits must be in order to accurately tell the story of a scheme. I then create a schedule outlining the fraudulent transactions or accounts as a roadmap for the report. After discussing the findings with the legal team and conducting additional interviews, I put it all together in a written report. An editor always reviews my reports. There is nothing more embarrassing than having a report full of typos and mistakes.

My most complex case involved an IRS investigation of a small business owner for payroll tax evasion. The owner believed his payroll taxes were filed and paid. However, the IRS showed they were not. He was facing prison. My forensic examination of QuickBooks data revealed an elaborate embezzlement scheme perpetrated by the owner’s general manager for more than eight years. The business owner lost more than $830,000 to the scheme, and he almost lost his freedom.

I'm a passionate advocate for small business owners, and I've seen clients suffer because they don't have the know-how or resources necessary for segregated job duties.

The case was eventually dropped, and the owner recovered. He asked me why I helped, considering the small size of his company. I told him his freedom was worth the time, no matter how small the business.

I needed an extra set of eyes on my first investigation in Colorado, so I connected with a CFE who completed a peer review of my report. He was so sharp and pointed out missing details and questioned whether I could defend statements in court. Because of his generosity to me, I’m paying it forward by mentoring another CFE. I’m doing my best to help her become confident in her cases.

While working on behalf of a contract-dispute mediation, I realized I was tired of doing taxes and books and wanted to work a “whodunit.” I began researching forensic accounting and fraud investigations and came across the ACFE. I read everything I could about becoming a CFE. It took me a few years to find the time to study for the exam, but I proudly became a CFE in 2007. Yes, the test was stressful, but the study materials are worth their weight in gold.

The CFE credential has been an enormous benefit to my career and experience. Without it, I don’t believe I would be as successful. It indicates my training, experience and membership amongst an elite group of professionals. The ACFE has been paramount in teaching me investigative techniques, terminology and procedures.

Be patient. Passing the CFE Exam doesn’t instantly qualify you to conduct an investigation without peer review. Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t in the center of the excitement right away. Entry-level work in the right department can be a stepping stone; your time will come.

Accountants often advise small organizations to segregate job duties and implement internal controls. But these systems can be expensive and difficult for small business owners to implement. So, I developed a simple internal-control system for small businesses called Vital Internal Control System, or Vitalics. After I complete a review, I customize the system to the business and train owners on it. Over the past decade, this has helped small organizations protect themselves from embezzlement. Ultimately, I’d like to lower small business fraud statistics.

I love hiking with my daughters and camping with my husband — albeit in a travel trailer. Although my daughters are grown, we are all suckers for a good, old-fashioned “Hocus Pocus” Halloween. On All Hallows’ Eve my daughters and I dress up as the Sanderson sisters from the movie, “Hocus Pocus,” and we parade around town. We deck out our front porch with candles, decorations and a caldron with dry ice.

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