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Ford on fraud

Former FBI agent and COO reflects on decades-long career fighting fraud

Joseph L. Ford, CFE, has spent a lifetime fighting fraud, working his way up from file clerk at the FBI to holding the bureau’s No. 3 spot. After leaving the FBI, he served as Bank of the West’s chief security officer and eventually founded his own consulting firm. Here Ford speaks of his experiences investigating both large and small frauds and what we can learn from them.

One of the earliest fraud investigations that former FBI agent Joseph L. Ford, CFE, took on at the bureau involved a vendor that submitted inflated invoices for parts being sold to the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). By today’s standards the fraudsters’ methods might seem comical in their simplicity and surprisingly none-too-subtle ways in which they tried to cover their misdeeds. To extract more money from the government, the vendor used correction fluid to “white out” the amount owed, and then typed a higher number over the original one. This was the early 1980s, before the broad availability of desktop computers, and technology had yet to provide fraudsters with all the advantages it does today. But for a while it worked, allowing the vendor to garner tens of thousands of dollars in ill-gotten gains.

But as often happens, the criminals got sloppy. They changed the dates and the amounts but didn’t bother to adjust the invoice numbers. This raised red flags at the DOD, which brought in the FBI to investigate. Law enforcement executed a search warrant and seized the invoices. “They wanted to blame it on bad bookkeeping records, but you could show a jury the invoices had been changed,” Ford tells Fraud Magazine. “You could hold the original invoice up to the light and see the original number.”

Amateurish, perhaps. But the case sparked Ford’s lifelong interest in understanding the mindset of fraudsters, learning about the techniques they used and how to catch them. That curiosity soon had Ford working on bigger and more sophisticated cases, garnering the experience that ultimately earned him the No. 3 spot at the FBI. The arc of Ford’s career is impressive to say the least. If you want to learn about fraud investigations and how to develop a career in this field, a chat with Ford would be an excellent way to start. Ford spoke to Fraud Magazine earlier this year about some of the large and small cases he worked on, what he’s learned over the years and his advice for aspiring fraud examiners. 

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