I'm a CFE

Lourdes C. Miranda, CFE

Chief consultant, FinTech Advisory Group, a division of RaLytics, LLC

Throughout her career investigating financial crimes — first in the CIA and FBI and now in the private sector — Lourdes Miranda found that understanding human behavior is instrumental to cracking cases. She now urges fellow CFEs to balance technology with human intelligence in their investigations and learn everything they can about cryptocurrency and blockchain.

My family is originally from Puerto Rico, but I was born and raised in upstate New York. Growing up, I loved to read, assemble puzzles and play logic games. I especially liked to solve games on quiet days and during long road trips. My parents were smart; when I finished a game book, they’d hand me another one to keep me quiet.

Since my family only spoke Spanish at home, I’d ride my bicycle to the public library and borrow books to improve my English. I read the Berenstain Bears books, the Encyclopedia Brown series, all the global history books I could find, and dictionaries and thesauruses. My parents bought me a colorful thesaurus with tabs, and I used to carry it everywhere. I love words and numbers.

As a child, I wanted to be a banker, so my father bought me a cash register. I used my parents’ money and spare buttons from my grandmother’s sewing machine table as coins to play. I also wanted to be a criminal investigator, and as an adult, I’ve turned those two loves into a career focused on fighting financial crime. I now have more than 25 years of government and corporate experience specializing in investigations involving economic espionage and insider threats, terrorist financing, money laundering, trade-based money laundering, fraud, corruption, cryptocurrencies, blockchain, compliance, risk management and data analytics. I’ve led counterterrorism and counterintelligence task forces to gather raw intelligence for global strategic and tactical operations.

Currently, I’m the chief consultant for the FinTech Advisory Group, a division of RaLytics, LLC, in Washington D.C., but before that I was a senior CIA officer and a senior FBI analyst.

In the 1970s and ‘80s, my brother laundered drug money, and I saw how his criminal activity hurt my parents and affected my family’s reputation in our community. When he was released from prison, he had to perform community service by speaking about his criminal past to various organizations and discourage young people from getting involved in criminal activity. He’d brag to his audiences — without mentioning my name — that he influenced my career choice.

We must use human intelligence and artificial intelligence in our investigations. Today, everyone uses technology as a primary investigative tool, but knowledge of human behavior and idiolect (forensic linguistics) are just as important. Understanding them helps build strong cases, develop leads and fuse intelligence gaps. For example, knowing that different Spanish-speaking people use different slang terms for currency helped me investigate Central and South American drug traffickers.

Likewise, understanding different cultures is a must. I once supported a case involving international drug traffickers traveling from Europe to the U.S. with their families. In some cultures, women don’t change their surnames when they marry, and some add their husband’s name to theirs. In this case, the men and their spouses were traveling under their wives’ family names since it’s culturally and legally acceptable for them to do so.

Fraud investigators must learn cryptocurrency and blockchain even if they don’t have a technical background. When I first entered the cryptocurrency ecosystem in 2017 as a compliance officer and fraud investigator, I took as many online and in-person courses as possible, joined social media groups, attended conferences, and read books about crypto and blockchain. I highly recommend obtaining certifications and degrees related to cryptocurrency and blockchain.

In the 1970s and ‘80s, my brother laundered drug money, and I saw how his criminal activity hurt my parents and affected my family’s reputation in our community.

In one cryptocurrency case I worked on, fraudsters exploited a money service business (MSB) that offered crypto products in a scheme I call address type fraudTM, which I trademarked. Fraudsters told the MSB’s customer services representatives that they had inadvertently transferred $1,000 worth of bitcoin to their account and wanted the money transferred back to their wallets; however, they had only transferred $100 of a lesser value cryptocurrency. They also vilified the MSB on social media, claiming it committed fraud by not issuing refunds. The fraudsters took advantage of customer service representatives who didn’t have access to blockchain analytics to verify the address type or the training to verify the fraudsters’ claims.

In 2014, while consulting for the CIA, I attended an ACFE conference in Washington, D.C. I asked attendees about the benefits of joining the ACFE and becoming a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), and they told me that to be a successful fraud investigator, I needed to become a CFE. And they were right! I’ve been hired to work on many federal contracts and made excellent money because I became a CFE. Plus, I’ve learned a lot about forensic accounting and methods for detecting fraud.

Networking was challenging when I first joined the ACFE and attended events because I was still consulting for the CIA and had to comply with strict rules against advertising my career and joining social media platforms. If you don’t have any national security restrictions, I highly recommend joining LinkedIn and other social media platforms to build your network. Also, become a CFE and obtain other relevant credentials, especially for cryptocurrency and blockchain.

I love traveling, particularly to Europe. I’m buying a home in Valencia, Spain, so I can divide my time between there and the U.S.

I’m a huge fan of Queen and Adam Lambert, and I’ve attended 100 concerts. I’m also recovering from multiple surgeries due to training and competing in triathlons and mud runs, but 2024 is going to be my comeback year to compete, travel and attend more concerts.

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