I'm a CFE

Natalie Lewis, CFE, CPA/CFF

senior vice president, J.S. Held, and chair of the ACFE Board of Regents

At one time an aspiring artist, Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) Board of Regents Chair Natalie Lewis, CFE, CPA/CFF, now investigates alleged employee embezzlement and business fund misappropriation schemes. She works to combat fraud locally and globally in her leadership positions for the City of Atlanta and the ACFE.

I was born and raised in Winder, Georgia, a small town about an hour north of Atlanta, Georgia. My parents still live on the same land that’s been in my family since the late 1700s when our ancestors emigrated to the U.S. from Ireland.

Early in my childhood, I wanted to be a veterinarian as I loved being around animals. However, when I became more passionate about painting, I thought I’d pursue a career as an artist. Somewhere along the way, I discovered how much I enjoyed conducting fraud investigations — maybe it was all those Scooby Doo episodes I watched as a kid!

I’m a senior vice president in the Economic Damages and Valuation practice at J.S. Held, a global consulting firm. In my role, I often conduct fraud investigations for both public and private companies. In addition, I provide litigation support and expert testimony for dispute matters.

I joined J.S. Held a year ago after leading a forensic and litigation support practice for a CPA firm in Atlanta. The resources within J.S. Held allow me to bring together the best team for each engagement and investigation, including industry and technical subject-matter experts (SMEs).

Most of my fraud investigations tend to have an alleged employee embezzlement component or allegations of a business partner misappropriating funds; however, I’m currently working on a matter involving elder fraud. This particular fraud scheme is especially heartbreaking to me.

When I find fraud, my procedure is to follow the trail of evidence. I aim to reduce bias from my investigations as much as possible and stick to the evidence.

While studying accounting at the University of Georgia, I worked for a small business that provided bookkeeping services to small business owners. One of my clients discovered that a trusted employee had been embezzling funds from her business. I worked with the client to investigate and quantify the loss and then attended a meeting with her and counsel to pursue civil litigation. From that point forward, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in forensic accounting and conduct fraud investigations.

A couple of years ago, I investigated an alleged embezzlement scheme by a sales representative of a large wholesale company. This employee traveled to various markets across the country to design the company’s permanent showrooms for each season. During these trips, the employee utilized the company-issued credit card to make purchases. They were a trusted employee for many years, and management became lax in its oversight and failed to maintain internal controls. Our investigation uncovered millions of dollars of personal items the employee allegedly purchased with the company credit card.

Throughout an investigation, it’s imperative to maintain objectivity as you interview key individuals and review evidence. Keep an open mind and resist jumping to conclusions. Bias can alter or poison your investigation. In addition, staying organized in your investigation procedures, documenting evidence and performing analyses can make or break an investigation.

The amazing thing about our field is that you can apply your investigative and fraud-fighting skills in many different roles. By getting to know others, you’re building your network and learning about various career paths.

I was an undergrad at the University of Georgia when I first heard about the ACFE. At that point, professors expected you to choose a path of audit or tax. For me, I was more interested in forensic accounting and conducting fraud investigations. As I began my career as a forensic accountant, I sought the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) credential to set myself apart from other CPAs performing forensic accounting and fraud investigations.

The ACFE is made up of over 90,000 members, including more than 60,000 CFEs. I’m immensely proud to be a member of this organization and a CFE. The CFE credential is recognized by organizations around the world, including the legal community, helping bolster my credibility as an expert.

My advice for those starting out in the fraud-fighting field is to attend events with your local ACFE chapter (bonus points if you have the appetite to volunteer) and get to know other fraud fighters. The amazing thing about our field is that you can apply your investigative and fraud-fighting skills in many different roles. By getting to know others, you’re building your network and learning about various career paths.

One of my proudest professional achievements has been the opportunity to hold leadership positions with several organizations to combat fraud. In addition to serving on the ACFE Board of Regents and my local Georgia Chapter of the ACFE, I also serve on the Governing Board of the Office of Inspector General and Ethics Office for the City of Atlanta. I appreciate being able to oversee the efforts to prevent fraud, waste and abuse at the local level, as well as globally. One of my favorite quotes is “Think global, act local,” and I try to achieve that in my professional and personal life.

I absolutely love to read and always have at least one book going at any given time. While I don’t have as much time to dedicate to hobbies now with two small children, I do enjoy expressing my creativity with craft projects with my kids. In addition, my family and I enjoy exploring and often travel to various national parks.

One of the most memorable experiences was hiking to the top of Devil’s Bridge Trail in Sedona, Ariz. Even though I’m not completely comfortable with heights, it was a goal of mine after seeing photos of the view, and with my husband by my side, we climbed to the top!

Anna Brahce is editorial assistant of Fraud Magazine. Contact her at ABrahce@ACFE.com.