On 16 June 2021, the University of Portsmouth hosted the 10th Annual Counter Fraud and Forensic Accounting Conference. An annual event on the calendar since 2010, but this year, because of the pandemic, an online event. Which is at least better than 2020 when the event had to be cancelled. However, running this event online for the first time had its benefits. The usual 250 delegates swelled to 590. Those participating came from all corners of the globe: Australia, USA, Nigeria, South Africa, Russia and even Mongolia – to name some.

The conference opened with a keynote address from Dr Cassandra Cross speaking on her research on romance fraud (from Australia), followed by Jim Gee, a regular at the event and also through his firm Crowe UK LLP the official sponsor of the event. Jim talked on the growing threats to business faced from cybercriminals engaging in ransomware attacks through to how the darkweb is used to facilitate fraud. The opening morning session ended with a talk from Professor Robert Barrington from Sussex University on the Governance of Corruption in the UK.

The conference then broke into four streams. The session I attended covered two papers. The first by Neil Pickavance covered bribery in the construction sector. The data he had collected on the nature and means of corruption was fascinating and unique and when this research is written up into a PhD will prove a significant contribution to the body of knowledge on this subject. His talk was followed by David Wolfe and for those nerdy on the development of research on the fraud triangle – or not as Peter Tickner was to illustrate later in the day – you will know David is one of the authors who developed the fraud triangle into the fraud diamond – one of the most useful additions to this model. Other presentations in other parallel sessions covered topics as wide as Nigerian 419 scammers, cybercriminals, Russian insurance companies to even the use of photography in fraud investigation.

The afternoon session began with Dr Peter Tickner discussing some of the myths in fraud, including how Cressey’s fraud triangle wasn’t actually his; the dubious associations of Donald Sutherland and most interesting of all, the links of witchcraft to fraud offences. Peter was followed by Rebecca Fitzhugh of Sobel and Co in the USA discussing the role of integrity monitors in major construction projects to prevent fraud, abuse, waste and error – a must for the current government contemplating spending so much in this area.

The conference ended with a first, a debate with an opportunity to vote. The subject: should a regional policing structure replace the existing local police response. Arguing for this was Michael Skidmore from the Police Foundation, who had produced a significant report that advocated this only a few years earlier. Against Dr Peter Tickner. Strong arguments were made both ways and opportunities were provided for audience members to join the debate. The result:

  • Remain with local police forces 17%
  • Be moved to regional units 43%
  • Other 27%
  • Dont know 13%

Not an overwhelming victory for the regions, but clearly not much confidence in the existing local structures. The conference ended with a call for views on future delivery of this conference. And the overwhelming feedback since: both, you want a conference to attend, but that is online too. The organising committee will investigate the hybrid options and in the Autumn, as usual we will make the call for papers with a date and the likely format. Watch this website for more and watch the conference if you missed it here.

Mark Button is Director of the Centre for Counter Fraud Studies, and Professor of Criminology at the University of Portsmouth. 

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