Thursday, March 22, 2012

Business class gives students hands-on experience with IRS fraud

You won't often find accounting students serving search warrants, interviewing witnesses, and digging through trash for business documents.

But Whitworth Associate Professor of Business Heather Rogers's Occupational Fraud and Abuse class isn't exactly a typical business course. Instead of crunching numbers at a desk, students in the class are expected to solve fraud cases with the help of IRS agents.

As part of the course, which is offered during Jan Term, five federal agents spent a day collaborating with Rogers's students during a hands-on simulation run by the IRS's Criminal Investigation Division. Agents described to students a variety of situations they might face on the job. They demonstrated defensive tactics on a mat at the front of the class and showed some of the equipment investigators use. Then students divided into groups, each investigating a mock crime scenario such as tax evasion, embezzlement or fraud.

"This project is evidence of a deep commitment to support higher education by law enforcement, particularly the IRS," says Rogers, who is also a CPA.

Students also pored over fake bank records and tax returns, some found in garbage on public sidewalks. They armed themselves with bulletproof vests, plastic guns and handcuffs as they arrested mock embezzlers, some of whom were role played by Whitworth professors.

Agents are brought to Whitworth through the Adrian Project, an IRS campus recruiting program that shows accounting and business majors alternatives to typical accounting careers. Coordinated by Silvia Reyes, an IRS special agent in Seattle, past participants have included agents from the FBI, Spokane Police Department, and the Gaming Commission. Some travel across the state to take part, and Rogers says she and her students are very grateful for their sacrifice of time and talent.

"Students who have participated in this project loved the experience of working as a fraud investigator," Rogers says. "The application of tools and concepts learned in the classroom with real fraud cases provides them with experiential learning that is both challenging and exciting."

After the simulation, many of Rogers's students have expressed an interest in pursuing a career in fraud prevention and detection.

One such student is junior accounting major Marisa Shumake. She says working with the Adrian Project was an eye-opening experience, and she would now consider a career in forensic accounting or fraud investigation.

"Acting out and applying forensic accounting skills with real IRS agents taught me just how open the field of accounting is," Shumake says. "To know that criminal investigation teams need accountants to handle cases of fraud and embezzlement taught me I have plenty of options with what I want to do with my accounting knowledge after college."

The occupational fraud and abuse class first incorporated the Adrian Project in 2010, when Rogers's class was the first in the Northwest to participate in the program.

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The university, which has an enrollment of nearly 3,000 students, offers 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

Contacts:

Emily Proffitt, public information officer, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4703 or eproffitt@whitworth.edu.