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Student Experiences

Fraud: One of Life’s Tests

The course description for Accounting 550, Fraud Prevention and Detection, is pretty straightforward: the course covers fraud prevention, detection, investigation, issues, and methodology, and it includes an examination of past frauds with hands-on cases and computer exercises to identify increased fraud risk, interrogate data, and design prevention and detection controls.

That’s pretty much what Dani Finlinson, MAcc student in BYU Marriott’s School of Accountancy, expected when she signed up for the class. What she didn’t anticipate was that this standard fraud education would be interwoven with gospel principles, heartfelt testimony, and application that extended beyond her career and into her personal life.

“The class certainly furthered my understanding of fraud,” Finlinson says, “but it also strengthened my testimony and helped me realize how easily we can get caught up in making wrong choices and how we can prevent that from happening.”

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The class combines a fraud education with gospel principles, heartfelt testimony, and application that extends beyond careers into personal lives.
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Finlinson’s experience in the class is exactly what the SOA’s Mary & Ellis Professor Mark Zimbelman was aiming for when he designed the course more than a decade ago.

The goal of the course is to teach our students how to recognize fraud and, perhaps even more importantly, give them tools to prevent fraud in their own careers as well as their personal lives.

The course achieves this through both traditional classroom instruction and invaluable hands-on experiences. Lectures cover the history and different types of fraud, accounting red flags, financial statements, and internal controls.

In addition, students work through four ethical dilemmas throughout the course. “Fraud is more common than we realize,” Zimbelman observes. “I’ve designed a variety of cases that reflect scenarios that have real-life application; these are situations that many of these students are likely to face in the next five years. Hopefully, because of the education and tools they’ve gained through this course, they will know what to do.”

Course takeaways include everything from developing interviewing skills and creating a paper trail to building a support network and being financially secure enough that you can leave a job if necessary. “That’s when the gospel principle of being self-sufficient becomes valuable,” explains Zimbelman, who weaves gospel principles throughout course teachings. “When we save money, live within our means, and have food storage, we can leave a questionable situation if we have to. The temptation to choose fraud because of financial instability is removed.”

Zimbelman says students will have to deal with fraud, whether they like it or not. “We all have to choose between good and evil,” he concludes, “and fraud is one of those life tests. I always share a quote from Elder Holland with our students: ‘BYU is not here to help you make money. Any university in this land can do that. We hope your education brings income sufficient for your needs. . . . [But] BYU has been established to extend to you the very glory of God, His intelligence, His light, and His truth . . . to forsake the evil one, your tempter’ (“The Inconvenient Messiah,” BYU devotional, 2 February 1982).”

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Article written by Kellene Ricks Adams