While a forensic audit may sound like something exciting you hear about on crime dramas like Law and Order or CSI, the truth is a little more mundane. A forensic audit is the process of reviewing a person's or company's financial statements to determine if they are accurate and lawful. Forensic accounting is most commonly associated with the IRS and tax audits, but it may also be commissioned by private companies to establish a complete view of a single entity's finances.
When Are Forensic Audits Used?
Forensic audits are used wherever an entity's finances present a legal concern. For instance, it is used in cases of suspected embezzlement or fraud, to determine tax liability, to investigate a spouse during divorce proceedings or to investigate allegations of bribery, among other reasons.
Forensic audits are performed by a class of professionals with skillsets in both criminology and accounting who specialize in following a money trail, keeping track of fraudulent and actual balance sheets and checking for inaccuracies in overall and detailed reports of income or expenditures. If they find discrepancies, it may be the auditor's job to investigate and determine the reason for it, or it may be the job of a separate financial investigator.
Auditing for Quality Control
While many associated auditing with finding flaws, it can be just as important to strengthen a company's already good business practices. Many companies self-audit on a regular basis to make sure that production and workflows are running smoothly without waste. By presenting regular audits of sound financial practices, a company improves its standing for shareholders, clients and customers, and the report generated by the audit gives executives a better sense for the internal finances of the business.
Of course, this can lead to a downside if the auditing company itself is committing fraud or if it is in collusion with the company or its managers to falsify reports. In this case, a forensic audit may be requested by a judge or an outside company to either determine the lost income as a result of a fraudulent report or to determine the damage that falsified reports caused to shareholders, clients or employees.
How Are Forensic Audits Used in Court?
Forensic audits are presented as evidence by a prosecutor or by a lawyer representing an interested party. Because finance is a complex discipline, the jargon used by forensic auditors to describe a company's financial position is often highly precise. This either requires a prosecutor or lawyer to call upon expert witnesses to explain the significance of the audit in layman's terms or to have the auditor do so himself or herself in order to build a case.