Ernst & Young email keyword analysis identifies fraudsters

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Ernst & Young email keyword analysis identifies fraudsters

Warwick Ashford

Fraud investigators have revealed the most common words used in email conversations by employees engaged in rogue trading and fraud.

Ernst & Young’s Fraud Investigation and Dispute Services Practice has pinpointed the common phrases uses by wrongdoers in collaboration with the FBI.

Analysis of data from corporate investigations revealed that the most common fraud phrases are “cover up”, “write off”, “failed investment”, “off the books”, “nobody will find out” and “grey area”.

Expressions such as “special fees” and “friendly payments” are most common in bribery cases. Fears of getting caught are shown in phrases such as “no inspection” and “do not volunteer information”.

Investigators identified more than 3,000 terms using specialist anti-fraud software, which monitors suspect conversations.

Top 15 email fraud words and phrases

  1. Cover up
  2. Write off
  3. Illegal
  4. Failed investment
  5. Nobody will find out
  6. Grey area
  7. They owe it to me
  8. 8. Do not volunteer information
  9. Not ethical
  10. Off the books
  11. Backdate
  12. No inspection
  13. Pull earnings forward
  14. Special fees
  15. Friendly payments

Fraud is common where there is a combination of pressure, rationalisation and opportunity, researchers found.

The software revealed common phrases in email conversations where rogue employees are under pressure include “not comfortable”, “want no part of this”, “don’t leave a trail’ and “make the number”.

Conversations involving rationalisation include “told me to”, “not hurting anyone”, “won’t miss it" and “fix it later”.

Language associated with opportunity includes “off the books”, "off balance sheet transactions” or “pull earnings forward”.  

The anti-fraud software also scans for "out of band" events such as “call my mobile” or “come by my office”, suggesting the writer does not want to be overheard.

Mind your language

The analytics software can also track and evaluate the use of code words. The searches of data, which initially do not identify employees, also flags uncharacteristic changes in tones and language and has been tailored for specific sectors, particularly traders.

According to the investigators, the targeted analysis of suspect email conversations, incorporating expert judgement, is estimated to save companies millions of pounds by proactively raising red flags and suspicious trends before major frauds are perpetrated.

Despite email being the prime means of all conversations between employees, officials and external parties, such unstructured data plays almost no role in the compliance efforts of firms, according to Rashmi Joshi, director of Ernst & Young Fraud Investigation & Disputes Services.

“Most often such email traffic is only seized upon by regulators or fraud investigators when the damage has been done. Firms are increasingly seeking to proactively search for specific trends and red flags – initially anonymously –but with the potential for investigation where a consistent pattern of potential fraud is flagged,” said Joshi.

Joshi said the technology has particular applications for financial services companies demanding more effective and less costly compliance monitoring.

“The analysis of language, statistics, and call data alongside professional judgement can help in identifying rogue trader behaviour, breaches of material non-public information, fraud and abuse, and other employee misconduct,” she said.


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