Fraud thrives on opportunity, and the millennium date change provides the opportunity of a lifetime. The potential for systems to crash will entice both practised fraudsters and opportunists to embark on fraudulent schemes in the expectation that Y2K problems will cover their tracks. Even if the these problems do not materialise, there is a better chance for the fraudsters that their schemes might go undetected. The likely schemes are those that involve the manipulation of a company's financial accounting and operational systems. Electronic records will be used to cover up wrongdoing such as forged payments by cheque, diverted accounts receivable or issuing unwarranted loans to an accomplice or to oneself - to name a few. Counting on most companies' preoccupation with technical and logistical challenges, fraudsters have a low expectation of getting caught, and also have a gift-wrapped scapegoat to blame for unusual transactions or events that mark an underlying fraud. Motivated by greed and general disgruntlement, programmers tasked with fixing systems may also be tempted to put their hands in the till. Internal controls should therefore not be disregarded as remediation efforts speed up. In the face of this very real risk, companies need to step up their fraud prevention activities if they do not want to see their assets disappearing into a black hole. Top on the list is an assessment of their vulnerability to fraud. This may be done best by outside experts who know what to look for, as those combating crime have to be as digitally aware as the lawbreakers. A thorough systems check after Y2K project completion will ensure that back doors to systems put in by programmers cannot be used to access cash and corporate secrets. Needless to say, accountants should be the driving force behind these activities. Although it is impossible to predict the extent of Y2K-related fraud, it is virtually undeniable that some schemes are already being planned and others will arise as circumstances allow. An old boy scouts adage springs to mind: be prepared! - David Lawler is a principal of Buchler Phillips Lindquist Avey, forensic and investigative accountants.
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