New forensic accounting track teaches students to follow the money

Nevin Shapiro, who once owned a legitimate wholesale grocery distribution business, chose to make money an easier way: by defrauding investors and cooking the books. It meant a 20-year prison sentence for the former Miami Beach resident.

Yet for students in Associate Professor Antoinette Smith’s introductory class in forensic accounting, which involves the use of accounting skills to investigate fraud or embezzlement, Shapiro’s crime served as an instructive example of how schemes are perpetrated and how perpetrators are caught.

Shapiro’s rise and fall was just one of the cases examined by the 20 students in the first cohort of the School of Accounting’s newly launched forensic accounting track, which joins assurance and tax as a specialty for those working on their master’s in accounting at the College of Business.

“It’s an area that has always fascinated me,” Smith said. “As a practitioner, I served the people by catching someone doing wrong. As a professor, I am educating future forensic accountants and fraud investigators.”

It’s news to almost no one that South Florida tends to be ground zero for all kinds of underhanded schemes, ranging from identity theft, Medicaid fraud and financial crimes to tax evasions, Ponzi schemes, bankruptcy fraud and even matrimonial fraud. It’s a good bet that area employers will find the specialty attractive.

And, said Smith, FIU students have advantages; many are bilingual, or even trilingual, tend to be young, and are eager learners.

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New FIU Forensic Accounting track teaches students to follow the money, one class at a time.