Postcard from the ACFE Global Fraud Conference

I had the pleasure of attending the 34th annual Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) Global Fraud Conference in Seattle, Washington for four action-packed days starting on June 11th.

The conference was truly a “global” event, with participants from around the world, including approximately 2,500 attendees in person and an additional 3,000 virtual attendees. Receptions and meals allowed for ample opportunities to network with many colleagues. And, in true Pittsburgh fashion, professionals from the Greater Pittsburgh chapter met throughout the event to socialize and enjoy some excellent local food and beverages. As president of the Greater Pittsburgh ACFE chapter, I enjoyed the opportunity to connect with chapter members, even if it required flying across the country to align our schedules.  

The conference offered unique training sessions across 10 different learning tracks. Topics included artificial intelligence (AI), interviewing techniques, open-source intelligence (OSINT), fraud risk management, ethics and more. In addition to the break-out training sessions, Journalist Jo Ling Kent hosted the general sessions in the magnificent, new Seattle Convention Center Summit ballroom for in-person and virtual attendees.        

Featured speakers and panelists during the general sessions included U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Commissioner Hester M. Pierce and Wired senior writer Andy Greenberg. New York Times bestselling author and psychotherapist Dr. David Lieberman gave a fascinating presentation loaded with thought-provoking takeaways as he discussed concepts from his latest book, Mindreader: The New Science of Deciphering What People Really Think, What They Really Want, and Who They Really Are. ACFE president and CEO, Bruce Dorris spoke with documentarians James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte about two of their award-winning fraud documentaries , The Big Conn and McMillion$.

At the conference each year, the ACFE grants several notable guests various long-standing awards for service and commitment to the anti-fraud effort. These special guests gave interesting presentations about the personal experiences that lead to them winning their awards. Award winners included editor in chief of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting, Miranda Patrucic, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) whistleblower Xavier Justo, U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) Inspector General Hannibal “Mike” Ware and Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Justice and head of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) Michael E. Horowitz.  

The conference closed with a highly anticipated discussion with Billy McFarland, convicted fraudster and organizer of the ill-fated “Fyre Fest.” Mr. McFarland is currently serving his sentence under house arrest, so he spoke with John Gill, chief training officer of the ACFE, from a virtual location. Mr. McFarland discussed the events leading up to and following Fyre Fest. Those unique events included the rush of raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay vendors prior to the scheduled event – with the need to repeat the same process again and again for weeks on end and his belief that he could still pull-off the event even while all indications were that it was failing. Mr. McFarland also had significant concerns because of stories and allegations (which were thankfully untrue) that early attendees had been killed after arriving to the island. He also made subsequent decisions to turn around planes that were in the air with visitors at that time rather than allowing them to land. Surprisingly, Mr. McFarland said that there is considerable interest from investors for his plan to host Fyre Fest 2, which was met with audible gasps and laughs from a room full of skeptical fraud examiners.   

My biggest takeaway from the conference was that fraud examiners are involved in many different roles around the globe and have unique skill sets, but we all share a common focus: preventing and responding to fraud in our organizations and communities. The lessons learned from attending the sessions and building connections with my colleagues will help me have better insights into the tools, techniques and experiences available to support the wide-ranging investigations we perform.  

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