(By Joe Koletar) It’s not hard to find the fraud of the day or week in any newspaper or media report.
Our reaction is usually, “How could they do that?” But because these matters are so frequent, we now seem to have adopted a “Here it goes again” mentality. It seems “normal.”
Lest we become too comfortable and smug in our own skins, let’s step back a moment and look in the mirror. Do we “break the law?” Of course not. We are nice people who play by the rules.
If you drive one mile over the speed limit, you have broken the law. Trust me, I do it every day, and so do you. I am familiar with the rationales (I use them also):
• It wasn’t much. I was in a hurry.
• Everybody else was doing it.
• Some people were going a lot faster.
• The cops don’t care.
• I wasn’t paying attention.
Let us be realistic. Driving one mile over the speed limit does not turn you into a homicidal maniac a week later. But some people, in their own way, do continue down the road (!) to even greater law-breaking.
There’s an old saying in the fraud prevention, detection, and investigation business: “Did you ever hear of anybody stealing $1M and working their way down?”
It always starts small, but most people stop before it becomes a huge issue, whether it be driving or stealing.
Why do some people not stop? That is the purpose of our work – our “quest,” if you will. What are the psychological mechanisms that cause some people to never touch the brakes?
Are they insane? Hardly not – most are quite rational in most ways and adept at normal social relationships. They look like, and indeed are, us, for all intents and purposes. Charlie and Sue – the soccer Moms and Dads. Our friends, our neighbors, perhaps even our relatives (By the way, those who sexually abuse children operate in much the same way. The dirty old man in the raincoat near the schoolyard is the exception, not the rule. Most abusers look very normal, even trusted.).
In thinking about fraud issues, both everyday people and “experts” trot out the same old diagnosis – “greed.” We disagree. “Greed” is too broad and murky an answer. Why do two people, alike in almost every way, follow such different paths? It could be Judy, who stole several thousand dollars, or Bernie Madoff, who stole billions. Why do some people go one way, and other people go the other?
We have begun to answer that question in our book, The ABC’s of Behavioral Forensics (Wiley, 2013). Read it. Tell us if you think we are on the right path. We think we are, and we are the only ones doing it at the moment. If you disagree, tell us, but tell us why. Maybe you see something we have missed. We would love to hear about it.
Join us for more insights into behavioral forensics (behind fraud and similar white collar crimes) from the authors of ABCs of Behavioral Forensics (Wiley, 2013): Sri Ramamoorti, Ph. D., Daven Morrison, M.D., and Joe Koletar, D.P.A., along with Vic Hartman, J.D. These distinguished experts come from the disciplines of psychology, medicine, accounting, law, and law enforcement to explain and prevent fraud. Because we are inspired to bring to light and address the fraud problems in today’s headlines, we encourage our readers to come back and revisit us regularly at BringingFreudtoFraud.com.