(By Daven Morrison) As the world turned and watched the World Cup, it was witness to an unpleasant and ugly foul: the biting of Giorgio Chellini of the Italian national team by Luis Suarez of Uruguay. Although the deed wasn’t seen by the referee (an important aspect of fraud to which we will return later) the players knew and the repercussions after the game were justifiably swift and severe.
The reason for the severe penalty to Suarez and his team (they lost the next game likely because of his absence) was because he was a repeat offender. As the Chicago Tribune noted:
This isn’t the first time Suarez has been accused of biting a player during a match. Suarez has been disciplined two previous times for biting opponents. He was banned seven games in 2010 after a biting incident while he was playing for Netherlands club team Ajax. Another biting incident landed him a 10-game suspension last year with Liverpool in the English Premier League.
What is the tie to fraud?
Predatory fraudsters are not novices. They have honed their craft like a magician and have come to know very well when the “referee”, i.e. the auditors, the regulators, the internal controls, are looking at their work. They, like Suarez, have settled into a pattern of behavior which the legal community calls “recidivism.”
Recidivism refers to the overall likelihood to be a repeat offender. In general, there’s an important distinction between psychiatry and the law. In the law, when making a judgment in court on a repeat offender, the previous offenses are not admissible. This is at the heart of justice, each case must stand on its own. In psychiatry, however, past behavior is prologue. If someone was a troubled child who frequently broke the law and had run-ins with the police, than it is more likely they will be seen as anti-social as adults. In fact, it is part of the definition of an Anti-Social Personality Disorder.
This professional divide between the law and mental health can put the managers in a bind. The law tells them to judge each case, but behavioral science tells them to beware the person who has broken the law in the past.
Why did Suarez bite?
Biting is a very primitive and hostile act towards another. Generally, it resolves itself in pre-school, but when a person uses biting it is because they are incapable of coping. Suarez bit with the intention to have Chellini respond and in order to provoke him. In the video, one can see that he’s over-reacting to Chellini’s response in order to draw a foul and earn a penalty kick. As we noted earlier, the referee didn’t witness the bite. Suarez was quite skillful: He recognized the context, a penalty box where a reaction would lead to a penalty kick, as well as the location of the referee and his ability to see him initiate the conflict. The referee was watching the play around the soccer ball.
Predatory fraudsters also learn this skill. They know when the watchers are watching and they know how an audit works. They can bide their time, shuffle accounts, and clean up their trail, all the while knowingly deceiving the financial oversight process.
What is the take home message?
In the end it didn’t work, but in the next few minutes, the Italians did concede a goal on a corner kick. It will be up to others to determine if it was because of the bite.
We recommend managers have a low threshold as the tendency to repeat is a strong one. The lesson from Suarez is the leopard does not change his spots and the sabre-toothed predator doesn’t change his bite.