All Posts by Charles Hall

Follow

About the Author

Charles Hall is a practicing CPA and Certified Fraud Examiner. For the last thirty years, he has primarily audited governments, nonprofits, and small businesses. He is the author of The Little Book of Local Government Fraud Prevention and Preparation of Financial Statements & Compilation Engagements. He frequently speaks at continuing education events. Charles is the quality control partner for McNair, McLemore, Middlebrooks & Co. where he provides daily audit and accounting assistance to over 65 CPAs. In addition, he consults with other CPA firms, assisting them with auditing and accounting issues.

Theft of government property
Jun 29

Theft of Government Property: Stealing Tax Money

By Charles Hall | Asset Misappropriation

Theft of government property happens. Cash. Equipment. Vehicles. Inventory. You name it. Today, we take a look at how one elected governmental official took a substantial amount of cash.

Theft of Government Property

Some twenty years ago, I was working on an audit of a county tax commissioner’s office. We were noticing differences in the receipts and the cash collections.

Theft of government property
So one day I walk into the Tax Commissioner’s office. As I step in, I see several thousand dollars of cash laying on her desk. So, I remarked to her, “Haven’t made a deposit lately?” She laughed and said, “No, I’ve been too busy lately.”

I thought to myself, “Strange. She knows we’re here for the annual audit, and she has all this undeposited cash in open view. It’s as though she has no fear.”

The next day a gentleman comes into the room where we (the auditors) were working and whispers to me, “The Commissioner has a cocaine habit.” I did not know the fellow, so I wondered if the assertion had any merit. Regardless, this was shaping up to be an interesting audit.

The Damages

Our audit disclosed unaccounted-for funds of over $300,000 in the year one. Year two, the differences continued and exceeded $500,000. After three years, the unaccounted-for amount was in the $800,000 range.

Why was she not removed? Tax Commissioners are elected in Georgia, so the only person that could remove her was the governor. The local county commissioners could not dismiss her.

Finally, the FBI was brought in. But even they could not prove who was stealing the money. Why? The tax office had two cash drawers and eight clerks. All eight worked out of both drawers. So when cash went missing, you could not pin the differences on any one person.

In addition, the books were a disaster, postings were willy-nilly. There was no rhyme or reason–what I call “designed smoke.” The smoke covers up theft of government property.

The tax commissioner eventually went to prison for tax evasion. She made the mistake of depositing some of the stolen cash into her personal bank account, and the Feds were able to prove she had not reported the income.

Control Weakness Allowing Theft of Government Property

The primary weakness was the lack of design in the collection process. Two or more people should never work from one cash drawer. Deposits were not timely made (and in many cases, not made at all). And then the books (mainly the tax digest) was not appropriately posted as collections were received.

So, let’s see how to lessen theft of government property.

Fixing the Control Weakness

The primary fix was to remove the tax commissioner.

Next, each cash drawer should be assigned to only one person at a time.

Cash receipts should be written and the tax digest should be posted as tax payments are received.

Finally, deposits should be made daily.

altered check payees
May 18

Altered Checks: A Fraud Scheme

By Charles Hall | Asset Misappropriation

Some fraudsters steal money with altered check payees.

As a kid I once threw a match in a half-gallon of gasoline—just to see what would happen. I quickly found out. In a panic, I kicked the gas container—a plastic milk jug—several times, thinking this would somehow kill the fire. But just the opposite happened. And when my father found out, something else was on fire.

Some accounting weaknesses create unintended consequences. Show me an accounting clerk who (1) can sign checks (whether by hand, with a signature stamp, or with a computer-generated signature), (2) posts transactions to the accounting system, and (3) reconciles the bank account, and I will show you another combustible situation. Here’s how one city clerk created her own blaze.

Altered Check Example

Using the city’s signature stamp, the clerk signed handwritten checks made out to herself; however, when the payee name was entered into the general ledger (with a journal entry), another name was used—usually that of a legitimate vendor.

altered check payees

 

For example, Susie, the clerk, created manual checks made out to herself and signed them with the signature stamp. But the check payee was entered into the accounting system as Macon Hardware (for example). Also, she allocated the disbursements to accounts with sufficient remaining budgetary balances. The subterfuge worked as the expense accounts reflected appropriate vendor activity and expenses stayed within the budgetary appropriations. No red flags.

The accounting clerk, when confronted with evidence of her deception, responded, “I don’t know why I did it, I didn’t need the money.” We do a disservice to accounting employees when we make it so easy to steal. Given human nature, we should do what we can to limit the temptation.

How?

Controls to Lessen Check Fraud

First, if possible, segregate the disbursement duties so that only one person performs each of the following:

• Creating checks
• Signing checks
• Reconciling bank statements
• Entering checks into the general ledger

If you can’t segregate duties, have someone (the Mayor, a non-accounting employee, or an outside CPA) review cleared checks for appropriateness.

Secondly, have a second person approve all journal entries. False journal entries can used to hide theft. With sleight of hand, the city clerk made improper journal entries such as:

                                                Dr.                 Cr.

Supply Expense              $5,234

Cash                                                        $5,234

 

The check was made out to Susie, but the transaction was, in this example, coded as a supply expense paid to Macon Hardware. You can lessen the risk of fraud by preventing improper journal entries.

Thirdly, restrict access to check stock. It’s wise to keep blank check stock locked up until needed.

Finally, limit who can sign checks, and deep-six the signature stamp.

A Fraud Test for Auditors

Here’s a word to external auditors looking for a fraud test idea (or those just looking for check fraud): Consider testing a random sample of cleared checks by agreeing them to related invoices.

Work from the cleared check to the invoice. It is best for the auditor to pull the invoices from the invoice file; if you ask someone in accounting to pull the invoices, that person might create fictitious invoices to support your list (not hard to do these days). If the payee has been altered, you will, in many cases, not find a corresponding invoice. Pay particular attention to checks with company employees on the payee line.

Click here for more white-collar crime examples.

Feb 24

Group Audit Standards Applicability: One Firm

By Charles Hall | Auditing

Do the group audit standards apply when one firm audits all of the entities comprising a consolidated whole?

Yes.

You say, “confusing.” I say, “I agree.”

The confusion–at least for me–lies in the pre-clarity auditing standard, AU 543, Part of Audit Performed by Other Independent Auditors, which focused on who was performing the audit. The clarity standard, AU-C 600 Special Considerations — Audits of Group Financial Statements, focuses on what is being audited. The word group (as applied to the group audit standards) does not mean more than one auditor.

Regarding applicability (of the group audit standards), we look at the entities and business activities being audited rather than how many audit firms are involved. We used to focus on the interaction with other auditors; now we focus on the risks associated with the group financial statements.

Businessman holding a transparent screen with an inscription a auditing. Business, technology, internet and networking concept.

The picture is courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com.

Group Audit Standards When There is Only One Audit Firm

The AICPA’s Technical Questions and Answers (8800.24) says the following about the applicability of AU-C Section 600 (Audits of Group Financial Statements) when only one engagement team is involved:

Inquiry—Company X consolidates the operations of Entity A. The same group engagement team that audits Company X also audits Entity A. Because only one engagement team is involved, does AU-C section 600 apply? If so, what does AU-C Section 600 require that is not already covered by other auditing standards?

ReplyAU-C section 600 applies to all audits of group financial statements, which are financial statements that contain more than one component. In the circumstances when the same engagement team audits all components of the group, the considerations addressed in AU-C Section 600 that relate to component auditors are not relevant. However, considerations addressed in AU-C section 600, such as understanding the components; identifying components that are significant due to individual financial significance and the significant risk of material misstatement; determining component materiality; understanding the consolidation process; and addressing the risks, including aggregation risk, of material misstatement in the group financial statements; are relevant in all group audits.

What does this mean?

If your firm audits consolidated financial statements, then the group audit standards apply, and you do need to comply with certain provisions (even though your firm audits all entities included in the consolidation). Consequently, you have some additional documentation requirements. Your audit file should contain the following documentation:

  • Your understanding of the components
  • Your identification of significant components (due to financial significance or risk)
  • Component materiality
  • Your understanding of the consolidation process
  • How you plan to address the identified risk of material misstatement (including aggregation risk)

Group Financial Statements

What are group financial statements? They are statements that include the financial information of more than one component.

Here are examples of components:

  • Subsidiaries
  • Geographical locations
  • Divisions
  • Investments (equity method)
  • Products or services
  • Component units of a state or local government

You can see from these examples of components, the concept of group financial statements is broader than that of consolidated or combined financial statements.

The idea behind the group audit standards is to highlight the risk of material misstatement whether at the group level or a lower level. If for example, a component is not financially significant but it has particularly risky assets (e.g., derivatives), then the group audit standards direct our attention here.

Examples of When Group Audit Standards are Applicable

Here are examples of when the group audit standards are in play:

  • Consolidated subsidiary
  • Combined financial statements due to common control
  • Investment accounted for using the equity method
  • Consolidated affiliate (due to variable-interest considerations)

Notice we made no mention of other auditors in these examples. It is possible that another firm may audit a subsidiary (for example), but this factor is not the determinant of when the group audit standards apply.

Single Audit under the Uniform Guidance
May 04

Single Audits under the Uniform Guidance

By Charles Hall | Accounting and Auditing , Local Governments

Recently I listened to the AICPA Governmental Audit Quality Center (GAQC) webcast titled: Uniform Guidance for Federal Awards: Auditor Planning Considerations for the New Single Audit Rules.

The presenters, Diane Edelstein, Mandy Nelson, and Mary Foelster, did a great job in providing helpful information. I made a few summary notes that are presented below; the notes are not intended to be comprehensive. The GAQC archived the presentation on their website.

Single Audit under the Uniform Guidance

Applicability of Uniform Guidance

Here’s a summary of when the new guidance is applicable.

Type of EntityEffective Date
Federal AgenciesMust implement policies and procedures by issuing regulations to be effective December 26, 2014 (accomplished with the issuance of the Joint Interim Final Rule)
Non-federal EntitiesImplement the new administrative requirements and cost principles for all new Federal awards made after December 26, 2014, and to additional funding related to existing awards ("increments") made after that date
AuditorsAudit requirements are effective for fiscal years beginning on or after December 26, 2014 (early implementation not permitted)

Continue reading

deferred inflows and deferred outflows
Oct 24

GASB 63 and 65: Deferred Outflows, Inflows

By Charles Hall | Accounting , Local Governments

GASB 63 and 65 provide guidance regarding deferred outflows and inflows in governments. This article provides an overview of those standards.

  • Statement No. 63 – Financial Reporting of Deferred Outflows of Resources, Deferred Inflows of Resources, and Net Position
  • Statement No. 65 – Items Previously Reported as Assets and Liabilities

deferred inflows and deferred outflows

 

What are the effective dates for Statements 63 and 65?

  • GASBS 63 is effective for periods beginning after December 15, 2011; earlier application encouraged
  • GASBS 65 is effective for periods beginning after December 15, 2012; earlier application encouraged

It is best to implement GASBS 63 and 65 at the same time.

What is the purpose of these changes?

To put it succinctly, GASB is using one of its conceptual statements (specifically Concepts Statement 4) to make revisions to reporting requirements (to include deferred outflows and deferred inflows).

Prior to GASBS 63 and 65, debit balances were reported on the statement of net position (balance sheet) as assets; similarly, all non-equity credits were reported as liabilities. The new standards add deferred outflows and deferred inflows to the mix.

All debit balances in the statement of net position will be reported as:

  • Assets
  • Deferred Outflows

Assets represent present service capacity to the government; deferred outflows (e.g., prepaid bond insurance) represent the consumption of net position applicable to future reporting periods.

Liabilities represent amounts to be paid; however, some amounts previously reported as liabilities (e.g., deferred property taxes) involve no future payment. Consequently, with the implementation of GASB 63, all non-equity credits in the statement of net position will be reported as:

  • Liabilities
  • Deferred Inflows

The difference in liabilities and deferred inflows is primarily resources that are going out and resources that are coming in. Liabilities normally represent a future surrender of resources; deferred inflows do not.

What are the main points of GASB 63?

This statement distinguishes assets from deferred outflows of resources and liabilities from deferred inflows of resources.

Additionally, many of your financial statement titles (e.g., Statement of Net Position), categories (e.g., Assets and Deferred Outflows of Resources), and notes will change. Net Assets will now be labeled Net Position.

The five elements of the statement of net position are:

  1. Assets
  2. Deferred Outflows of Resources
  3. Liabilities
  4. Deferred Inflows of Resources
  5. Net Position

The three categories of net position are:

  1. Net Investment in Capital Assets
  2. Restricted
  3. Unrestricted

Note – The requirement to change to a statement of net position (rather than a statement of net assets) – a GASBS 63 change – occurs one year earlier than the requirements of GASBS 65; you are required to change the term net assets to net position even though you may not have any deferred outflows or inflows until GASBS 65 is implemented – possibly a year later. Again it is easier to simply implement both GASBS 63 and 65 at the same time (both can be early adopted).

What are the main points of GASB 65?

  • It identifies the specific items to be categorized as deferred inflows and deferred outflows.
  • It clarifies the effect of deferred inflows and deferred outflows on the major fund determination.
  • It limits the use of the term deferred in financial statements.

What are some examples of specific items to be categorized as deferred inflows and deferred outflows?

  • The gain or loss from current or advance refundings of debt (the gain or loss will no longer be netted with the related debt but will be shown separately as a deferred outflow or a deferred inflow)
  • Prepaid insurance related to the issuance of debt
  • Property taxes received or accrued prior to the period in which they will be used

How should debt issuance costs be treated?

Debt issuance costs should be expensed when incurred. GASB concluded that debt issuance costs do not relate to future periods, and, therefore, should be expensed.

If your government has debt issuance costs (recorded as assets), you will need to remove them as you implement these standards (using a prior period adjustment).

How should cash advances related to expenditure-driven grants be recorded?

Cash advances from expenditure-driven grants should be recorded as unearned revenue (a liability). The key eligibility requirement for an expenditure-driven grant is the use of funds (which does not occur until funds are spent). Any grant funds received prior to meeting eligibility requirements will be shown as a liability. It is improper to use the word deferred for this line item; for example, deferred revenue is not appropriate. The more appropriate title is unearned revenue.

How do these standards affect the determination of major funds?

Assets should be combined with deferred outflows of resources and liabilities should be combined with deferred inflows of resources for purposes of determining which elements meet the criteria for major fund determination.

1 35 36 37
>