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'Want to Know the Profile of a Fraudster? Look in the Mirror.'

Accounting Professor Kelly Richmond Pope Publishes Book on her Experiences Researching Fraud

​​​​​Accountancy Professor and author Kelly Richmond Pope with her book,
DePaul Accountancy Professor Kelly Richmond Pope, a nationally known expert on fraud, has published a new book on the subject.

Professor and forensic accounting expert Kelly Richmond Pope of DePaul's School of Accountancy & MIS has spent the last 20 years researching fraud and white-collar crime.  Now she has written a book about it. Her first solo-authored book, “Fool Me Once: Stories, Scams, and Secrets from the Trillion-Dollar Fraud Industry" was published this month by Harvard Business Review Press. The book is part fraud analysis, part memoir and part accounting, detailing Pope's extensive research into what makes fraudsters, their victims and whistleblowers tick. 

Author is only the latest title in her list of accomplishments. Pope also is an innovative educator and filmmaker. She is the creator of a game-based e-learning platform called Red Flag Mania, which she uses to advance student learning in forensic and investigative accounting, and a filmmaker who produced two documentaries on fraud—“Crossing the Line: Ordinary People Committing Extraordinary Crime" and “All the Queen's Horses." Pope has taught at DePaul for 16 years and in 2022, she was appointed the Dr. Barry Jay Epstein Professor in the School of Accountancy & MIS at DePaul's Driehaus College of Business.

In this Q&A, Pope discusses her new book and what she hopes readers—with and without an accounting background—will learn from it.   

Tell us about your book.

“Fool Me Once" is a personal and professional book at the same time. It's based on my experiences interviewing white collar felons, whistleblowers and victims of fraud over the years and why I've had the different types of emotions around the various cases. When I would do on-camera interviews with white-collar felons, sometimes I would have empathy towards them, while other times I would be angered by their comments. I wanted to explore my feelings better. The book is story-driven and character-driven and also inspired by my documentary, “All the Queen's Horses" (about a $53-million municipal fraud perpetrated in Dixon, Ill.). The book introduces a fraud archetype framework that can help us analyze fraud cases.

Why does the subject of fraud interest you?

Because anyone can be victimized by fraud, commit fraud or report fraud. No one is immune. I've seen so much over the past 20 years and wanted to offer something from the research that people can use. I wanted to provide a framework that could be used universally.

Can you tell us more about this framework?

There are different types of perpetrators, whistleblowers and prey, as I call them.  ​​You can either be an accidental, intentional or righteous perpetrator. Rita Crundwell in “All the Queen's Horses" was an intentional perpetrator, somebody who sets out to do fraud. But professionally speaking, it's the accidental and righteous perpetrators that I think working people tend to fall victim to. An accidental perpetrator is someone who is just following the boss's orders; they may make an entry or do something without reading it or fully understanding it, and they do it because they trust the person they report to. And that can still land you in jail.

Righteous perpetrators are similar to accidental ones in that they don't steal for personal gain but they tend to steal to help somebody. For example, I'm trying to help my friend's business and I'm a senior leader at a bank, so I can just massage the loan requirements to help them get this loan.

Understanding these types of perpetrators through the years has really impacted my emotions. I can empathize with the accidental and righteous perpetrators and, yes, even though these people still go to jail, understanding their reasoning is really important.

On the whistleblower side, you can be accidental, noble or a vigilante. In “All the Queen's Horses," (City Clerk) Kathe Swanson was an accidental whistleblower. She didn't mean to do it – she was just doing her job. 

The noble whistleblowers are the people who are asked to turn a blind eye and not report wrong-doing when they see it, and the vigilantes are the ones who say something if they see something, even if it doesn't affect them. They truly believe in justice and speak up no matter what.

In my book I argue that you need all three of these categories of whistleblowers in your organization because they all have a role to play and all respond differently. So, that's really the basis of what the book is about. Why this whole framework is important to know.

Does ethics play a role in fraud?

Ethics can play a role, but I think corporate culture plays a much bigger role. Some of these people that I've interviewed are the nicest people you can ever meet, but the corporate culture can sometimes be more powerful than someone's personal ethics.

What do you hope this book accomplishes?

I want to open people's eyes to the fact that anyone can be a perpetrator, whistleblower or prey. ​Want to know the profile of a fraudster? Look in the mirror. The profile of a whistleblower? Look in the mirror. Prey? Look in the mirror. This can happen to any one of us, so the more aware you are of your own weaknesses, the more likely you can protect yourself from falling victim to it.

When I wrote the book, I wanted to make sure people could see themselves in each of these categories. My hope is that by humanizing fraud, I can make it more relatable and approachable for people to understand. In fact, I also created a virtual game (Fool Me Once Fraud Experience), which is available at the end of the book, that people can play to see what type of perpetrator or whistleblower they might be if they were to become one.

Kelly Richmond Pope will discuss her book, "Fool Me Once: Stories, Scams, and Secrets from the Trillion-Dollar Fraud Industry" at 6 p.m., May 4, in Room 8206 of the DePaul Center, 1 E. Jackson Blvd., as part of the Economics and Strategy Talk series organized by DePaul's MBA in Business Strategy and Decision-Making program.​

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