[Welcome to another edition of our Side Hustle Series! Up today, Keith Schroeder from The Wealthy Accountant who teaches us how to make some extra money today as a forensic accountant. A smart and fun dude, who currently holds the #1 slot in our Blogger Net Worth Tracker at over $12 Million. Whip out a notepad and get ready to take notes!]
A man walks into a bar…
It sounds like the beginning of a sleazy joke. But wait!
A man walks into a bar… and before he orders his first drink, he already knows the owners are experiencing six figures of embezzlement by their manager.
The joke isn’t so funny anymore, is it?
Before I spanked a period on the page I managed to say I have near magical powers in determining malfeasance in a business before anyone said a word. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. And you will have that proof before this article is finished.
A Side Gig Where It’s Legal to Stalk
People are retiring earlier than ever while more people work later in life. All this is due to the side gig. Everybody wants one: A side business that doesn’t take too much time, create stress and still pays well.
Enter forensic accounting.
Accountants are lucky. We hear things only the local priest, lawyer and doctor hear, except more often. People may lie to their priest if they decide to attend confession; doctors only hear the embarrassing medical issues; lawyers the legal stuff.
But accountants. We hear it all. People see their accountant more frequently and ask advice on every subject, as if accountants know more about parenting than normal mortals.
How I Got Started
It was an accident that I learned about forensic accounting at all. A long-time client had a family member pass away—an uncle of my client if memory serves. The family hired a high-priced forensic accountant to find all the hidden money uncle buried around the planet.
In six months the forensic accountant managed to find around $280,000. My client knew his uncle had more than that. A lot more.
As my client told the story I casually asked if the accountant pulled an IRS transcript. The look on his face was all the answer I needed. The family signed a Power of Attorney and I went to work. The IRS transcript shows all the income reported to the IRS.
This one step uncovered another $300,000, more than the other accountant found in six months. Not bad for ten minutes of work.
It was time to get serious. A simple IRS transcript doesn’t show everything. When I find that much previously unknown information on a transcript I know there is more to expose. A lot more.
LexisNexis is the world’s most power information database I know of. They know things about you you don’t know about yourself. A Lexis search enlightened my client to several hundred thousand dollars more, including money in an Irish bank.
Once I got a taste for forensic accounting I expanded my business to include searching for lost money and examination of business accounts.
Back To The Bar Joke….
The bar scene to open this article is a real story from my office. Several clients purchased a bar with a banquet hall near my office and handled the accounting and payroll internally the first few years.
One of the owners works close with me in other business dealings and asked me to review the financials of the bar. In ten minutes I was suspicious. Something was off. The cost of goods sold compared to revenues compared to waitress wages and tips didn’t fall within expected parameters.
I started asking questions. I wanted to know who handled the money and where cameras were in the building. I wanted to know if anyone was ever alone with cash.
The manager was a good friend of the owners. This is always a bad sign.
In embezzlement cases it’s frequently the best employee, family member or good friend who is robbing the owner blind.
The manager was the only one who handled the money alone at night after closing. Cameras covered the whole building, including the office, except for a ten foot area between the office and safe.
There was only one last course of action. It was time for me to pay the establishment a visit. I asked my client to inform the manager and staff that I was the new accountant and when I would be arriving. There was a reason for this.
On the fateful day I strolled in the front door and before I reached the bar I already knew the manager was guilty, where the money was being diverted, approximately how much of it, and that the employees knew something was up.
How could I know this? The employees knew I was coming and were nervous, giving me the cold shoulder and trying to avoid me. There is no reason for this response to an accountant’s visit unless something was up.
The camera blackout between office and safe was the place the crime happened and only the trusted manager handled money alone, never taking a day off work.
Further digging led me to believe somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000 had been diverted. It would later prove the manager embezzled over $300,000!
My clients were in denial. It took months of research to prove my point while money kept walking out the door. Finally the bloodletting was brought to an end. The owners never prosecuted for fear it would tarnish their name. It also means I can’t name names if I want to avoid a lawsuit. You’ll just have to take my word. *Ahem*
How Much Money Can You Make With Forensic Accounting?
Before we talk income possibilities, know that there are different types of forensic accounting. Finding embezzlement requires some understanding of accounting principles. Without an accounting background you will need to confine your forensic gig to uncovering lost investments and bank accounts.
If you like the idea of finding lost money (who doesn’t?), you can earn $300 per hour or more. Some sleuths charge a percentage of funds uncovered. However, if the amount is small you don’t make much and if the amount is large the client balks.
In my office I charge by the hour, plus expenses. A retainer is required. A typical search can bring a few thousand dollars to over $10,000 of income to the forensic accountant.
Limiting your side gig to money searches can alone yield a $5,000 monthly income working five hours per week. If you expand to business forensic accounting the fees can double or triple, but require special knowledge, training and experience.
Learning to Search
If you know only two ways to search for lost money you will find more than 90% of what the so-called professionals do: The IRS transcript, and LexisNexis.
Both reports give you all you need, except in the rarest of cases.
To pull an IRS transcript you need an IRS Power of Attorney. The client signs Form 2848 giving you the right to discuss the client’s account with the IRS and access information the IRS has on the taxpayer. The discussion goes as follows: “Give me the darn transcript!” That’s it. There is no more to discuss.
There are several types of transcripts. You want the Wage and Income Transcript. If you want a copy of the return filed there is a fee involved, but it’s not really needed. The Wage and Income Transcript shows all the information returns the IRS received on your client’s account for the year/s in question. Get the last three year’s transcripts to assure as many accounts as possible are revealed.
The next part is more difficult. LexisNexis is a treasure trove of information. However, Lexis is difficult to decipher and you need to be approved for an account before you can access information. Each inquiry also involves a fee whether you find something or not.
There is an easier way to get a Lexis report. Find a collection agency that is willing to help you. Ask to speak with their ace collector. They are masters at finding the money, except this time they are not chasing a debtor for once.
The collection agency will pass the Lexis fee on to you with a nominal profit tacked on. The ace collector will want something for her time. It’s worth it. They know how to read and interpret a Lexis report. The reports can be long and complicated.
With an IRS transcript in one hand and a superstar collector with a Lexis report in the other, you are armed to the teeth in your quest to find the gold for your client.
You just earned your $3,000 fee.
Forensic accounting is an awesome side gig with plenty of income potential. But how do you get clients if you don’t have an accounting firm with plenty of clients already built in?
Speak with other accountants and estate attorneys. You’ll land a few leads a year if you work it hard.
Speaking to the local apartment association will also bring more clients than you can handle alone. You can use the knowledge provided above to help landlords collect delinquent rent awarded them in court. Most landlords are happy the tenant is out and the bleeding has stopped. However, you will have a bright shiny halo around your head when you tell landlords you’ll work their judgments against past tenants for a 50/50 split! You can’t pull an IRS transcript without permission, but a Lexis report will load your bazooka.
Another place to find clients is church. You heard me right: church. Between Sunday services offer to speak to the congregation about finding all the accounts of a loved one who has passed. Your speech can basically be this blog post.
Dave Ramsey built a personal finance empire by co-opting with churches. Before the minister or priest even says yes to your offer, they will probably have a few cases for you to work immediately.
Once you help a few clients find some serious money, others will start coming to you. Word spread fast when somebody knows how to find the gold.
If you want to find the most money (and get paid the most), you want to read the article on my blog and several books on the subject. Here is the one to start with:
Forensic Accounting for Dummies — This is the lowest cost basic education on the subject you can get, and also a good place to start if you are new to the game.
For more in-depth reading on the subject, I recommend the following (they cost more, but are high quality and worth it if you’re serious about going down this path):
- Forensic Analytics: Methods and Techniques for Forensic Accounting Investigations
- Forensic Accounting and Fraud Examination
- Forensic Accounting and Fraud Investigations for Non-Experts
Keith Schroeder writes The Wealthy Accountant blog, is really rich (like the President) and enjoys helping his clients in his accounting practice of over 30 years. He lives in the backwoods of NE Wisconsin with his wife, Mrs. Accountant (how lucky can an accountant get than to find a life mate with a last name of Accountant!), two daughters, a cat named Pinky and a herd of chickens. When he isn’t punching buttons on his laptop he has his nose buried deep in a book.
This is part of our Side Hustle Series. Here are some others you might like as well:
- Patent Researcher ($100-$1,000+/contest)
- Mechanical Turk Worker ($150-300/week)
- Trash Picker-Upper ($30-$50/hr)
- Mystery Shopper ($200-$500/mo)
- Frozen Meal Maker ($10/meal profit)
- Christmas Tree Stand Operator! ($7,500/season (5 weeks))