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ISU students learn about forensic accounting

Friday, December 16, 2005

TERRE HAUTE - Nearly half of the state's Internal Revenue Service criminal investigation special agents visited accounting students on the campus of Indiana State University to offer an up-close look at forensic accounting and possible future careers as criminal investigators.

Students from Indiana State Professor Tom Harris' fraud, tax and auditing classes attended what's known as the Adrian Project, an event which uses real-world fraud cases to show how forensic accounting investigations work. The day-long event on Dec. 9 allowed ISU students to put their accounting and criminal investigation skills to the test.

The IRS' Detroit field office developed this hands-on project about five years ago as a recruitment tool, said Jack Massey, a special agent for the IRS Criminal Investigation Division. Adrian College (Mich.) was the first to host the event at that time. As a result, the agents adopted "Adrian" as the project's formal name.

Indiana State University is the first institution or organization in Indiana ever to host the event.

"Indiana State was essentially our Adrian College in the sense that they said, 'Yes, come here, and let our students see what an IRS criminal investigator does.'"

Tom Harris, an assistant professor of accounting at Indiana State, helped bring the Adrian Project to ISU. He said the event tied in well with the fraud classes the university now offers and with the forensic accounting minor that he and his colleagues are developing.

"I certainly have not been disappointed (with IRS agents' instruction)," Harris said. "It's been a great experience for our students."

Massey adds that the program is mutually beneficial to the students and IRS alike.

"It allows the students to get a taste of a career opportunity that they may not know about - the IRS criminal investigator," he said. "Also, if they're choosing a path in accounting that's not with the IRS, it will open their eyes up to things they need to be aware of and look for should they work for an accounting firm."

Participants were separated into seven groups, and each group was assigned a unique fraud case to crack. One or two IRS special agents instructed each group, teaching them the tricks of the trade as they worked to investigate the incidents and uncover wrongdoing.

"We have seven different scenarios," Massey said. "Everything from a drug dealer to an embezzler, to a business that's skimming receipts, to what we used to call a tax protestor."

The students spent the day solving the case and presented the information at the end of the session.

"The Adrian Project is important to students because forensic accounting is one of the hottest things going on right now," Massey said. "It's going to be the accounting students who will wind up working for these firms, and they're going to be the front line in seeing the fraud, and seeing these books and records prepared."

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