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What Is Forensic Accounting?

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"Forensic" means related to the law or intended for use in court. Forensic accountants specialize in finding evidence of fraud or other wrongdoing in financial matters. Their employers include law firms, accounting services, financial institutions, government agencies, insurance companies and law enforcement agencies such as the FBI.

What They Do

Forensic accountants collect and analyze financial information for evidence of illegal activity, often in support of law enforcement agencies. Their duties include tracing money, examining documents and computer files, and preparing reports on what they find. They often assist prosecutors with strategic planning and help interview witnesses prior to a trial. They prepare evidence for court proceedings in both criminal and civil cases -- for example, in divorce cases. During trials, forensic accountants testify about their findings and appear as expert witnesses.

How to Qualify

The minimum qualification for forensic accounting jobs is a bachelor's degree in accounting, but most forensic accountants also have the Certified Public Accountant credential. The CPA requires 30 graduate semester hours of accounting classes and passing a four-part national exam. Many forensic accountants take additional classes in law or criminal justice. An experienced forensic accountant can also qualify for credentialing as a Certified Fraud Examiner by passing exams.

2016 Salary Information for Accountants and Auditors

Accountants and auditors earned a median annual salary of $68,150 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, accountants and auditors earned a 25th percentile salary of $53,240, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $90,670, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 1,397,700 people were employed in the U.S. as accountants and auditors.