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Book Review: Fool Me Once: Scams, Stories, and Secrets from the Trillion-Dollar Fraud Industry

Fool Me Once: Scams, Stories, and Secrets from the Trillion-Dollar Fraud Industry. By Kelly Richmond Pope. Harvard Business Review Press;; 288 pages; $30 (softcover). 

0723-book-review-Fool-Me-Once.jpgFormer National Football League (NFL) commissioner Bert Bell once astutely observed that “On any given Sunday, any team in the NFL can beat any other team.” With some license, it can also be observed that “On any given day, any person—no matter how smart or savvy they are—can be scammed.”  

That is the point Dr. Kelly Richmond Pope, professor of forensic accounting at DePaul University, makes inFool Me Once: Scams, Stories, and Secrets from the Trillion-Dollar Fraud Industry. Where there’s money, there will be the potential for fraud. And with the desire for quick riches and an abundance of money, fraud is pervasive. And worldwide, it costs citizens, businesses, and governments trillions of dollars.  

Rather than just rehash news reports about the latest fraud or Ponzi scheme, the book digs deep to understand why these crimes occur, who does them, and how people and businesses can avoid being yet another victim. The author writes that victims of these frauds are often thought to be naïve or gullible. That might be true in some cases, but it’s far from the rule.  

Fraud whistleblowers play a prominent role in the book. Pope writes that whistleblowers are heroes, not rats or snitches, and she gives a variety of examples.  

The book starts with an overview of the Rita Crundwell fraud case. Crundwell was the comptroller and treasurer for the city of Dixon, Illinois. She was terminated in April 2012 when it was discovered that she had embezzled more than $50 million from the city for decades. Much of it went to her horse breeding businesses and to support her lavish lifestyle.  

Crundwell’s fraud was only discovered when she was on vacation, and city employee Kathe Swanson uncovered her nefarious activities. After a lengthy FBI investigation, instigated by Swanson’s whistleblowing claim, Crundwell was arrested. 

After providing countless stories about fraud, Pope notes that one thing to remember is that fraud schemes don’t really change. What has significantly changed over the years is who is engaging in fraud. No longer are the fraudsters all players, con artists, and career criminals, but instead they are employees and others who you often think are the people least to be suspected. 

The new breed of white-collar fraudsters is the reason why implementing proper internal controls and teaching ethics training to all employees on a recurrent basis is so critical. 

After reading this engaging book, you may no longer want to trust anyone. But the good news is that only a small subset of employees ends up going rogue. And for those types of employees, the book gives the reader what they need to know to understand how these frauds operate and what they need to do to avoid becoming victims. 


Reviewer: Ben Rothke, CISSP, CISM, CISA, is a New York City-based senior information security manager with Tapad, and he has more than 20 years of industry experience in information systems security and privacy. His areas of expertise are in risk management and mitigation, security and privacy regulatory issues, design and implementation of systems security, encryption, cryptography, and security policy development. He wrote Computer Security—20 Things Every Employee Should Know.