January 9, 2013

The top ten words for fraud


The language of corporate fraud turns out to be surprisingly universal.

According to Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing, the top ten words in email conversations that indicate corporate fraud is taking place are,

  1. Cover up
  2. Write off
  3. Illegal
  4. Failed investment
  5. Nobody will find out
  6. Grey area
  7. They owe it to me
  8. Do not volunteer information
  9. Not ethical
  10. Off the books

Yup, “nobody will find out” is a sure indicator. Antony Savvas at Computerworld UK writes that the software that uses these top ten search words, developed by the FBI and Ernst & Young, trawl through emails that are in the “fraud triangle, where pressure, rationalisation, and opportunity meet”.

Says Savvas,

“The analytics software also scans for “out of band” events such as “call my mobile” or “come by my office”, suggesting the individual does not want to be overheard …The software can also flag uncharacteristic changes in tone and language in conversations, and has been tailored for specific sectors, particularly traders.”

Rashmi Joshi, director of Ernst & Young’s fraud investigation and disputes services, said that “[f]irms are increasingly seeking to proactively search for specific trends and red flags.” In other words, working at a financial firm may now be an indirect form of consent to having your emails preemptively read by company lawyers. Not surprising, given the FBI have been given the ok by Congress to read almost any citizens’ email.

Still, the FBI/Ernst & Young list is nothing compared to the frat boy language of financial fraud on a global scale, which was recounted by Christian Lorentzen in his article about the Libor fixing scandal, “Anything for the Libor Boys”, in the current issue of The Baffler.

I’d argue that “dude” and “Bollinger” should be added to these flag words for Libor-esque antics, as in, “Dude. I owe you big time! Come over one day after work and I’m opening a bottle of Bollinger.”


Ariel Bogle is a publicist at Melville House.