What Is Corporate Fraud?

Romano Law


Romano Law
Corporate fraud encompasses a range of illegal activities committed by individuals or companies with the aim of gaining an unfair advantage.
United States Criminal Law
To print this article, all you need is to be registered or login on Mondaq.com.

White-collar crimes include a range of non-violent offenses occurring in business environments, typically driven by financial motives and often involving fraud and theft. Corporate fraud is a type of white-collar crime that can take various forms, from small-scale schemes like cash skimming to large-scale scandals which have significant economic repercussions.

Given the severe penalties associated with these crimes, including hefty fines and potential imprisonment, it is imperative to have a comprehensive understanding of both federal and state laws governing business conduct.

What Is Corporate Fraud?

Corporate fraud encompasses a range of illegal activities committed by individuals or companies with the aim of gaining an unfair advantage. These acts can include payroll fraud, tax fraud, and accounting fraud, among others. In some cases, companies falsify accounting records to make themselves appear more attractive to investors or purchasers, while in others, false claims are made about products or services to boost sales. Additionally, businesses can make fraudulent claims about the allocation of funds for investments or reserves meant to deceive stakeholders.

Marked by its complexity and economic impact, corporate fraud often involves the misuse of confidential information or sensitive assets for personal gain. Despite efforts to prevent and detect fraud, its clandestine nature and coordinated involvement of multiple parties make it a persistent challenge for law enforcement and regulatory authorities.

The victims of corporate fraud are typically clients or consumers, creditors, investors, and eventually, the company itself and its employees. When the fraud is finally revealed, the company involved in the fraud is often left in ruins and forced to declare bankruptcy.

Types Of Corporate Fraud

The deceptive activities associated with corporate fraud can manifest in various forms, each with its own methods and consequences:

  • Financial Fraud: Manipulating financial records to conceal embezzlement or other illegal actions, such as altering accounts payable or receivables through methods like multiple check payments, lapping, false sales, and skimming.
  • Asset Theft: Misappropriating business assets or stealing merchandise for personal gain, often involving adjustments to accounts or tampering with checks and invoices to exaggerate spending and procurements.
  • Corruption and Bribery: Soliciting bribes from external parties in exchange for services or using shell companies to divert company finances and assets, damaging the company's reputation and integrity.
  • Fraudulent Vendors: Colluding with suppliers to engage in overbilling, bribery, and price manipulation, impacting the company's bottom line and procurement processes.
  • Tax Fraud Against Small Businesses: Underreporting cash transactions to evade tax obligations, sometimes involving the maintenance of two sets of books or falsely reporting losses and expenses.
  • Wage and Salary Fraud: Manipulating timesheets and engaging in fictitious employee schemes, undermining the integrity of payroll systems and financial records.

Implementing robust internal controls, conducting regular audits, promoting transparency, and providing anti-fraud training are essential steps in mitigating the risks associated with corporate fraud and safeguarding the interests of businesses and their stakeholders.


Corporate fraud is prosecuted through a collaborative effort involving various governmental agencies, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) playing a central role due to the complexity and severity of these crimes. Partnering with agencies like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the US Postal Inspection Service, and the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), the FBI focuses on detecting and preventing corporate fraud in key areas such as tax violations, personal gain through misuse of assets, insider trading, accounting falsification, and obstruction of justice.

These forms of fraud carry severe penalties that vary depending on the nature of the offense. Moreover, fraud related to taxes, securities, commodities, accounting, larceny, and embezzlement are vigorously prosecuted. Attempting to deceive the government can result in prosecution under the False Claims Act. Charges of wire or postal fraud may also apply, with maximum sentences of up to twenty or thirty years, particularly if financial institutions are involved. Beyond imprisonment, fines can amount to millions of dollars, and assets may be seized through criminal or civil forfeiture. Additionally, individuals may face restitution charges. For instance, former Cendant CEO Walter Forbes was ordered to pay $3.28 billion in restitution for inflating reported incomes. With the potential for hefty fines, lengthy prison sentences, and asset seizures, the consequences of corporate fraud convictions are substantial and underscore the importance of compliance with legal and ethical standards in business practices.

Defending A Corporate Fraud Claim

Strategy and diligence are key when defending against allegations of corporate fraud. Timely compliance with deadlines, whether related to a complaint or subpoena, is key. Otherwise, a defendant risks severe consequences, including a waiver of defenses or default judgment. Additionally, the defending party can often respond to fraud allegations, which require a heightened pleading standard, by challenging the sufficiency of the plaintiff's claim. Standard defenses include a lack of knowledge regarding the falsehood of representations or attribute any misrepresentations to the corporation's directors rather than themselves.

It's crucial for the defending party to present a robust defense. It is best to seek an experienced attorney to assist in disproving elements of corporate fraud and demonstrating adherence to legal standards, to safeguard your business' interests and reputation in the legal proceedings.

To mitigate the risk of corporate fraud, business owners can implement measures such as outsourcing payroll, minimizing cash transactions, establishing internal checks and balances, conducting routine audits, and fostering strong relationships with staff.

What Are Some Examples Of Corporate Fraud?

Corporate fraud takes on many forms, each with its own set of perpetrators, victims, and consequences. Some examples in recent history include:

  • FTX: Accused by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of diverting company funds for personal gain, FTX's majority owner, Sam Bankman-Fried, allegedly used investor money to purchase luxury homes, invest in other ventures, and support political causes. When the cryptocurrency market plummeted in 2022, FTX faced federal fraud charges and bankruptcy.
  • Theranos: Once lauded as a groundbreaking healthcare technology company, Theranos collapsed in 2018 after revelations of unviable technology. Founder Elizabeth Holmes and former president Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani were convicted of fraud in 2022, leaving investors with substantial losses.

Beyond these high-profile cases, corporate fraud permeates businesses of all sizes, with smaller companies often lacking robust risk management and oversight. From Enron's infamous collapse due to accounting manipulation to the Salomon Brothers' fraudulent treasury bids, the history of corporate fraud is rife with cautionary tales of greed, deception, and the devastating consequences for investors, employees, and stakeholders alike.


Corporate fraud poses significant challenges to businesses, stakeholders, and regulatory authorities. Implementing vigorous internal controls, conducting regular audits, promoting transparency, and providing anti-fraud training are essential steps in mitigating the risks associated with corporate fraud.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

See More Popular Content From

Mondaq uses cookies on this website. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies as set out in our Privacy Policy.

Learn More