Fraud is a human problem
Fraud looks like a lot of different things. Stuff for sale online that doesn't really exist, the "IRS" calling you to collect a debt you don't owe, employees padding expense reports, vendors over-billing, cybercrime, identity theft, bribery and corruption. It happens online, over the phone, in-person, and through the mail. This week it even happened at RiotRibs, the pop-up protest kitchen that was feeding the revolution until one of their volunteers created a cashApp handle similar to the official RiotRibs handle and started taking donations.
Fraud is everywhere, so as a society we have created many fraud prevention tools. Financial institutions employ machine learning, data analytics, and artificial intelligence to detect and deter fraud. Companies install network firewalls and send reminders to employees about not clicking on suspicious emails. People install virus protection software and try not to lose their credit cards or send money to foreign royalty.
It seems like we are better prepared than ever, and we are. Despite that, the Identity Theft Resource Center received 20,677 phone calls on their toll-free line and assisted in 10,149 unique cases in 2019. As individuals and institutions become more aware of fraud and more adept at spotting it, fraudsters get more savvy in the schemes they run and the tools they use, finding new and more creative ways to separate other humans (and institutions) from their money.
Fraud is a human problem. It requires a human solution. It’s not enough to put up thicker walls and install bigger locks. Like so many societal ailments, we have to address the root causes of fraud before we will be able to make real and lasting progress toward reducing its overall occurrence.
In the anti-fraud industry, we often frame the discussion about why fraud occurs in the context of the fraud triangle. One side of the triangle is opportunity, one side is financial pressure, and one side is rationalization. When there is opportunity to steal cash or misuse organizational assets, and someone feels financial pressure, if they can rationalize taking the money that is the moment when fraud is most likely.
Most of the common fraud-prevention controls focus on eliminating opportunity. Such as requiring two signatures on checks over a certain dollar amount and manager approval of time sheets or travel expense reimbursements. Opportunity receives the most attention because it is the most concrete and quantifiable. Also, controls for opportunity focus on systems and process, so they can be applied in a uniform and impersonal way to any employee or any vendor.
The other two sides of the triangle are a lot more personal and nebulous. Indicators of financial pressure include: lifestyle above means, significant medical expenses, drug or gambling addiction, family issues or domestic violence. Rationalization includes: feeling underpaid, under-appreciated, or un-noticed, thinking the fraud is a temporary fix or they will do it just this once. These are more challenging for any organization to mitigate because they cannot be remedied by things like rules or procedures alone. The resolution for these factors must consider the thoughts and feelings driving behavior. It must consider the humans within the system.
Even when a systemic control is put in place, it still requires people to execute it. The second signer still needs to review the check amount and verify the recipient. The manager still needs to scrutinize the hours claimed on timesheets and review receipts before approving reimbursement. The controls are only as effective as the people are diligent in carrying them out.
There is no escaping the human component in fraud. The typical occupational fraud lasts 14 months before detection (according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners 2020 Report to the Nations), and most cases are discovered by accident or through a tip. Many fraud schemes rely at least in-part on social engineering, either to execute the scheme itself or as a means to cover it up.
Fraudsters have figured out that fraud is about humans, so fraud prevention needs to be equally human. One human-centered area that gets a fair bit of focus already is tone at the top. This is that the actions and behaviors modeled by those at the top of an organization filters down and are adopted by the rank and file. There is currently a lot of emphasis on having a strong ethical corporate culture, including clear ethics policies and regular training.
What leaders are doing matters immensely. And that can't be the end of the conversation. We need to go much deeper and consider how each of us as individuals are shaping the environment around us. Part of establishing a strong ethical culture is cultivating an environment that encourages people to speak up and ask questions, especially when something doesn’t feel quite right. We need to practice recognizing our gut reaction as the alert system it was designed to be, and invest the time to learn how to interpret what our body is telling us.
In most cases, people noticed red flags long before a fraud is discovered because those behaviors are outside what is usual for the environment. Unfortunately, many red flags of fraud can also be indicators of incompetence or training deficiency, and because people like to feel capable and be seen as competent, coworkers or community members don't raise their concerns to avoid embarrassing their friend, coworker, or boss.
To overcome this, we need to reshape the culture we create in our workplaces and community organizations. We need to cultivate an environment where folks can raise concerns or questions without it being interpreted as a question of someone's worth as a human being. This takes leadership setting a deliberate tone from the top, as well as every person doing their own personal work. When we are all showing up as our fullest selves, we can see everyone around us more clearly. When we can see each other and the culture of our environment more clearly, we can address the human causes of fraud.
Information and Inspiration
Unplugged from the Matrix
I used to believe that all the social and political strife in America would be resolved if people just sat down and talked with each other. If humans just talked to other humans, they would find the reasonable person hiding underneath the rhetoric. If humans just listened to other humans, they could come together to meet the human needs underneath passionate political demands.
About eight years ago I was on a business trip, staying in a hotel where other business people frequently stayed. The hotel offered a complimentary happy hour, so after work I joined dozens of other folks in the lobby lounge to sip wine and snack on the cheese and vegetable platers. Conversation flowed at every table, covering all the usual networking small-talk topics.
I happened to sit at a table with three people from Brazil and one other American. We chatted amicably about our industries, careers, and kids. As the event began to wind down, staff collected empty glasses from empty tables, and turned the TVs on to news and sports. Treyvon Martin had recently been shot to death by George Zimmerman and it was the top story on every channel.
The folks from Brazil asked why there was such a controversy since the police seemed to know exactly who shot the victim. I explained that the point of controversy was actually a law that would allow Zimmerman to face no consequences for killing Martin as long as he believed in that moment that his life was in imminent danger. That law didn’t make any sense to them. It didn’t make any sense to me either.
The other American at our table tried to explain it. Unfortunately, he tried to explain in a way that omitted the relevant context of racism in America. He tried so hard that he ultimately turned red in the face and left in a huff. That also didn’t make any sense to the Brazilians, although his expression of passion made perfect sense to me.
I thought we could sit at the table and talk to each other and that our reasonable sides would just come out. I thought we could talk ourselves into recognition of the human needs underneath passionate political posturing. But I hadn't yet realized we could not do that without acknowledging the racist context for George Zimmerman’s reaction to the circumstances that day he looked at a black teenager and saw a dangerous criminal.
Much of my process the last few months has been learning the context for why things are the way they are in America. As soon as I began to pull at one strand of the façade holding my comfortable life together, I saw all the other frayed edges. So I started to pull on those strings too, and pretty soon the whole tapestry of white supremacy and other superiority games was unravelling. Now I see more clearly the totality of the system keeping itself running in the background of all our lives.
Now it feels like I have been unplugged from the Matrix. I took the red pill. I can’t go back to sleep and I don’t want to. I want to see the truth of what our world is and how we got here. I also see that some folks are still completely plugged-in, either because they don’t realize they have a choice or because they chose the blue pill and the comfort of their ignorance.
Recently, I found myself in a part of Facebook I have never seen before. A friend of mine shared a post by a friend of theirs without adding commentary or explanation. The shared post made absolutely no sense on its face. I could tell it was making a point, but it was fully unclear to me exactly what that point was.
I clicked on the post, which led me to the wall of the friend of my friend. I clicked on the original story, which led me to a conservative news media site I had never heard of. I read the story, full of inflammatory conjecture, and returned to the wall of the friend of my friend. As I scrolled through their feed, I began to put together a picture of this person’s belief structure. The principles on which their opinions were founded began to take shape before me.
Absolutely all of their pronouncements, all the posts they shared, and all the memes they passionately presented, were utterly lacking in consideration of context. Consequently, the conclusions these posts were steadfastly drawing made no sense at all. This is an ineffective method of interacting with information if what you want is a complete understanding, and it is very effective if what you're after is surface-level confirmation of conclusions drawn out of context.
Unfortunately, I have watched this disregard for context and propensity toward oversimplification increase in popularity in the wake of the last presidential election. As the presence of Federal troops sent to Portland on the President's orders stretches into its fourth week, the false narrative that violent anarchists are attacking the city continues to maintain a foothold. Despite the many very clear videos available every day showing exactly what occurs at these protests, some people continue to see only a perverse fantasy version of what’s actually happening.
I want to say that I cannot fathom how someone can watch the same videos I am seeing and still buy-in to a totally false narrative. The same videos with all the lead-up of peaceful assembly, and the very clear moment where local police or federal agents (or both) attack protestors apropos of nothing. The same videos of Federal troops collecting people into unmarked vans without identifying themselves. But I understand exactly what is happening. These people are ignoring all the context and have already decided what they are going to see before they even begin to watch.
So how do I reach those people? I used to think changing hearts and minds was the way to create better policies. But the more fully I uncover the context of this moment we are living in, the more I understand we have to change policy first. Then the hearts and minds will be able to follow. We have to create a new context to enable a different future. Then even the people who swallow the blue pill will at least be operating in a different Matrix.
Information and Inspiration
When you can't get divorced
Recently I walked by two people on the sidewalk having a conversation. These two humans happened to be black folks and they were talking about white folks. As I passed, I heard one ask the other “why can’t they just do the work? What is so hard about just doing the work?!” The exhaustion and frustration in that human’s voice reminded me of why I got divorced. I was doing all the emotional labor in that relationship and I didn’t want to do it anymore.
My husband struggled with the scars of a traumatic childhood. That trauma colored his every thought and action, and it shaded his entire existence. I was adept at dealing with that particular expression of trauma because it was familiar to me from my growing-up experience. In the beginning of our relationship, when I coached him through dealing with his feelings, he was grateful. He saw me as a supportive ally in his quest for healing.
But I did not have any boundaries. Any time he was triggered, I dropped everything to hold his hand and walk him back down from emotional upset to a more stable state of being. After years of relating this way without ever talking about how we were relating, we had established a very clear (and unhealthy) relationship contract.
Then I had a weird health thing come up. The doctors said it might be cancer and they needed to run some tests. Suddenly I was the one who needed emotional support. I was scared and no one could tell me what was happening with my body. My husband was scared too. His wife might have cancer and the doctors had no idea what was happening to her body. But in our relationship I was the one responsible for all the emotional labor, so my husband needed me to coach him through his fear and anxiety about my condition. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have the energy to be there for myself and also for him.
So in his fear and in his sadness, my husband pushed me away. Eventually my tests came back negative, and after a few months the doctors figured out what was really going on and I got better. But my husband had spent months blaming me for his fear and anxiety. By the time my health was no longer in question, he had come to associate me with his uncontrollable emotions. I was no longer the helpful ally in a battle against those bad feelings, I was the cause of all the doom and gloom.
I tried for years to get through to my husband that I was not his enemy. I did all the things he wanted me to. He blamed me anyway. We went to counseling. He blamed me anyway. I even tried not doing all the emotional labor in our relationship. He blamed me anyway. He just couldn’t see that he was the maker of his own reality, so he lashed out at me for causing him so much distress. In the end he was so mean to me that I stopped loving him.
So I left and we got a divorce.
But what happens when you can't get a divorce? What happens when you can't leave a toxic relationship because it makes up the majority of the societal structure in your country and much of the world? In my marriage there were two major problems: one was that I was doing all the emotional labor, and the other was that my husband didn't see that his own behavior was perpetuating the unhealthy dynamic in our relationship.
I see both issues playing out in a similar way in greater society. For generations, humans of color (and especially black folks) have been doing the emotional labor for white people. They have been blamed for their own enslavement, blamed for their lack of access to opportunity for economic prosperity, blamed for their underrepresentation in positions of power, and blamed for their overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.
Even during this most recent Great White Awakening, many white folks did not exercise initiative to seek out resources to educate themselves. Instead they asked black folks, despite living in a society built on white norms and designed to meet the needs of white people. White folks everywhere asked "what can I do to end racism?!" The answer from many humans of color was: do the work. There is no magic cure for racism; we all just need to dismantle our internal systems of racism and then we can unwind societal systems that allow racism to flourish.
Some individuals are doing that personal work. Many more are considering whether they are ready to do that work. And an alarming number of the folks who run our societal systems are not even considering doing that work because they don't see anything wrong with the way those systems currently function. This became abundantly clear to me this week when I attended a virtual forum hosted by the local Citizen Review Committee (CRC). According to their Facebook page, the CRC was "created in 2001 to help improve police accountability, promote higher standards of police services, and increase public confidence."
The forum was advertised as a discussion about police reform. The panel they put together included the CRC volunteers, the local police chief, a leader of the local police union, and the person from the City Auditor's Office who runs the department that investigates public complaints about police misconduct. That sure seems like a group of people who have the ability and authority to make adjustments to the way policing happens in this city. Unfortunately, the forum turned out to be more like an opportunity for everyone with any actual authority to explain why they cannot change things from the way they currently are.
The problem of police assaulting peaceful protestors was raised. The head of the office that investigates police misconduct said they need to know which specific officer did the assaulting before they can investigate. An attendee explained police officers have either covered their identifying numbers or those numbers are so small they cannot be discerned while a person is fleeing assault by an officer. The Police Chief replied that new number stickers were being ordered. An attendee requested the number be printed on the front, back, and pant-leg of the officer's uniform. Which the police chief condemned as "not feasible." And on it went.
Having worked in government for over a decade, I understand the utter nightmare that is changing the course of a massive bureaucratic organization. But during those two hours of disappointment and deflection even simple and reasonable solutions were dismissed. Far and away, the most striking thing to me was the complete refusal by the people who run the police department to acknowledge that anything needs to change at all in the police department.
None of the people in charge seemed to want to question police judgement. The base assumption that whatever the police do is right and whatever a human suffers at the hands of the police is something that person deserves was not on the table for discussion. But that is the very thing that needs to change about policing. The policies currently in place have protected police officers from the consequences of their decisions, and the training police receive fills them with faulty assumptions about how to create public safety.
The police department does not want to examine the internal root of their inappropriate behavior because they do not see anything wrong with that behavior. Even as representatives of the department proclaim a desire to hold officers accountable and reduce instances of police brutality, they frame the problem as something separate from police. Somehow, problematic officer behavior that is dictated by department policy does not indicate the policies themselves are problematic.
There have been countless police reform efforts and the problem of police acting inappropriately and illegally continues unabated. It's time to stop looking outside the department that directs and trains police for the cause of detrimental police behavior. It's time to stop putting the responsibility for preventing police brutality on the shoulders of everyone other than police. No one should have to teach their children how to interact with police in a way that asks those children to anticipate and accommodate an officer's propensity for fear, mistrust, and violence.
We need to acknowledge that police behavior is what's causing the public to have a problem with police. We need to train our police officers to interact with the public properly and revise policies to support appropriate behavior. We need to train police to treat the public like the human beings they are, worthy of respect and consideration. We need our institutions to acknowledge that their contribution to the current state of the world is problematic. And we need to insist that those institutions do the work.
Information and Inspiration
Different Trees, Same Root
Like many modern humans, I am constantly pulled in several directions at once. I have to work to make money so I can pay for housing, food and everything else. I have to not work so I can spend time with the people I love and maintain those relationships. I have to exercise so I can continue to use my body as I age (and not go insane). I have to train martial arts so I can continue deepening my connection to myself and the world around me. And I have to organize in my community to make the world a better place.
That’s a lot of different places to put my time and energy. And even just one of those has many layers. My desire to make a positive difference in the world includes seemingly different priorities all pulling at my attention. I need to support and promote anti-racist policies, reduce climate change, reimagine the economy, dismantle the patriarchy, pay attention to politics and actively engage my local and national officials.
On its face, these all sound like different issues: race issues, women’s issues, the environment, the economy, politics. Although they are distinct, at their core they are all the same. Underneath each one of these is a deeply human issue. And working any one of these issues on that deeper human level is working on all of them.
The same thing has been true in my martial arts training. Except for the occasional workshop or seminar, for my first 7 or 8 years of training I took only Mo Duk Pai classes. Then one of the teachers in my system got really into Brazilian Jiujitsu and started offering a weekly BJJ class. I went and I loved it. It was completely different than most of what we did in regular Mo Duk Pai classes. As I spent time solving problems and making discoveries on the mat, my regular stand-up game also improved.
That crossover improvement didn't just come from moving my body in a different way. It came from working an underlying martial principle from a different vantage point. The underlying thing I got out of BJJ was additional comfort being in a very crappy position. I am a small sized human, and most of the folks I was rolling with on a regular basis outweighed me by 40 of 50 pounds (or more). I was on the bottom a lot and I was playing defense a lot. As a result, I got comfortable working to solve a problem from the point of no advantage. Working from that perspective forced me to get really creative, and that creativity translated into the rest of my training.
A few years later I began studying more regularly with my current Taiji teacher. I had taken workshops from her at the Pacific Association of Women Martial Artists Annual Camp for a couple years and everything she taught seemed like magic. At one memorable session I stood in class, releasing my tension into the ground while my partner pushed against me. The harder she pushed, the more her force melted into me and flowed through me, rooting me more deeply into the ground. My partner was bigger and stronger than I was, but it didn’t matter. It was magical.
I wanted to add that magic into the rest of my regular training. Taiji was completely different than everything we did in Mo Duk Pai classes and it felt like the missing slice of my training pie. Shanti System Taiji isn’t just about doing specific moves in a certain way. It’s about listening deeply to my body and learning to understand what those sensations are communicating. It’s about discovering more of my internal world and recognizing more of my own humanity. As I developed a more complete relationship to myself, I was able to bring a more complete version of me to my Mo Duk Pai training and my overall martial skill improved.
In the same way, as I work on the underlying human pieces of one equity issue, I bring more of myself to my work on other equity issues. As I delve more deeply into my personal anti-racist work, I also see more clearly how all the flavors of equity work are related. It’s all the same practice of uncovering my own internal narratives and unpacking my own biases so I can look at them clearly. The more clearly I can see these things in myself, the more cleanly I can see these things in other people, in my community, and in broader society. As I have more finely tuned my hatedar on racial issues, I have started to see gender inequity and ableism more clearly.
Initially this felt overwhelming because the roots of all these issues are so deep in our society that at least one version of inequity is manifesting in every moment. Everywhere I look, there is another injustice to tend to. It doesn’t ever stop.
But its ever-present nature is also freeing because the root work is all the same. No matter what issue presents itself in any given moment, that’s a good one to work on in that moment. And that work is valuable for my work on all the other issues. If a male-identifying person dismisses something I say in order to mansplain the same thing right back to me, the root issue is that person failing to see my humanity by devaluing my knowledge and experience. When I call that behavior out, it’s practice for calling out other iterations of that same dehumanizing and devaluing behavior.
This also means that if I feel stuck and overwhelmed by whatever equity issue I’m actively working, I can pick up another one for a while. I can turn my focus to unpacking the narratives I carry about a different branch of the injustice tree. I can work on that root from a different angle. Then when I come back to the first issue, I come to it with a slightly different perspective. A perspective enriched by all my other exploration.
Information and Inspiration:
Whose eyes do I see through?
The first and most obvious answer is: mine. I see the world through my own eyes, of course, but that is not the whole picture. I see through my eyes, I see through my experiences, and I see through the interpretations of the world offered to me by the voices I listen to, the words I read, and the media I watch. Over time, as I have shifted what I am reading, who I am listening to, and what I watch, my perspective has also shifted.
A few months ago I came across an article offering workplace advice with the title: “How to Disagree with Someone More Powerful than You.” Beneath that intriguing title is a photo of a cat approaching a lobster with bands around its claws. It begins in a reasonable manner, with examples of workplace scenarios when voicing disagreement with your manager or team-lead could be necessary or important. Then the author provides tips and tools to successfully and effectively express that disagreement to your boss... and that’s when everything goes nightmarishly wrong.
The author does not suggest the lobster be allowed to attend the meeting without the bands around its powerful claws. No, no, no. Instead the author offers a detailed summary of all the exact same tools and techniques I have been using my whole life to placate and tip-toe around men in positions of power in every area of my life. Like most women, I have used these exact same techniques at work, while volunteering, during social activities, and when making family decisions.
Every single piece of advice in that article depends on the person with less power magically meeting their own needs by using the resources controlled by the person with more power, and doing all that without upsetting the power imbalance present in that relationship. There is not one mention in this article that the power imbalance itself might be the thing that needs changing. I looked-up the author and was shocked to discover she is a woman. I felt betrayed.
How can a fellow survivor of the white male dominated workplace have thoroughly listed and carefully described all of these coping skills, and then published them for the world to see, without realizing the message she was actually sending: powerful people feel threatened when they are questioned by subordinates and the less powerful people need to anticipate and accommodate the irrational fear response of that powerful person. I think it is because she was not seeing through her own eyes; she was seeing through the eyes of those white male rulers of the modern US workplace.
Unfortunately she is not alone and this article is not an anomaly. More recently, I happened upon another article – also written by a woman – about how to manage your boss when they can’t manage themselves. To me, this second article seems more deceptively steeped in the narrative of male dominance and more subtle in its perpetuation of the male superiority narrative. The author consistently uses the “she/her” pronouns every time she describes the unfixed character of everyboss, but in each real-world example where she used her recommended tools to great effect, her boss uses “he/him” pronouns. Coincidence? Not a chance.
I can see that clearly now, standing on this side of my personal realization that those skills were the tools I learned to survive as a woman in a dominate-male-centered world. Prior to that recognition, I’m sure I would have praised these articles for providing useful advice to folks who just needed to manage up or lean in to overcome their workplace woes. Now I can see that all those tools are nothing more than accommodation of an unbalanced system that perpetuates that same system. Now I can see this particular game through my own eyes.
And I am learning to recognize the racial lens through which I have been viewing the world. I have been learning a more complete history of race in this country and the world by reading books and articles, watching documentaries, and listening to black voices. I am also learning about the amazing work humans of color have been doing for decades (centuries) toward equality. I have been reading books by black authors, and watching recordings of speeches by black orators and conversations between black artists and activists.
All of this content is new to me. I was not taught about these parts of my history in school. None of these authors were required reading and none of these speeches were required viewing. Until I started seeking this history out, I did not know how much of the picture I was missing. I did not know just how much I was seeing through the eyes of white supremacy.
I am starting to see it now. I also see that it has served the powerful minority for me (and other white people) to not know this history. In not knowing it, I did not see that many of my well-meaning efforts were nothing more than further accommodation of an unbalanced system that perpetuated that same system. Even after I realized the totality of systemic racism and recognized my responsibility to change my contributions to that system, in not knowing the history I felt like one small person responsible for changing the whole behemoth.
It is the same feeling I had right after I became a union steward, the first time I saw a manager do something that was both abusive and prohibited by our contract. I immediately told my Chapter President and asked what I should do. She told me to march right into that manager's office with my contract in-hand and explain that they were violating the contract and needed to stop immediately. "And when you're standing there," she said, "remember that it's not just you, Jaydra Perfetti ID#93-whatever, standing there. You have all 553 bargaining-unit employees standing right behind you."
Learning the history of my whiteness and dredging up the unconscious narratives fed by that history enables me to acknowledge those parts of myself and become more whole. It also allows me to recognize that my past is not just in the past. My past is with me in the present because it has shaped all the parts of me. In the same way, learning the history of other people's work toward racial justice allows me to recognize that all that history is not just in the past. All that history is here with me in every present moment and that feels empowering.
Now I see it is not just me standing before the great machine of white supremacy saying “I want something different.” I am standing here, and standing with me are all the thousands of people who came before me. I am empowered in the present by their past words and actions because that history is part of the me standing in the present. I am not actually alone. We are all standing here in this moment, facing this great machine, demanding change. And we are powerful.
Information and Inspiration:
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.