January 22, 2010 in City

Whitworth students sample IRS fraud-fighting methods

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photo

Whitworth University accounting student Megan Cox gets advice from Internal Revenue Service criminal investigator Adam Gigler on how to cuff a suspect, played by economics professor Richard Schatz, during a class in Weyerhaeuser Hall on Thursday.
(Full-size photo)

Accounting students at Whitworth University took a turn as gumshoes Thursday, trading in their ledgers and balance sheets for search warrants and surveillance.

The props were bulletproof vests and dummy guns, handcuffs and defensive tactics. The classwork involved poring over fake bank records and tax returns, interviewing mock suspects, and tailing an “embezzler” as he walked across campus carrying a sack full of poker chips – all in the hopes that some students may decide they want to do that kind of thing for real.

“I hadn’t really considered it until I signed up for this class,” said Mathew Eardley, a freshman from Boise. “I think it’s sparked an interest, for sure.”

The students in the Occupational Fraud and Abuse class were the first in the Northwest to participate in the Adrian Project, an IRS campus recruiting program that shows accounting and business majors an alternative to typical accounting careers.

“I just like to present a lot of different options for students,” said Heather Rogers, an assistant professor of accounting and a CPA who does investigative work. “Not everyone enjoys doing tax returns. Not everyone enjoys preparing audits.”

Dan Wardlaw, an IRS spokesman and special agent, said a lot of business students may not realize they could put their skills to use in law enforcement. It’s a good alternative for those who may not find the typical deskbound accounting work appealing.

“It’s not for everybody,” he said. “You do arrests. You do undercover operations. You do search warrants. You get dirty – not always, but sometimes. It’s kind of a nice blend of white collar and blue collar work.”

IRS agents walked through a variety of situations with students, demonstrating defensive tactics on a mat at the front of the class and showing some of the equipment investigators use in their jobs. The students then divided into groups, each investigating a mock crime scenario such as tax evasion, embezzlement or fraud.

Eardley and some of his teammates were exploring one of the less glamorous aspects of investigative work – digging through garbage looking for evidence. Federal agents can’t search through garbage on private property; garbage beyond the curb or on a public sidewalk, though, is fair game.

In among the soda cups and food wrappers, the students discovered mock tax returns, complete with suspicious information.

“This has been ripped up, which probably means it’s important,” said Megan Cox, holding up bits of paper.

Cox, an accounting/Spanish major from Bellingham, said she was drawn instantly to the idea of investigative work.

“I just think it’s fun,” she said. “I, like, stalk my ex-boyfriends and stuff. I’ve always loved trying to find stuff out about people. I had a little spy notebook when I was 8 years old.”


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