Up Close / David Sawyer, managing director, Sawyer & Co.

Meet David Sawyer, Managing Director, Sawyer & Co.

Age: 41

Hometown: Mobile, Ala.

Current residence: Cumming

Family: Wife, Kelly; daughter, Madeline, 6; son, Jackson, 3

Education: B.S., Accounting, Auburn University

Hobbies: Endurance-distance triathlons

What you're reading now: The Books of James and Ephesians, from the Bible

Most-played song on your iPod or MP3: “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC

Favorite quote: "Trust, but verify." — Ronald Reagan

Cellphone ring tone: Crickets

Forensic accountant David Sawyer spends his days tracking bad guys back to the scene of the crime — which often is a cubicle.

Workplace fraud is a specialty for Sawyer, but the Dawsonville-based firm he founded in 2003 also has worked on contract disputes, counterfeiting cases, even a murder trial. Sawyer is president of the Georgia chapter of Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, which in early September released its annual report on national workplace fraud trends. Among the findings:

• Fraudsters are generally between 31 and 45 and are most likely to be men.

• More than 80 percent of frauds are committed by employees in accounting, operations, sales, upper management, customer service or purchasing.

• Just 7 percent of people committing workplace fraud were previously convicted of a fraud offense.

Sawyer offered an additional insight. “There are two motivations for people to steal. It’s either need or greed,” he said. “People tend to be stealing for their needs now.”

The Georgia ACFE chapter is holding its annual seminar 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Oct. 15, at the Westin Peachtree Plaza in downtown Atlanta. Go to www.gacfe.org for details.

Q: How is your business organized?

A: The way that my business is structured is that it’s just me. I have about 20 very specialized, seasoned, experienced contractors that work with me. Each case is so different and unique unto itself that you never know who you’re going to need and what type of skill set you may need for a certain case. You may need a private investigator to do surveillance or background checks. You may need a forensic handwriting expert. You may need a computer forensics specialist.

Q: What constitutes workplace fraud?

A: There are really two different universes of fraud. … External fraud is stuff like tax fraud, securities fraud, money laundering, banking and financial institution fraud, insurance fraud, health care fraud. There are dedicated governmental agencies that investigate those types of things. What I focus on is internal or occupational fraud because the only people who are there to police, protect and deter that type of activity are internal audit departments or external auditors, who catch very, very few cases of fraud. It has to be hugely material if an external audit is going to catch it.

Q: What workplace fraud drivers are you seeing here in metro Atlanta?

A: In this economy, and it’s been this way since 2008, the biggest driver is that people were living beyond their means. If they weren’t making that money, there was a gap that they had to make up. So, they either had to borrow the money — that’s dried up now — or steal it, or inherit it. … You’ve got a shortage of household income to maintain this lifestyle and this illusion that people have tried to maintain over the years. People are left with supplementing their incomes through illicit means. It’s driving the motivation to steal. They can rationalize it for a myriad of different reasons.

There’s also the opportunity, because as companies are laying people off, they are assigning people what are called ‘incompatible functions.’ There should be a proper separation of duties within a company so that there are checks and balances in place. When that goes away, it increases the opportunity for people to steal.

Q: Does that mean that the person who’s doing this today is different from the person who was doing this 10 years ago?

A: No, not at all, because they’re still there. … They typically don’t have a criminal background. They’re probably a long-time, trusted employee of the corporation. They’re probably married. They’re probably in stable psychological condition. They’ve risen through the ranks of the company. They know how the system operates. They know where the controls and the weaknesses are, and they know how to exploit them.

Q: Are there any telltale signs that someone is committing workplace fraud?

A: They probably don’t take vacation very much because if they did, someone might really start asking questions and say, ‘Hmm. This doesn’t look right.’ The scam might come unraveled.

Q: When does a company call you?

A: When they are faced with [workplace fraud], they really don’t know how to deal with it. That’s where someone like me comes in handy. This is the world that I live and breathe and operate in. I can predict and profile behaviors to know how fraudulent transactions were carried out.

Q: Is a person committing workplace fraud more likely to be in management or a worker bee?

A: It occurs at all levels. But at the management level, the median loss is much larger.