Attestation Update just wrote about a recent hoax, where a teenager claimed to have made $72 million, trading on the stock market. This article got me thinking about a piece I wrote last year on professional skepticism and the importance of knowing who is confirming your information. The least reliable confirmation comes from the party making the claim, in this case, the alleged millionaire teenager. The journalist that he dealt with thought that the bank statement that the teenager showed her was a valid third party confirmation. This is a very easy assumption to make. It appears that the party is coming from a third party, so it is easy to see that as a third, independent, party confirmation. This, however is not the case. In order for a confirmation to be truly independent, the person making the claim cannot have any control over the confirmation process. As we have seen here and in the cases noted by James Ulvog, it is very easy for someone to hand you a fake document that looks very real. There are actually places that will create very realistic fakes for you, for a price, of course.
Ulvog also pointed out several red flags in the boy’s story. An auditor or forensic CPA, coming across these red flags, should seek to further investigate and seek independent confirmation of the claims. For example, there are age restrictions that make it illegal for minors to buy and sell securities. You should look at the piece at Attestation Update and see if you can determine why the items highlighted by Ulvog are red flags. This piece also underlines the importance of using diligent and qualified professionals. It also emphasizes how we, as professionals must consistently practice professional skepticism and be aware of what are truly third party confirmations and how important it is to make them.