Phrases used by corporate fraudsters

The FBI and Ernst and Young have released a list of top-ten phrases that indicate corporate fraud, based on data-mining evidence from real corporate fraud investigations.

In total more than 3,000 terms are logged by the technology, which monitors for conversations within the "fraud triangle", where pressure, rationalisation, and opportunity meet, said the FBI and Ernst & Young...

1. Cover up
2. Write off
3. Illegal
4. Failed investment
5. Nobody will find out
6. Grey area
7. They owe it to me
8. Do not volunteer information
9. Not ethical
10. Off the books

Top email terms used by corporate fraudsters published by FBI (via /.)


  1. “Hide the decline?”  ……no I’m KIDDING all right?

    These are also phrases you should NEVER use if you are not doing anything, because if you are falsely accused (because fraudsters always need a fall guy) your email will be in a 3 ring evidence binder.

    Another one that has gotten innocent people in hot water is “the jig is up,”

  2. Usually when people in the office are arguing about who’s “nicer” or filling employees’ HR files with evaluations saying they are not a “team player” or lack a “positive attitude,”  it is a sign that management is stealing.

    Notice whenever there is a huge scandal or catastrophe there is always the “disgruntled ex-employee” saying “Hey, I wasn’t trying to be a whistleblower, I just wanted to work my shift without being dismembered like the last three guys in that positon.”

    1. I had some weird interactions with a pair of bosses on my way out.  As I was being dismissed I said, “I appreciate that you’re under a lot of stress from corporate but I’m not the reason you’re being audited.”  I didn’t mean anything by it, but there was quite the pregnant pause as they looked at each other and wondered how much I knew.  If I played my cards right I probably could have gotten some blackmail out of it.

      1. What’s the line from “Fight Club?”

        “My job will be to not tell people these things that I know. I can do this job from home.”

        Keep in mind that what gets a person “whacked” in these situations is what people THINK you know in their criminal/paranoid fantasies.

        Plus people like that are usually completely transparent and big mouths, so they are likely to say “Who told you that? Who?” and the reply is “Well you did, thirty seconds ago, and if you don’t want me to know things, don’t freaking tell me.”

        It’s like the episode of South Park with the Okama Gamesphere conspiracy where the bad guys kept launching into the exposition about their evil scheme while the boys said “Don’t care….don’t care…..don’t care”

        The other reason to sack people is to use their salary money to hire cronies or otherwise finance their harebrained pet project.  I have a friend that lost his last 4 jobs so the bosses could use his salary money to launch huge fiascoes after he left.

  3. Who is being stupid enough to send e-mails about any of this in the first place?  If they’re that dumb they deserve all the FBI investigations they can get.  Is there a larger, more easily searched paper trail with giant arrows from one person to another than e-mail that I don’t know about?

    1. Ummm……people who think they are gods of management?  You know, people who think that once they empty their in-box, the email is gone forever?  Those guys.

      1. I suppose it’s time I go work IT for those guys then.  After about a year or so I’ll send them little blips just to remind them the department needs new Porsches.

    2. First, it is easy to be complacent about constant monitoring if nothing bad happens. I’ll admit I’ll check personal email at work, and sometimes visit news sites, and not just during lunch! Both are against company policy and I could easily be disciplined, but I’ve never heard of anyone getting into trouble for such things, even though our log in screen reminds us all browsing and other computer usage is logged. It is easy to forget.
      Second (and this is a guess) I bet most frauds are not sociopaths running large ponzi schemes, but normal people giving into the temptation to stretch the truth just a little too far. You can hardly expect non-criminals to have professional criminal insight.

      1. If you’re typing in “it’s unethical, but off the books and they owe it to me” you are an absolute dolt who was asking for it.

        1. No disagreement there. I’m just not surprised that otherwise intelligent and law abiding people would leave evidence like that.

          1.  The really strange part is how often wealthy people lose it all so they can steal some relatively small amount of cash.

            Of course, entire industries get scrapped so some middle man can make a little money on fees, and that’s all legal.

    3. I think it’s unfair to label these people as stupid – ignorant, sure, but not stupid.

      I’d file this squarely in the ‘hindsight’ category for most people. (present company probably not included).

      Also, people make stupid mistakes all the time, it probably accounts for 99% of all evidence.

  4. I wonder, if we applied the same technology, could it generate a list of phrases used by Cory Doctrow?

  5. Keep in mind that printing out all the emails for a fraud case might fill multiple tractor-trailers, so they will naturally be using data mining tools.  Even though the FBI is notorious for being stuck in the IT stone age. 

    1.  Enid Blyton doesn’t exist in the US, so it’s also like a Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew/Tom Swift plot.

  6. Some of these are familiar from our training* on how to spot potential corporate spies who might give away our trade secrets, especially the idea of being  ‘owed something’. People who feel under appreciated, rightly or wrongly, have little loyalty. But people who wrongly feel under appreciated can be downright scary, in work or outside of it. 

    *training = power point presentation we had to watch after an ‘incident’

  7. Master criminal writes emails to his co-conspirators but cleverly avoids these phrases. He depends on the crowd of morons to keep the FBI busy.

  8. You know, I think I’ve seen ordinary corporate pep talk messages with a half-dozen trigger phrases:  “As you know, our annual safety audit is coming up. Be sure and cover up your waste containers, since they told us last year that it was illegal to have open ones.  We’ll be doing a scrap material collection in the coming weeks, so there’s no time like the present to write off any unneeded supplies. Make sure you report any potentially hazardous conditions, since nobody will find out if you don’t tell us. As always, when interviewed by an external auditor, answer all questions fully and candidly but do not volunteer information. Charge any time you spend on the audit to overhead labour, since it’s not ethical to bill a contract for it. We got stellar marks in the audit last year and I’m trusting that we will again this year.”  Am I about to see Corporate hand down guidelines about how to rephrase that to avoid the gaze of the FBI?

    1. Only in the cases you found out about.  By definition, you can’t count the ones that got away with it.

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