Michael Mingo-Dabney, CFE, began his career as an anti-fraud professional after learning about the prevalent embezzlement and money laundering corrupting a town in Colombia while serving as a volunteer for the Peace Corps. Michael continues his work against fraud as a fraud analyst for C2 Alaska, as well as serving as a contractor for the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement.
How did you become passionate about fighting fraud?
My passion for anti-fraud efforts stemmed from my interest in international economic development, which I studied at George Mason University (GMU) with a minor in economics. My favorite courses were the development-based subjects centered on African and Latin American nations. A major component of why economic development never seemed to have the impact it was meant to have — despite billions of investment from first-world nations — was because of funds “slipping through the cracks” into the hands of politicians and corrupt officials.
Fast forward to July 2017 when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia. After I was assigned my town of service and relocated to Tomarrazon, La Guajira, I heard countless stories from my site mate and locals about how certain institutions installed in the pueblos (small towns) were no longer in service due to a lack of necessary funding. Some personal investigating led me to discover there had been an exorbitant amount of fraudulent activity happening for quite some time. When I spoke to locals in Tomarrazon and the capital city of Riohacha, combined with some resources at the mayor’s office, I found articles about officials being arrested for embezzlement and money laundering. Seeing the negative impact of those embezzled funds, which were supposed to go to local schools but were instead used for luxury purchases and political bribes, broke my heart. Simultaneously, it sparked a fire in me to do what I could to combat that sort of activity.
How did you get to your current role?
The path to my current role could be described as fumbling my way through life as an overzealous brute wanting to take down anything and everything that resembled fraud. After leaving the Peace Corps, I knew that I wanted to have a career in fighting fraud — the only question was how?
Almost immediately, I explored going back to school to study accounting. I ended up going back to GMU and applying for a graduate certificate in forensic accounting. I knew I had made the right choice when I got accepted and started my courses. The technical and soft skills I learned in that program will stay with me forever. I also found a lifelong mentor in a professor during that time, and he has advised me ever since. When we would speak during office hours about what I wanted to do, he saw the internal fire I had and worked with me to achieve my goal. During one of his courses, I learned about the CFE credential.
As I studied, I was also working as a contracted auditor at a Big Four firm. I liked audit, as it was the first real experience that allowed me to utilize the skills I was learning from my graduate courses. But audit only allowed me to point out the problems, not be a part of the solution. So, I left that position and joined a boutique litigation consulting firm as a forensic cost consultant. In that role, I was able to apply all my forensic accounting knowledge, while learning soft skills; at the time, I seriously underestimated the importance of those soft skills that have since enabled me to mature professionally. While working for the consulting firm, I studied for and passed the CFE exams. Having the CFE is what led me to obtain the position that I have now as a fraud analyst II for C2 Alaska. I serve as a contractor for the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement – Office of Investigation and Market Analytics.
What are challenges you face as a fraud analyst?
The biggest challenge is staying ahead of the curve. As much we hate to admit it, fraudsters are incredibly intelligent people. Their creative ways of thinking and utilizing everyday programs and tools never cease to fascinate me. The diverse methods of committing fraud that go beyond what we learned about in graduate school prove to be a challenge every day. Though it can be frustrating, it’s also equally fun to play the game and keep up with, and attempt to stay one step ahead, of them. It forces me to learn things I never knew I would need to — for instance, how to think like a fraudster.
The more I uncover in my work, the more I find myself reading about what those who have come before me have experienced. Books like “Why They Do It” by Eugene Soltes and “The Other Side of Yesterday” by Gary A. Foster have changed my foundational thinking. I do my best every day to take the lessons from books like these and apply them to a modern way of thinking in order to combat the growing popularity of “new” methods of fraud like cryptocurrency fraud. I’ve gradually steered further and further away from the typical accounting financial statements and closer to the digital asset realm. Thus, self-teaching to stay ahead is a challenge I both enjoy and endure.
What is an important lesson you’ve learned in your career?
The most important lesson I’ve learned throughout every step of my career is that imperfection is okay. From my sophomore year of college until I graduated and first experienced the “real world,” I was a perfectionist. So much so that it proved to be detrimental to professional relationships I tried to cultivate. I’ve always had high standards for myself; thus, when I worked with others, I projected those expectations of perfection on them as well. In every role that I’ve held, from internships to my current one, I’ve learned from the people who have mentored me and whom I’ve worked alongside. Each of them, gradually, softened my abrasive exterior and made me easier to work with. In addition, they taught me to make space for accepting mistakes, as long as I learned from them and never made the same one twice.
As an African American in this field, I face subtle but unrelenting pressures to compete with my peers and be among the best — if I am not the best myself. It’s common for those of us in the African American community to impose pressures on ourselves in addition to those placed on us by our superiors and peers. Working in the increasingly diverse field of accounting and anti-fraud has encouraged me to be a sponge and learn from those around me. I’ve found that adopting other methods of thinking to my own has allowed me to progress in my career at a much faster rate than that perfectionist version of myself ever could have.
What is important to you about being a CFE?
Obtaining the CFE credential was a professional milestone. It was more than a credential to me — it was a representation of what I wanted, and still want, to become. I believe the CFE represents a lifestyle choice. Those who have chosen to dedicate their lives to fighting fraud stand as a line of defense for victims of monetary deceit. Being a CFE means that we represent not only ourselves, but also those who trust us as professionals to operate in their best interests and to ensure the prosecution of those who don’t. It is a commitment to myself and those people that I give my best effort every day. That no matter what challenges I face, I will overcome them and use those lessons to teach those who come after me.
ACFE membership is open to individuals of all job functions, industries and levels of experience who are interested in the prevention, detection and deterrence of fraud. If you want to level up your anti-fraud career, we can help.