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Understanding Financial Fraud

5 min read Understanding Financial Fraud

Financial fraud is a significant risk for startups in the investment industry. Understanding the various types of fraud, their sources, and the red flags that indicate potential fraud can help protect your business.

What Is Fraud?

Fraud is “The use of one’s occupation for personal enrichment through the deliberate misuse or misapplication of the employing organization’s resources or assets.”

Fraud typically involves the following elements:

  1. Material Fact: A false representation of a material fact.
  2. Intentional Act: The false representation is made intentionally.
  3. Belief by the Victim: The victim believes the false representation.
  4. Action by the Victim: The victim acts on the false representation.
  5. Harm to the Victim: The victim suffers harm as a result.

Four conditions usually present for someone to commit fraud:

  1. Opportunity: The chance to commit the fraud.
  2. Low Risk of Getting Caught: Belief that they won’t be discovered.
  3. Rationalization: Justifying the fraudulent act in their mind.
  4. Justifications: Rationalizations that make the act seem acceptable.

Startups are particularly susceptible to fraud due to their often limited information and controls. Investors should be aware of these vulnerabilities and take appropriate measures to safeguard against fraud.

Types of Financial Fraud in Startups



Fraudsters may lie about financial investments’ value, risks, and costs. This can include misrepresenting a company’s financial condition and omitting key facts that could influence investment decisions.

Regulatory Violations

This includes violating securities laws such as insider trading or selling securities without a license. Failing to register securities as required by law also falls under this category.

IPO Fraud

During an Initial Public Offering (IPO) or Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) offering, fraud can occur through misstatements in accounting information or the omission of crucial information.

Misappropriation of Funds

This includes Ponzi schemes, where returns are paid to earlier investors with funds from more recent investors, and the personal skimming of money by those in control.

Trading Violations

Trading violations involve market manipulation tactics such as pump-and-dump schemes, front-running, and insider trading.

Cybersecurity Fraud

This type of fraud includes data breaches and the failure to protect investor data, which can lead to significant financial and reputational damage.

Money Laundering

Money laundering involves falsifying statements in accounting books and records to disguise the illegal origins of money.

Startups operating in the financial industry should be particularly vigilant about these types of fraud to protect their businesses and investors.

External Sources of Fraud

Fraud can also originate from external sources, often involving individuals or entities pretending to be someone trustworthy to deceive the business. Here are common external fraud tactics:

Fake Invoices

Fraudsters create invoices for services never rendered, hoping the company will pay without verifying the charges.

Advertising Scams

These scams involve paying for advertising services in directories or books that either don’t exist or are never published.

Imposter Scams

Scammers pose as creditors or service providers, claiming that the company owes money or services will be cut off if payment isn’t made immediately.

Tech Security Scams

A warning screen pops up on a computer, claiming a virus has disabled the system and demanding payment to remove it.

Phishing Attacks

Fraudulent emails or calls request personal information, such as Social Security numbers, to verify employee identity.


Cybercriminals encrypt company data and demand payment to unlock the files.

Business Coaching Scams

Scammers promise business training and services that are never delivered, taking payment without providing the promised value.

Training employees to recognize these types of fraud is crucial for preventing external scams.

Internal Sources of Fraud

Fraud can also come from within the business. Here are some internal fraud sources to be aware of:

Identity Theft

Fraudsters capture and sell personal information for illegal uses, often by accessing employee bank accounts or tax returns.

Asset Misappropriation

This is essentially theft, often carried out through forged checks or unauthorized transactions.


The illegal use of company funds for personal expenses, typically by charging personal expenses to the business account.

Payroll Fraud

Manipulating payroll records, such as claiming hours not actually worked.

Employment Fraud

Providing false work history or omitting critical information, such as criminal history, during the hiring process.

Implementing strong internal controls is essential to prevent internal fraud.

Red Flags Indicating Fraud

Fraud in businesses often involves employees and management. Here are some red flags to watch for:

Employee Red Flags

  • Lifestyle Changes: Sudden acquisition of expensive items like new cars or homes.
  • Substantial Personal Debt: Financial stress can lead to fraudulent behavior.
  • Addictions: Gambling or alcohol addictions can result in changes in behavior.
  • Avoiding Leave: Employees who never take vacation or sick leave.
  • High Turnover: Frequent staff changes in certain areas.

Management Team Red Flags

  • Failure to Submit Information: Lack of transparency with auditors.
  • Weak Internal Controls: Poorly managed business units.
  • Frequent Bank Changes: Regularly changing bank accounts.
  • Changing Auditors: Frequent switches in auditing firms.
  • Inexperienced Accounting Team: Lack of skilled personnel in finance.
  • Excessive Loans: Heavy reliance on borrowing.
  • High Compensation: Unusually high pay packages for executives.

Monitoring these red flags can help detect and prevent fraud.

Financial fraud poses a significant threat to startups, especially in the investment industry. Understanding the various types of fraud, recognizing the external and internal sources, and being vigilant about the red flags can help safeguard your business from potential financial pitfalls.


Read More from TEN Capital Education here.

Hall T. Martin is the founder and CEO of the TEN Capital Network. TEN Capital has been connecting startups with investors for over ten years. You can connect with Hall about fundraising, business growth, and emerging technologies via LinkedIn or email:

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