Staying at the scene of the crime; the psychology of the embezzler.

Dr David Curnow1

1Corporate Forensic Psychology, Melbourne, Australia

Despite costing $4 trillion worldwide and the widespread use of a 70-year-old theory,  forensic psychology has only started to consider embezzlement as a field of interest.  Surprisingly, Cressey’s model, still drives most fraud prevention strategies, describing fraud as a single event where three elements must be present (motivation, opportunity and rationalisation).  This is contrary to the findings of three decades of international fraud surveys and assumes that the offender’s mindset alters little over the many decisions and behavioural adjustments that most offenders must make often over months or years of offending.  A more sequenced approach to embezzlement over time which takes into account the organisation’s response and the impact of time on motivations and rationalisations has been proposed in the recently published book The Psychology of Embezzlement.  The Art of Intervention and Control (2021).  The model parallels an organisation’s approach to employees and the offending over four phases: Pre-existing vulnerabilities, Induction to the first theft, Ongoing theft to Detection and Resolution.  The presentation will highlight key decisions issues for offenders and provide some examples of how an understanding of the psychology of embezzlement can inform an organisation’s fraud deterrence and detection strategies.


Dr. David Curnow has been a forensic psychologist for over 20 years.  He was appointed as a Full Time member of the Adult Parole Board of Victoria in 2014, re-appointed in 2019 and late in 2020 he was appointed to the Post Sentence Authority.  Prior to this Dr Curnow held a variety of senior clinical leadership positions in the Victorian and South Australian correctional systems.  In private practice Dr Curnow has provided psychological treatment to a broad range of clients and groups, in addition to providing reports to courts on criminal, civil, and family law matters. He has held a variety of positions on regional, state and national executives of the Australian Psychological Society.    In 2011 Dr Curnow received his PhD after studying the psychology of white collar offending by interviewing a range of offenders.  He has provided consultancy services to clients of McGrathNicol and has presented at numerous Fraud Week presentations.  Dr Curnow currently sits on the Standards  Australia committee reviewing the Fraud and Corruption Control standards (AS-8001) which has just been released.  His first book is being due for release by Palgrave McMillan later this year and is titled:  The Psychology of Embezzlement.  The art of intervention and control.

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