Understanding the fraud triangle

Fraud is a common occurrence within the workplace. Right now, any of your colleagues could be plotting to commit a fraudulent act; they could have means, motive and a sense of justification for committing workplace crimes. 

What makes people commit workplace fraud though? There must be an underlying reason why they believe they have the right to steal from their employer, and feel justified with their actions at the same time.

Leading criminologists explain the reasons behind this particular act of crime. They classify it as the ‘fraud triangle’ and they believe there are three elements which motivate workers to commit work based crime.

We explore this in greater detail here, and make you aware of the motivational reasons behind white collar criminal activity.   

The three elements of the Fraud Triangle

Could you commit a fraudulent act? For most honest people this thought would never cross their minds. Say your circumstances changed though? What if you suddenly found yourself in debt and you were inexplicably placed in control of the company’s accounts, could this tempt you into acting with fraudulent behaviour?

Three factors contribute to people committing acts of fraud. They include opportunity, motivation and rationalisation. In virtually all fraud cases these elements are present so let’s look at each one in closer detail.        


Give a person the opportunity to commit a fraudulent act and how do you think they will react? This depends on the individual and their personal circumstances.  Opportunity arises when a person has access to a company’s finances or assets. If they also have the means at their disposal to cover traces of criminal behaviour this puts them in a powerful position and makes it easier for them to commit fraudulent behaviour.


They might have the opportunity but what motivates a person to commit acts of fraud within the work setting? This could be due to a number of reasons. Debt and the inability to pay bills is a classic example.  Gamblers and workers with drug or drink dependency issues could be motivated to act fraudulently and steal money from the business.

Money isn’t always the main motivator though. Workers under pressure might be tempted to commit fraudulent behaviour to hit targets or they could try to cover up a lack of performance at work by acting fraudulently.


The third element of the fraud triangle is rationalisation. This is the part where people justify their actions. They convince themselves it’s perfectly fine and okay to commit acts of fraud, even if deep down they know this is wrong.

How do fraudsters rationalise such acts?

This could be something as simple as a worker thinking they’re not being paid fairly or the fact they missed their bonus for the quarter.  They might think their boss doesn’t treat them fairly or the amount they take is minimal compared to the overall profits of the business.  People rationalise fraud for differing reasons and there’s usually a sense of self justification involved.    

Combating fraudulent behaviour

One very effective way of combating fraud at work is to tackle the first element of the fraud triangle. Control the opportunity for workers to commit acts of fraud in the first place and the chances of this type of crime taking place is greatly reduced.

Other ways to combat fraud include introducing a risk management programme and adopting loss control measures that might include awareness, deterrent and reporting processes designed to minimise and eliminate acts of fraud.

And you could train in fraud prevention and obtain skills and knowledge that help you tackle this problem in the future. For more advice contact us at Focus Training, we’re expert providers of investigation and fraud training courses and solutions. 

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