People commit fraud because of a combination of perceived pressure, rationalization and opportunity. The majority of frauds starts small as the result of an immediate financial need. Once individuals gain confidence in their fraudulent scheme, the fraud continues to get larger and larger until it is discovered. The fraud triangle provides a lens from which to examine any fraud. The fraud triangle is comprised of perceived pressure, perceived opportunity and rationalization. Fraud will only occur if all three elements of the triangle are present.
- Pressure is one of the three elements of the fraud triangle. Pressure is especially important because it is typically an immediate financial pressure that leads people to engage in fraud, e.g. money problems, gambling debts, alcohol or drug addiction, overwhelming medical bills.
- A perceived opportunity to commit fraud, conceal it, and avoid being punished is the second element of the fraud triangle. Opportunity is an essential part of every fraud because if fraud perpetrators don’t have the opportunity to commit fraud then fraud becomes impossible to commit. While eliminating all fraud opportunities may be impossible, reducing or minimizing the opportunity for fraud to occur can pay big dividends for organizations.
- Rationalization is one of the three elements of the fraud triangle. Rationalization is important because it is the mechanism that allows otherwise ethical individuals to justify unethical behavior. People rationalize to eliminate the inconsistency between what they do and what they know they should do.