For over a year, Katie Crawford, BBA ’16 has worked as a fraud risk investigator for Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), which is the administrative arm of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in Washington, DC.
Crawford, who earned her degree in accounting from the Raymond A. Mason School of Business at William & Mary, is primarily responsible for assessing and investigating fraud risks to the $10 billion per year universal service fund that ensures equitable access to affordable telecommunications and broadband services.
“My job is to safeguard that fund and make sure the funds are being used appropriately for the people they were designed for. It could be low-income individuals, people who live in rural or high-cost areas of the United States, or places like schools, libraries, or hospitals that serve a population that would not otherwise have such access,” she explained.
As a fraud risk investigator, Crawford looks into fraud risks or fraud events that are alleged to have occurred and determines if there is any merit to the claims. She collects evidence, research, interviews, and more to gain a holistic understanding of the situation and provides recommendations on whether there was a rule violation or risk to the fund.
“If there is a rule violation, I work with our teams to recover or rescind that funding so it goes to the correct people and to prevent these types of events in the future,” she said.
Crawford also supports prevention and detection efforts by using accounting and data analytics to monitor the transactional activity of the fund, identify suspicious activity, and leverage data to develop enterprise-wide response plans.
“The prevention and detection aspect of my job is always ongoing,” she said. “The investigation side is more linear; one will pick up and then close. I usually have a handful going on at any point in time.”
Discovering Her Path
Crawford knew she wanted to pursue business as an undergraduate student but she also wanted to attend a college or university that allowed business students access to a liberal arts education. That led the Texas native 1,200 miles to Williamsburg and William & Mary.
“I enjoyed my professors immensely, specifically my accounting professors,” she said. “They would show up smiling and happy even for a class at eight in the morning on a Friday.”
The collaborative environment was another highlight for Crawford. In both the undergraduate and graduate Master of Accounting (MAcc) programs at the Mason School, group work is paramount in order to properly train students to enter the working world and be successful.
Crawford said she settled on accounting as a major because she is detail-oriented and loves rules and structure.
“I love when accounting is nice and clean. Though, I realized later in my senior year classes that it doesn’t always turn out that way but it’s what got me interested in going down that path,” she said.
It was also during her senior year that Crawford serendipitously learned about forensic accounting at a panel event hosted by the Wayne F. Gibbs Accounting Society.
“I remember it was in the evening after classes on a Thursday,” she said. “I wasn’t even sure I was going to go. But I did and I met a forensic accountant. He explained more about the work he did in the field and the firm he worked for. It really piqued my interest.”
Transitioning From Student to Professional
After graduating from William & Mary in the spring of 2016, Crawford earned her Certified Public Accountant (CPA) credential and accepted a position at the same firm that forensic accountant worked for along with a number of other Tribe alumni. She says it was beneficial to move to Washington, DC for her new job because it helped to make the transition from student to working professional easier.
“There were a number of William & Mary alumni, friends, and family nearby who supported me. I also think the academic rigor of the Mason School combined with the high standards you were required to meet as a student in the accounting program prepared me. I felt good about transferring my skills and knowledge into the workforce,” she said.
As a forensic accountant, Crawford focused on litigation consulting. When a lawsuit was filed, for example, her firm was then hired to calculate the damages using their expert accounting knowledge. Crawford performed a lot of research to support the expert witnesses who were called to be deposed or to testify during litigation. She would prepare the witness testimony and the reports used to defend their position.
“A smaller portion of what I did involved investigations,” she said. “For example, if an employee at a company was found to be embezzling money, we would be hired on to assess the damages and investigate if anything else was missing, how much money was at stake, and if there were other negligent activities this person was involved in. These investigations weren’t necessarily tied to active lawsuits. To be able to sit there and dig through physical papers as part of that work is why I am where I am now.”
Crawford said curiosity and a willingness to take chances are what ultimately led her halfway across the country to William & Mary, to a panel discussion where she learned about an interesting career, and to her current role as a fraud risk investigator.
“I encourage everyone to network. All of the William & Mary alumni I have encountered are always so happy to talk with students about what they do professionally and are so willing to share their insights to help inform any decision you’re trying to make,” she said. “Be curious. It’s crazy how one small decision to go see a panel meant I met someone from my future career field and the rest is history.”