Cressey's - Fraud Triange

At Indiana University during the 1940’s, Donald Cressey worked on his PH.D in criminology; his hypothesis became what is now known as the “Fraud Triangle.” (Wells, 2008) The fraud triangle seeks to explain the elements that must be present before fraud can occur.

Nicole Merke, CPA, CFE, columnist for, states, “Cressey is honored by many anti-fraud organizations, including the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.” (Merkle, 2009) Cressey’s fraud triangle consisted of three elements that reoccurred in all the cases that he studied. Opportunity, Incentive (Pressure), and Rationalization are the three elements that make up the fraud triangle. Using the fraud triangle to gauge why employees take part in abusive conduct will give us three distinctive categories that can be analyzed to better understand the fraudsters.

is simply having the ability to commit abusive conduct. There are two parts to opportunity, General information and technical skill. (Wells, 2008) General information is when you that the fraud can be committed and technical skill is the ability to carry out the fraud.

Incentive or Pressure refers to a financial burden that the fraudster feels that they must find a way out of. A fraudster may feel pressure to keep a certain social status in order to keep up with those they work with.

Rationalization is when the fraudster justifies the crime to which he attempts. Cressey believes that rationalization is part of the motivation for the crime and that the fraudster does not see himself as a criminal. (Wells pg. 18) The fraudster may feel that their employer owes them something and thus are not thieves.

By: Joseph Dustin


Wells, J. T. (2008). Principles of Fraud Examination 2nd edition. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


  • I'm curious. You cite a reference that cites the source - Cressey's book. I went to the source, read the book, and wrote a "book report." I was not impressed.

    Any thoughts on my thoughts?


  • No. The real world doesn't revolve around you or citations.