Email fraud detection: the key phrases

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What to look for in emails that might be up to no good.

Ernst and Young in conjunction with the FBI has developed a tool to check for fraud via email conversations.

The software looks for key phrases that are often used when people are discussing something they should not be doing. That’s useful for companies that want to catch misbehaving staff before they go too far (like the Nick Leeson or Jérôme Kerviel’s of this world).

Among the 3000 terms they search for are:



  • cover up

  • write off

  • illegal

  • failed investment

  • off the books

  • nobody will find out

  • grey area

  • not comfortable

  • want no part of this

  • don’t leave a trail

  • make the number

In bribery cases, look for ‘special fees’ and ‘friendly payments’. In the famous TV show ‘Yes, Minister’ bribes were called ‘undisclosed advance commissions’.

Administrators of Exchange Server systems can search for words or phrases across all mailboxes on the servers.

But this system claims to go beyond simple phrase matching and looks for changes in the language or tone from a particular user. Special attention can be given to staff in sensitive positions like traders.


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