Bill Kresse, Assistant Professor of Accounting at Governors State University—aka “Professor Fraud”—has shared a drink at the Ritz with Frank Abagnale, one of the most notorious con men and impostors of the late 20th century. He’s rubbed elbows with Frank Sinatra, and he was mentored and befriended by Judge Abraham Lincoln Marovitz, the only Federal judge to sit on the bench without going to college.
Kresse’s office is a storehouse of degrees and certificates; his qualifications and accolades quilt the walls. He is a licensed attorney, a CPA, an author, and a commissioner for the Chicago Board of Elections. He keeps a framed share of stock in Enron—an artifact befitting a fraud analysis expert—propped on top of a bookshelf.
With media appearances as Professor Fraud, a name he has trademarked, in all three mediums—print, television, and radio—Kresse has been featured everywhere from Washington Post articles to NBC and PBS broadcasts. He was named one of the Top 15 Forensic Accounting Professors by ForensicsColleges.com in 2013, and the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners declared him Educator of the Year in 2007.
A natural showman, there’s something pleasantly vaudevillian in Kresse’s demeanor. He’s quick with a punchline, animated in his delivery, but when the subject of fraud detection and analysis comes up, he becomes reverent.
What brought you to fraud?
One of the reasons I like the study of fraud is that it’s so interesting, and it really tends to get interest from the students. And it interests me, too. I love it. Sadly, so many good fraudsters could do such good work if they would just direct their energies in a different way. Fraud creates this continuous battle of wits between those who are trying to separate us from our money and those of us who are trying to prevent them from doing that. So it’s a marvelous puzzle that keeps changing and manipulating and it really gets the imagination sparked. The stories are so interesting. There are lessons to be had in them, because a week doesn’t go by without a new fraud story. There are always changes in fraud.
I love what I’m doing. First, I love teaching and I love teaching in an environment like this. This is where I’m from. I’m a product of the South Side of Chicago and the south suburbs. The students here are the children of my people, of my generation. I could go on, maybe, and teach elsewhere, but this is where I’m from. So, I’m here because I like the students, I like the people here, and I like the commitment of the leadership. I especially like what they’ve done in the last couple years, taking it to a four-year university. GSU is really student-focused. So I’m bringing it back to where I’m from, to do what I can to contribute.
What distinguishes or defines the GSU student?
The GSU student is a student who is committed to bettering themselves, bettering their family, and bettering their community. They are willing to make that commitment of time, energy, and money to make themselves a better person and help their family, but also to help their community, both the immediate community and the global one. There are other universities that one could go to and you won’t always find that same commitment. At some universities the students feel entitled. The students here for the most part do not have that attitude. They know who they are probably better than a lot of students do. Some of that comes from having a slightly older population than a traditional university, but even the traditional-aged students tend to be a little savvier in the ways of the world than you see at some other schools.
What do you believe you bring to the classroom that’s unique?
I think I bring a combination of experience and education to the classroom. I have degrees from various top schools in business and in law, so you have that, but then I’ve also worked in the court system. I‘ve worked in consulting, in accounting, in law—I think all those experiences inform my teaching to give the students real world examples of what we’re talking about in class. A class like business law can be very dry if you can’t illustrate the lessons with real world examples that the students can wrap their brains around. It helps them understand the importance of the lesson for that class. That, I think, is something that I bring to the classroom which hopefully sets me a little bit apart.
Because of my research interests and writing interests in fraud, I can bring in examples from the news on identity theft, on different fraud schemes. For example, we just did a module on securities regulation, so I brought in some examples and videos relating to securities fraud, showing why Congress passed the Securities Regulation Acts so as to try to get a handle on securities frauds and how people can be harmed if the securities markets are not regulated and frauds run rampant. I also bring in examples from my work with the Chicago Board of Elections and work on the audit committees. I can weave these experiences of mine, both past and current, in with the headlines of today along with the various lessons that we talk about. It makes it a much more exciting class.
What do you want your students to bring to the classroom?
An open mind. Especially when you get into something like business law or law in general, a lot of people think they know what the law is, and I am there to disabuse them sometimes if their understanding is incorrect. But I also want to show my students the context and history of laws. This is something I like doing, not just teaching ‘this is what the law is’ but also that the law doesn’t just spring out of nowhere. It’s developed over time through historical situations, and so I like to take the law and put it into context, so that it’s not just a case of memorizing maxims. Instead, it’s understanding how the law got to that point, so that it shows that there is a rationality to what the law is. It’s not just this dry memorization by rote, but rather understanding how the law has gotten there and thus putting it into a fuller context. So if the students can come in with an open mind, with a flexible mind, that’s all I really require. That’ll be fine.