Financial Accounting Blog

Monday, December 01, 2003

Driven by accounting scandals, there has been a recent boom in the technology used to uncover accounting fraud. Benford's Law, discovered by a GE physicist in the 1920's, is being used in forensic accounting software packages to check to see if numbers have been fabricated. Benford's Law states that "in just about any given set of numerical data, numbers occur as the first or second digit at a predictable rate." When numbers are fabricated, people generally do not follow a statistical pattern.
For example, "1" will appear as the first digit 31% of the time, but "9" will appear first only 5%. While that sounds unlikely, Benford tested lists of numbers from many different sources -- accounting ledgers, geographic data, even magazine articles -- and found that the same probability persisted.