The Untouchable IRS Investigator

Toss the notion of a bespectacled frump with a pocket protector out the window, because in today's accounting field, there are almost no limits to the type of job those so-called pencil pushers might hold.

Accountant training and education

Take for example the case of the Internal Revenue Service investigator. These criminal investigators search for clues into drug trafficking and money laundering operations, criminal tax violations, currency crimes and violations of the Bank Secrecy Act, and many of them do it with an accounting degree. So how does an accounting major end up becoming an IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent? For one student at the University of Alabama, the path came during an internal auditing class when an instructor told the students about internships with the IRS' Criminal Investigations Division. The student told UAB Magazine he was intrigued by the idea of using his accounting degree in a law-enforcement capacity. He notes while "being able to look at balance sheets and profit-and-loss statements and analyze bank records" is still a big part of the job, it is the variety that he loves.

For those accountants who long for a little more, consider this: After getting an accounting degree, training begins at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and involves more than just how to crunch numbers. Recruits study the Fourth Amendment, perform mock investigations and take rigorous firearm training. This is not your typical accountant education. After that comes more specialized training in subjects such as tax law, criminal tax fraud, money laundering and a variety of financial fraud schemes. Students will also learn about agency-specific undercover operations, electronic surveillance techniques, forensic sciences, court procedures, interviewing techniques and trial preparation and testifying. And since computers factor heavily into today's financial record keeping, trainees learn computer investigative skills and can even seek further training in computer evidence recovery.

Other requirements for IRS investigators

According to the IRS website, to qualify to apply for this unique position, applicants must have a bachelor's or master's degree that included, or was supplemented by, at least 15 semester hours/23 quarter hours in accounting. A specialization in forensic accounting would be a plus, as that is the type of financial investigation skills that are needed. Applicants also need to complete nine semester hours/14 quarters from such related fields as finance, economics, business law, tax law or money and banking.

Along with these educational requirements since this is a government position, applicants also have to be able to pass background checks and complete work experience requirements. There are some physical and age requirements as well, as IRS investigators are often required to perform physically demanding work. While working at a desk, examining computer records and investigating account ledgers is still a part of the job, it is by no means the only part.

Salaries for IRS investigators depend greatly on location and the level of employment. For entry-level financial investigators, the IRS notes 2012 national pay rates were between $41,167 and $51,850 annually, while the rates for more experienced investigators were between $50,293 to $64,894 annually (these rates are only a guide). The national annual mean wage for accountants in May 2011 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics was $70,130, but this wage can also vary according to industry and location.

Potentially lower salaries than the industry standard are one drawback to the job of IRS investigator, and another is the highly competitive nature of the field. The IRS is subject to governmental budget issues and as such hires only as needed. Hopeful applicants can register to be notified when job openings occur, but the wait could be a long one due to the hiring rate and the number of candidates interested in this highly specialized field of accounting.

Still, for adventure seekers who love numbers, order and reason, the job of an IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent could offer a unique blend of logic and excitement. After all, it isn't every profession that can claim it brought down the infamous Al Capone: only accountants can claim that fame.

Megg Mueller

Megg Mueller is a journalist with almost two decades of experience. She has worked as a reporter and editor for the Reno Gazette-Journal and as an editor of health care and education manuals for Aspen Publishers, a subsidiary of Wolters Kluwer. She wrote a weekly column on the hotel industry during her tenure as assistant travel editor for USA TODAY.com. Mueller is the editor of a tourism-based website and also serves as a reporter for a weekly business newspaper.

Caperton Gillett • Intellectual Firepower • Apr 01, 2011 • http://www.uab.edu/uabmagazine/2011/april/irs

Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011 13-2011 Accountants and Auditors • Mar 27, 2012 • http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes132011.htm

IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent • http://jobs.irs.gov/student/criminal-investigation-special-agent.html