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Accountant, cop pair on Ybor City fraud prevention firm

Margie Manning

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Paul Dunlop, partner, and Alexis Bell, founder and managing partner, Fraud Doctor

Fraud Doctor, one of the first tenants in The Undercroft, has made itself right at home in the cybersecurity hub in Ybor City.

Fraud Doctor helps companies manage their risk for fraud. Alexis Bell, Fraud Doctor’s founder and managing partner, and Paul Dunlop, partner at Fraud Doctor, view themselves as go-betweens for fraud-fighting industry and the cybersecurity industry.

“We have said for years that you should not silo these two disciplines,” Bell said, during an interview with the St. Pete Catalyst at The Undercroft’s grand opening.

There’s lots of overlap between risk management and cyberseurity. Still, they have remained separate, even using different words to describe the same concepts. “So we have over the course of the years been the liaison between the two groups, and it just made sense to be here,” Bell said.

Dunlop,  a one-time police officer with the Metropolitan Police in London, is working with the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce and local law enforcement officers to help raise awareness among small businesses about fraud and cybercrime.

“When we picked the office here in Ybor, we saw what was happening here. This is a perfectly scaled community that’s ready for that kind of stuff,” Dunlop said. “It’s an awareness thing, but it’s also the nature of all small businesses. You just get busy on the things that are right in front of you, and cybersecurity is sometimes the last thing you get busy on until it’s too late.”

Bell and Dunlop bring international experience and high-profile credentials to their work. After his police career, Dunlop spent several years at Citigroup (NYSE: C), including serving as head of global fraud management. Bell led the design and implementation of the initial global antifraud program for a European public conglomerate with 165,000 employees. She then pioneered the first comprehensive microfinance fraud risk management program covering 22 developing countries in the Middle East, Eurasia, Latin America and Africa.

She’s also just ended a term as global chair for the board of directors of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.

St. Pete Catalyst: How did you get into this line of work?

Bell: I was doing traditional accounting, living in Atlanta, and I tripped over a case and I realized in that moment, I was having so much fun using accounting skills to help investigate a crime. In that moment I realized I have been bored all this time. I had no idea how bored I was. So I made the switch to forensic accounting and I have never looked back.

St. Pete Catalyst: How do you describe what Fraud Doctor does?

Bell: We help companies manage their risk for fraud. We can help with governance, risk assessments, data analytics, investigations, and communications strategy. We can help companies build that if they have nothing existing or to get to the next maturity level.

St. Pete Catalyst: Who do you work with?

Bell: We’ve got some large public clients. We just did some work in the Middle East with one of the largest banks. At the same time we help non-profits. Before I did this work, I was responsible for building the first anti-fraud program in the microfinance industry. Recently we started doing federal contracting so hopefully we can do some work with the federal government too.

St. Pete Catalyst: Why did you choose to locate in Ybor City?

Bell: Florida is my home state. I had lived all up and down the east coast, so when I had an empty nest it was time to live somewhere new. I decided to come back to Florida and then specifically Ybor because I love the historic nature of it. I love the grittiness of the place. I love that its entrepreneurs are really trying to make a difference in the community. We wanted to be in a place where we could be a part of the community and not just an office where you never actually interact with anyone.

Paul and I have done a lot of international work over the years so we’re known outside the country. We decided it’s a time in our lives when we want to be more at home and more involved in our community. We spent the last six months going to different groups and understanding what are the different professional associations doing, what training are people giving, what’s out there and the areas where we can help and bring people together.

St. Pete Catalyst: How have you funded the company?

Bell: We have bootstrapped it. We don’t really have any desire for investors. I do have a medium-term goal to do tech, so we might have a different conversation at that point, but when it’s time to do the tech then we might need a cash infusion, but I’m not saying that we’re looking for that at this time.

St. Pete Catalyst: What do you mean by ‘doing tech’?

Bell: I have developed analysis over the years that presently is a very manual process to do. It could take a week to do all the calculations and get the output that you need. I believe that if we have software that does those calculations for you, it would take seconds, and more people would be inclined to use it..

For example, I can take finance statement data from publicly available information, I can do an analysis and give you the fraud risk by fraud scheme and give you a risk score for that. That doesn’t exist other than my analysis, but it took me a decade to develop that.

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