In the world of corporate finance, maintaining trust and integrity is paramount.  Accurate financial reporting is not just a matter of compliance; it’s the foundation upon which investors, stakeholders, and the entire business community rely.  Yet, there are instances where financial data is manipulated to deceive, leading to grave consequences for companies and their stakeholders.  In this example, we will delve into a deceptive technique used by some individuals to artificially inflate a company’s profitability by overstating inventory and decreasing the Cost of Goods Sold.  By understanding this fraudulent tactic and its impact, we empower ourselves to be vigilant guardians of financial transparency.  Let’s explore the intricacies of this deceptive practice, discover how it can be unearthed within a company’s general ledger, and comprehend why vigilance in financial oversight is indispensable.

When working on a business valuation or forensic engagement, the analyst may be faced with overstated inventory and decreased cost of goods sold in the financial statements.  In the future, I will discuss additional fraud techniques.

Fraud Technique

This technique involves manipulating the company’s financial statements by overstating the value of inventory and decreasing the cost of goods sold.  This can be achieved by recording fictitious or inflated inventory levels and understating the actual cost of goods sold in the general ledger.

How it Can Be Discovered in the General Ledger

Inventory Valuation

Forensic experts can compare the inventory values reported in the general ledger with physical inventory counts.  Discrepancies between the two can be a red flag.

Cost Of Goods Sold Analysis

Analyzing the trend over time can reveal anomalies.  A sudden and significant decrease in Cost Of Goods Sold without a corresponding increase in sales or production volume may indicate fraud.

Document Inspection

Reviewing supporting documents such as purchase orders, invoices, and shipping records can help identify discrepancies between actual purchases and what is recorded in the ledger.

Impact on Company Profitability:

Overstating inventory and decreasing Cost Of Goods Sold artificially inflates the company’s gross profit margin, making the company appear more profitable than it actually is.

This can mislead investors, lenders, and shareholders into making financial decisions based on false information.  It can also lead to tax fraud, mail fraud, bank fraud, inventory fraud, cost of goods sold manipulation, document forgery, collusion, etc. as lower Cost Of Goods Sold results in higher taxable income.

Importance of Reviewing the General Ledger:

Detecting this fraud technique is essential for maintaining the company’s financial integrity and ensuring accurate financial reporting.

Uncovering manipulation of Cost Of Goods Sold and inventory is crucial for preventing legal and regulatory consequences, such as fines and penalties.

It helps protect the interests of stakeholders, including shareholders and investors, who rely on accurate financial statements to make informed decisions.

Timely detection of such fraud can mitigate potential financial losses and damage to the company’s reputation.

In a business valuation or forensic engagement, the general ledger should be requested.  In a business valuation or forensic engagement, discovery may be a mandatory request from opposing side of a case.  I believe that the business valuation or forensic accountant be aggressive in obtaining the general ledger of the company.  This can possible provide information related to the manipulation not available from other sources.


In the pursuit of corporate success and financial prosperity, the importance of transparency, integrity, and accountability cannot be overstated. This article has shed light on a deceitful practice: the manipulation of financial statements through overstating inventory and decreasing Cost of Goods Sold. This fraudulent technique, categorized under financial statement fraud, jeopardizes the very foundations of trust upon which businesses are built.

The impact of such fraudulent activities can be profound.  It misleads investors, lenders, and stakeholders into making decisions based on fictitious financial performance.  The repercussions extend beyond mere financial loss; they encompass legal liabilities, tarnished reputations, and the erosion of trust in the business world.

Detecting and preventing such financial manipulations are paramount.  The review of a company’s general ledger emerges as a crucial tool in this endeavor.  Through meticulous analysis, vigilance, and the implementation of internal controls, we can unveil these fraudulent tactics and safeguard the sanctity of financial reporting.

In essence, unmasking financial deception by increasing inventory and decreasing cost of goods sold serves as a stark reminder that financial transparency is the bedrock upon which ethical businesses thrive. Only through unwavering commitment to ethical financial practices and a watchful eye on the general ledger can we protect the interests of all stakeholders and ensure the long-term sustainability and credibility of our enterprises.

Analyze Cost Of Goods Sold Trends

Keep a close eye on the trend of your Cost of Goods Sold over time. Sudden and unexplained decreases should be thoroughly investigated.

Implement Robust Internal Controls

Take immediate steps to strengthen your company’s internal controls. Ensure that there are clear procedures and checks in place for recording and reporting inventory and Cost pf Goods Sold, with segregation of duties to prevent fraudulent activities.

I have earned a Master’s Degree in Business Valuations and apply those skills to my everyday business valuations.

Richard Claywell has been valuing closely held companies since 1985.  He has earned two of the highest designations in the business valuation field, the Certified Business Appraiser (“CBA”) and Accredited Senior Appraiser (“ASA”). Richard is a Certified Public Accountant, has a Master’s in Business Valuation (MBV), and holds ASA, CBA, ABV, ICVS, CVA, MAFF, CFD, ABAR, CVGA, and ICVS-A credentials.

I hold the Master Analyst in Financial Forensics and the Certified in Fraud Deterrence.  I have taught forensic accounting/fraud courses in the United States, China, and Taiwan.

I welcome and encourage comments and feedback. If you benefit from this series, please recommend it to your friends and colleagues and suggest they sign up to receive posts regularly.

© 2024 J. Richard Claywell, CPA, ABV, ASA, CBA, CVA, ICVS,  MAFF, CFD, ABAR – all rights reserved


Richard Claywell is the co-author of Capitalization and Discount Rates: The Value of Risk and contributing author of the NACVA Fundamentals Theory & Techniques training materials. Richard is also the Chairman of the International Certified Valuation Specialist Association. Richard has made presentations on business valuation topics in Germany, China, Korea, and Taiwan. Richard is also a contributing editor to Practitioners Publishing Company’s Guide to Practical Estate Planning (2008). Richard is the chief architect for the Business Valuation Manager Pro business valuation software program and the accompanying Professional Report Writer and contributing author of Financial Valuation: Application and Models.

Richard can be reached at 281.488.7531 or