Students intrigued about forensic accounting meet with Brian Lanners of the FBI


Photo by Mikhail Nilov

The FBI investigates financial crimes with the aid of forensic accounts.

By Kary Hernandez, Reporter

West Chicago Community High School hosted a lunch and learn on Dec. 9 with Brian Lanners, a WEGO alumni and forensic accountant for the FBI.

Students from all grade levels were invited to the Student Activities Center during lunch hours to hear Lanners’ presentation and ask questions.

Students listen to FBI agent Brian Lanners in the Student Activities Center on Dec. 9. (Photo by Marc Wolfe)

The way forensic accountants work for the FBI hugely depends on various factors in each case. They work to identify and investigate financial crimes, using all available resources. According to Lanners, the most important things they consider are the number of victims, amount of money lost, nature of the scheme, and the vulnerability of those involved. Those factors are more significant than a company losing money.

Lanners was born and raised in the Carol Stream/West Chicago area, and attended Benjamin Middle School before moving on to West Chicago Community High School. After graduating, he began his studies of accounting at Northern Illinois University, where he ultimately earned a bachelor’s degree. Lanners decided to work at a public accounting firm in Illinois.

So, how did he end up working for the FBI?

“I’ve always had an interest in fraud and forensics, but mostly fraud,” said Lanners. “Once you’re learning how accounting works, you think ‘how can someone commit fraud using this knowledge?’” 

At the public accounting firm, Lanners audited companies, car dealerships, and such. After a period of time, Lanners knew he wanted more real-world experience, and wanted to branch into other areas beyond accounting. 

“I knew I needed more, I wanted to do something bigger, I wanted more out my career than just a paycheck. I want to make a difference, so the FBI stuck out and was an obvious thought in my mind,” said Lanners.

Today,  Lanners continues to work with crimes that are related to financial or white-collar investigations. As he explained, his job is to follow the money and collect evidence to prove a crime has been committed. 

Lanners collects information through banks and companies related to other people’s bank accounts. The process involves looking at various accounts and following the money to see how fraud was committed. He also needs to determine how the money (assets) was spent. “Our cases are bigger. It’s usually five hundred thousand to a million dollars is a minimum for a decent amount for our cases. It’s not that we don’t want to investigate it, if we can’t get it charged investigating it does nothing”.

Once Lanners and the FBI have secured the evidence legally, they present their case to a prosecutor, a lawyer working for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The prosecutor is the one who decides whether or not to charge an individual with a crime. 

In the long run, Lanners’ job also requires him to testify at a trial if a case progresses that far.

“I wanted to be able to believe in what I do and see what I’m doing makes a difference. That is why I made a jump from my public accounting company job to the FBI in 2010,” said Lanners. “The skills that I have, that I’ve developed, I want to put those to use for something good, that’s what drives me.”