Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) Certification


Updated October 4, 2022

Getting the certified fraud examiner (CFE) certification can help take your accounting career to the next level. Explore CFE qualifications and exam requirements in this guide.

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Certified fraud examiners discover and prevent fraudulent activity. The CFE certification signifies expertise, knowledge, and professionalism in high-stakes accounting. Candidates need strong moral character and careful attention to detail.

You can earn certification through the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), the world's largest center for anti-fraud training and education. Earning CFE certification can open up specialized accounting career opportunities.

Accounting professionals interested in CFE certification must meet education and work experience requirements. Continue reading to learn more about the CFE exam and the benefits of becoming a certified fraud examiner.

Why Get CFE Certification?

High Salary
Earning CFE certification can help accounting professionals secure promotions and earn higher salaries. The ACFE notes that certified fraud examiners earn 34% more than their non-certified colleagues. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a median annual salary of $81,430 for all financial examiners as of 2020.
Preferred Status
Certified fraud examiners often hold an edge over uncertified professionals. CFE certification may factor into many employers' hiring and promotion policies. This credential may also attract the attention of human resources professionals and speed up the hiring process.
Meaningful Work
Certified fraud examiners can improve an organization's financial health. These professionals often collaborate with law enforcement and may provide legal testimony. ACFE research indicates that organizations employing CFEs uncover fraud 50% sooner than organizations without CFEs on staff.

How Do You Qualify to Become a Certified Fraud Examiner?

Certified fraud examiners perform specialized accounting duties. To qualify for this role, candidates need strong accounting education and work experience. Individuals must pass an exam and earn certification to work as certified fraud examiners.

CFE certification requires considerable preparation. Candidates must meet minimum educational and professional requirements to sit for the four-part certification exam. Eligibility to take the CFE exam depends on the ACFE's point system.

Continue reading to learn more about the degrees, work experience, and study preparation needed to become a certified fraud examiner.

Educational Requirements

CFE exam applicants usually hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. The ACFE awards 40 of the 50 required points toward certification eligibility for a bachelor's degree. Professionals of many backgrounds may qualify, since the ACFE does not stipulate a specific major.

Those without traditional educational backgrounds may still qualify for the exam. Candidates can receive 10 eligibility points for each year of college study, even if they did not earn a degree. CFE hopefuls can also earn points for professional experience.

Professional Requirements

Bachelor's-educated CFE candidates need at least two years of professional fraud prevention experience. Qualifying employment areas include accounting, law, fraud investigation, and loss prevention. The ACFE's eligibility system awards five points for each year of relevant work, so some professionals can replace formal education with years of experience.

Candidates without enough professional experience can take the exam if they score at least 40 eligibility points. These professionals can gain official certification once they meet the work experience requirement.

What Does the CFE Exam Cover?

Candidates can take the CFE certification exam online. Test-takers do not need to complete the 500-question test in one sitting. In fact, the ACFE encourages examinees to work on one exam section at a time.

The ACFE uses the Prometric online proctoring platform. Test-takers can access this platform from their home computers. Candidates can also complete the exam at a Prometric test center in their area.

The CFE exam includes four sections: financial transactions and fraud schemes, law, investigation, and fraud prevention and deterrence. Each section contains objective and true/false questions. Examinees can take up to two hours to finish each section, and they must complete the entire exam within 30 days.

CFE Exam Structure

Section Format Time
Financial Transactions and Fraud Schemes Objective and true/false questions 2 hours
Law Objective and true/false questions 2 hours
Investigation Objective and true/false questions 2 hours
Fraud Prevention and Deterrence Objective and true/false questions 2 hours
Source: ACFE

Applicants should choose a secure, quiet testing location. Candidates taking the exam online must provide their own technology and equipment. To begin the examination process, professionals must apply for ACFE membership, pay an application fee, and request a CFE exam key.

Remote test-takers should ensure that their computer setup meets ACFE system requirements. Stipulations include a web camera capable of a 360° environment check, a microphone, and a stable internet connection.

Scoring the Exam

The ACFE grades the CFE certification exam on a pass/fail basis. Each exam section contains 100 questions. CFE candidates must score 75% or higher in each of the four sections to pass. The ACFE notifies test-takers of their pass/fail status within 3-5 business days of submission but does not provide passing scores.

If candidates do not pass every section, the ACFE allows retakes for $100 per section. Candidates can retake each exam section up to three times. After paying the retake fees, applicants receive retake exam keys by email within 3-5 business days.

CFE candidates must score 75% or higher in each of the four sections to pass.

Once a candidate has passed all four CFE exam sections, the ACFE's certification committee begins a final review. The committee notifies applicants of their certification status within three weeks of passing the CFE exam. After the final approval, the ACFE mails a formal CFE certificate.

CFE Exam Scoring

Section Score Range Passing Score
Financial Transactions and Fraud Schemes 0-100 75%
Law 0-100 75%
Investigation 0-100 75%
Fraud Prevention and Deterrence 0-100 75%
Source: ACFE

How Do You Register for the CFE Exam?

Candidates can apply for membership and register for the CFE exam through the ACFE's website. The organization accepts CFE exam applications via its certification portal.

The online application contains four sections: qualifications, experience and character, signature statement, and payment. Applicants must provide proof of their education and work experience. The ACFE also requires three professional recommendation forms and a current photograph. Applicants receive a confirmation email within 5-7 days of submission.

The ACFE recommends that candidates submit their applications at least 30 days before they plan to take the exam. Applications remain on file for two years. Test-takers can sit for the CFE exam any time of the year.

Paying for the Exam

CFE hopefuls must pay an application fee of $450. Applicants who purchased the CFE Exam Prep Course receive a $100 credit toward exam fees. Purchasing this program may also reduce costs by helping test-takers avoid retakes.

Retake fees cost $100 per section. Applicants should note that the ACFE caps retakes at three attempts.

How Can You Prepare for the CFE Exam?

CFE certification sets professionals apart from the crowd, but it takes work to earn this credential. Applicants can prepare for the CFE exam by purchasing the CFE exam prep course and developing a study schedule. Other prep strategies include joining a study group, taking notes, and participating in the ACFE's CFE Exam Challenge program.

Top Tips

Purchase the CFE exam prep course
This self-study program offers pre-assessment questions and provides immediate feedback. Users also receive a digital copy of the Fraud Examiners Manual. The course's practice exams can help prepare candidates to pass the CFE exam in fewer attempts.
Develop a study schedule
Working professionals may face difficulties in finding time to study. However, carving out designated study time can improve exam performance. Devoting daily or weekly hours to studying the Fraud Examiners Manual can help candidates best prepare for the exam.
Join a study group
Earning CFE certification is a popular aspiration among accounting professionals. Candidates who have networked in the field likely know other individuals considering the exam. Study groups allow test-takers to collaborate with other professionals and quiz one another on exam content.
Take notes
The Fraud Examiners Manual contains comprehensive information that some applicants may find daunting. The ACFE recommends taking notes on complex or confusing topics and returning to difficult sections. Test-takers should review their notes regularly.
Take part in the CFE Exam Challenge
Twice annually, the ACFE offers a 90-Day CFE Exam Challenge. This program provides study tips and peer support through the ACFE online community group. Participating in this program can help candidates stay motivated to pass the CFE exam.

Practice Exams and Study Resources

This work remains the definitive study resource for the CFE exam. All the questions from the exam's four sections derive from the Fraud Examiners Manual. Applicants can buy this manual as a stand-alone copy or as part of a package with the study guide and toolkit.

This study resource includes the complete CFE Exam Prep Course, a printed Fraud Examiners Manual, a comprehensive study guide, and a flashcard app. These reference tools offer both preparation and support for prospective test-takers.

This upgraded study package includes the CFE Exam Prep Course plus 20 hours of on-demand video instruction. The videos feature CFE instructors who guide applicants through the exam's most important concepts. This package also includes a supplemental workbook.

Professional Insights on Being a CFE

Portrait of Ken Stalcup

Ken Stalcup

Ken Stalcup is a senior director with Houlihan Valuation Advisors in Indianapolis, Indiana. In addition to being a CPA, Ken is a CFE, certified in financial forensics (CFF), and accredited in business valuation. Mr. Stalcup's practice focuses on business valuation, litigation support, and forensic accounting engagements. His experience includes managing audit and accounting engagements for privately held clients in service organizations, manufacturing, construction, and financial services, along with governmental and nonprofit organizations. Ken has also managed several high-profile fraud and forensic cases, including embezzlement cases, shareholder disputes, theft of intellectual property cases, and Ponzi schemes. Ken has several published articles on business valuation and fraud prevention and detection. He has also had industry speaking assignments with the Indiana CPA Society and the ACFE.

Why did you choose to study accounting? Was it something you were always interested in?

Accounting wasn't something I was always interested in. During college, I switched from economics to accounting. I had some doubts about a career path and job title with a degree in economics, but that was not the case with accounting, which has several well-established programs and paths. While few organizations have an economist on their payroll, almost every business has an accountant. I liked that.

While I was in college, the accounting program was considered one of the more rigorous programs, which attracted me to it. I liked the idea, the challenge. I didn't want to look back at my college experience and regret that I hadn't tried something harder. I didn't know it at the time, but I was setting myself up for a lifetime of learning. To keep my license, I am required to take continuing professional education every year. I truly enjoy taking classes now and learning new things — there's always something new to explore.

"I think a really good plan would be to use the ACFE's online study program and connect with other students studying for the exam."

What is a certified fraud examiner? Why might an accounting student choose to pursue a career in fraud examination?

The CFE credential is awarded to individuals who have some experience in fraud prevention and detection. This credential also has educational requirements and an exam, much like the CPA exam. The ACFE is an international organization that administers the exam, in addition to supporting and regulating the CFE members. CFEs work in many industries, including accounting, government, loss prevention, corporate investigations, and private investigations. Some members work to prevent fraud or reduce fraud losses. Other members concentrate on conducting investigations surrounding cases of fraud, waste, or abuse.

An accounting student may find fraud examination interesting for its variety of cases. In my career, I've had cases of employee theft where a fellow accountant steals money from a corporation and tries to hide it. I have had cases where business owners have deleted financial transactions to make their finances look better. I've had cases where an individual tries to hide assets from their spouse during a divorce. Many fraud cases contain a financial element. Having a financial background and an accounting education helps when someone is "cooking the books."

Can you describe your experience preparing for and taking the certified fraud examiner exam? What advice would you give to students preparing for the exam?

The ACFE offers classes and reading materials to prepare candidates for the exam. I chose the self-study route. It covers quite a lot of material, so I decided to set aside a few hours each weekend for about six months to study for the exam. As I recall, I would go to the library or a local coffee shop, take test questions, and highlight materials from the ACFE's Fraud Examiners Manual. It worked — I passed the exam the first time.

My advice to anyone interested in becoming a CFE is simply to get started. Make a plan. I think a really good plan would be to use the ACFE's online study program and connect with other students studying for the exam. There are several online communities and ongoing discussion groups available to anyone interested in the credential. Be realistic about the amount of time it will take to learn the material and sit for the exam. It's likely to take several months to cover the materials and become familiar with the concepts.

What advice would you give to students considering earning a degree in accounting?

When I got my degree, the accounting program was a four-year program. I graduated with a bachelor's degree. Generally, to sit for the CPA exam now, a candidate has to complete a five-year accounting program at an accredited school.

Accounting isn't getting any easier. There are more and more accounting standards all the time, as tax laws are written and rewritten every year. If you can find a mentor in a specific area, latch on to him or her. You can learn a lot about the profession by talking to people doing the work you are most interested in.

Any final thoughts for us?

I have never been underemployed, and I have always enjoyed the diversity of the work. Being an accountant is not just a desk job. I get to travel to observe a client's inventory. I interview people and observe, inspect, and test systems and data at clients' offices. I work with attorneys to build a bulletproof case when there's fraud. No two days are alike, and I enjoy that.

How Do You Maintain the Certified Fraud Examiner Certification?

To maintain CFE certification, professionals must earn at least 20 hours of continuing professional education (CPE) every year. At least 10 of these hours must focus on fraud detection and deterrence. Two or more hours must relate to ethics.

Professionals who earn more than the required 20 hours of CPE within 12 months can carry up to 10 excess hours over to the next year.

Should You Get Multiple Certifications?

Professional certifications can increase proficiency in the accounting field. Certifications can also stand out to employers and improve your chances of landing a job.

Along with CFE certification, accounting professionals may find value in pursuing the following designations:

  • Certified Internal Auditor
  • Certified Management Accountant
  • Certified Tax Preparer
  • Certified in Financial Forensics
  • Certified Public Bookkeeper

Common Questions About CFE Certification

What does a certified fraud examiner do?

Certified fraud examiners detect fraud and improve organizations' financial health. These professionals often work with law enforcement and may offer legal testimony against fraud criminals.

How long does it take to get a CFE certification?

CFE certification usually requires a bachelor's degree and at least two years of professional fraud experience. Preparing for the exam takes about 60 days, but prep time can vary based on experience.

How many exams are there in CFE?

CFE candidates must complete one four-section exam. Applicants can find all of the exam content in the Fraud Examiners Manual. To maintain certification, professionals must complete 20 CPE hours per year.

How many times can I take the exam for ​​fraud examiner certification?

Examinees can retake each CFE exam section up to three times. Each section retake attempt costs $100.

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