Q: I'm an auditor working for one of the big firms. One of my closest friends has started her own business and I've been very supportive - until now.
She has asked me to do her accounts but wants me to fudge the figures. My head says I shouldn't do it but my heart really wants to help her out. If I let her down, I think our friendship would be jeopardised, but if someone notices the massaged accounting then that would put me in a very awkward situation at work. What should I do?
A: You know as well as I do: it would be insane for you to fudge those figures. Once figures have been fudged a first time, they have to be fudged for ever. And every set has to be that little bit better than the last. And sooner or later, somebody is going to spot that they've been fudged and that you were the person who fudged them. As a qualified auditor, you know all this perfect-ly well. For the sake of a friendship, you'd be putting your entire professional career at risk.
I hope you haven't half-implied that you might be able to help her out. If so, you may have to lie; there are times when this is justified.
You could say that you've looked again at your contract and it specifically debars you from doing any outside work. Or that professional protocol requires any auditing you might undertake to be counter-checked by another qualified auditor. But you're much more likely to think of a plausible reason for being unable to help than I am.
Be firm and definite. Don't leave the door even the slightest bit open. Resist the temptation to say how sorry you are that you can't do as she asks. Instead, confess to being rather relieved that you can't because you'd have been intensely uneasy about it, not just on your own behalf but even more on hers as well.
You may be reluctant to accept this advice. If so, remember that helping someone on to the slippery slope of financial deception is not, when you think it through, an act of true friendship. And if you're still a bit hesitant, ask yourself exactly why this friend of yours wants you to massage her figures: perhaps because it would help her gull other people into backing her business? Could you really live with being complicit in that?
If there are practical and open ways in which you can help her, by all means do so. But for both your sakes, please don't cheat.