Leaders of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board are hoping for a few good tips. In what could be viewed as a show of faith by the accounting board in the integrity of at least some members of corporate America, the PCAOB this week moved to encourage would-be whistleblowers by setting up an online form and a toll-free number so people can more easily -- and anonymously -- offer the board enforcement tips and report complaints.

The scandals of the past few years have made whistle blowing -- in spite of the term's negative connotation -- almost fashionable. Two well-known whistleblowers, Enron's Sherron Watkins, who warned former chief executive Ken Lay of the energy firm's impending financial collapse, and WorldCom's Cynthia Cooper, the internal auditor who uncovered irregularities and alerted the company's board, were both recognized by Time magazine as Persons of the Year for 2002.

Whistle blowing has even gone Hollywood. Spike Lee's latest film, "She Hate Me," showcases a whistleblower as its main character, in the tale of a Harvard-MBA biotech exec who gets fired when he informs on his bosses and initiates an investigation into their business dealings by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Perhaps the brazenness of Watkins, Rowley and others in recent years has inspired others to speak up about wrongdoing. In its Report to the Nation on Occupational Fraud Abuse this year, the Association for Certified Fraud Examiners reported that occupational frauds were much more likely to be detected by a tip than through other means, such as internal audits and internal controls. Among frauds committed by owners and executives, which tend to be the most costly, more than half of all cases were identified by a tip. And the median loss among organizations with anonymous reporting mechanisms was $56,000, while it was more than twice as high for those that didn't have established reporting procedures, according to the report. As the ACFE noted, companies may want to extend confidential reporting mechanisms to third-party sources. Among cases that were detected by a tip, 60 percent of tips came from employees, 20 percent came from customers, 16 percent were from vendors and 13 percent were from anonymous sources.

Of course, the establishment of the reporting mechanisms alone may not be enough to inspire people to speak up if they see something suspicious. While things turned out well for Watkins -- she went on to a high-profile career as a public speaker and got to see her former boss Lay indicted -- as we all know, whistleblowers don't always fare so well. Think of the travails of Jeffrey Wigand, the former Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. exec who cooperated with the governmental in investigating the tobacco industry.

At any rate, after the changes the profession has been through, it would certainly be interesting to be listening at the receiving end of those PCAOB calls.

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