The fraud triangle is a model for explaining the factors that cause someone to commit occupational fraud. It consists of three components which, together, lead to fraudulent behavior:
Pressure — The fraudster has some financial problem, which can be personal or professional, that they are unable to solve through legitimate means. They begin to consider committing an illegal act, such as stealing cash or falsifying an expense report, as a way to solve their problem.
Opportunity — The fraudster must see some way they can use (abuse) their position of trust to solve their financial problem, as well as a means by which they can conceal their crime to avoid getting caught. The perceived opportunity defines the method by which the crime is eventually committed.
Rationalization — The fraudster must justify the crime to themself in a way that makes it a justifiable act in their mind. The vast majority of fraudsters are first-time offenders with no criminal past; they do not view themselves as criminals. Fraudsters commonly rationalize their crime by telling themselves that they are ordinary, honest people who were caught in a bad set of circumstances that left them no other choice.
For more information about The Fraud Triangle, please consult the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.