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Deconstructing the origins of Cressey’s Fraud Triangle

Peter Tickner (Faculty of Humanities and Social Science, University of Portsmouth, Reading, UK)
Mark Button (Faculty of Humanities and Social Science, University of Portsmouth, Reading, UK)

Journal of Financial Crime

ISSN: 1359-0790

Article publication date: 2 June 2021

Issue publication date: 5 August 2021




Cressey’s Fraud Triangle has been referenced in 8,584 studies and academic papers [1] and is a stalwart of training courses for accounting and audit practitioners and fraud investigators. The Fraud Triangle has endured for three decades in the academic and practitioner worlds. This study aims to explore the origins of Cressey’s Fraud Triangle and challenge its practical value to a fraud investigator.


This study has developed from analysis of a targeted literature review carried out as part of a wider study into occupational fraud and corruption.


Cressey’s name is intrinsically linked to the Fraud Triangle, although he never used the expression during his lifetime. Two of the three motivational factors identified by Cressey (1953) were developed from the earlier work of Svend Riemer (1941), who it is suggested should have equal billing with Donald Cressey for the concepts that led to the creation of the Fraud Triangle.

Practical implications

The paper illustrates the limitations of Cressey’s Fraud Triangle for practitioners.


Many academics and researchers have either misunderstood Cressey’s role in the development of the Fraud Triangle or been unaware of its true origins. Although the pioneering work of Riemer is referenced in a 2014 study on the Fraud Triangle by Alexander Schuchter and Michael Levi, to the best of the authors’ knowledge, this paper is the first to identify the influence of Riemer on Cressey’s thinking and the development of the Fraud Triangle.



Tickner, P. and Button, M. (2021), "Deconstructing the origins of Cressey’s Fraud Triangle", Journal of Financial Crime, Vol. 28 No. 3, pp. 722-731.



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