Sonoma fiscal sleuth Lorraine Aho finds her role in helping others
From her desk in Sonoma, Lorraine Aho, founder of Aho & Associates Financial Forensics, unravels the intricate schemes of fraudsters.
“I work to be a voice for those who are victims, seniors, people going through trauma, and often, women going through a divorce. I feel this role fits me,” said Aho.
Aho, 57, said her unofficial title is “chief spaghetti untangler.” She said her four-person firm is often hired to provide services for divorce attorneys representing female clients.
“Some men spend years hiding money they receive, income they earn, and girlfriends of which their wives are not aware. All of us at the firm are students of human psychology. We start our work by recreating a person’s life, understanding the patterns in which they engage,” said Aho.
Aho, who originally hails from Redwood City, said her desire to find out the truth runs in the family. She is the daughter of a San Mateo County deputy sheriff.
“In the 1960s, our family moved up to Creswell, Oregon, to be away from the recent influx of drugs and other concerns. When I was in high school, I worked as a field hand, picking strawberries and beans. Then I went to Oregon State University, where I majored in speech communications. My next step was Portland, and later, I came to Marin County. I established my business in Sonoma in 2001,” said Aho.
Aho started her firm when she was a new mother. It took her approximately 10 years to earn her CPA license.
“My husband was amazing and did a lot to help raise our daughter. I worked through school as a fraud examiner, steadily putting in the hours of class time, then general accounting and audit (a review of a company’s financial statement) experience,” said Aho.
Aho said her mother, Carol Houde, was her role model.
“There were five children in my family. My mother raised us and went to nursing school as I was growing up. She taught me that I can be flexible and succeed at what I want to do,” said Aho.
Aho said being a financial forensic specialist often involves recovering years worth of receipts. The lengthy process can frustrate clients who had no idea their business or romantic partners were lying to them.
“They’ve had their trust shaken, so I let them use my strength. I tell them, lean on me right now. At the end of this, you’ll be able to stand up and do this for yourself,” said Aho.
Aho said she often refers women who have not been in charge of finances in years to professional money managers. This gives the clients a chance to gain confidence in handling their finances themselves.
“I also show clients that fraud is everywhere. I explain where they might expect to get scammed. That builds up women and gives them some peace so they can move forward. With this information, they lose some of their fear,” said Aho.
Aho said one of her biggest challenges is finding how money changed hands in cash-based industries. It is also hard work to track down funds hidden through bitcoin and other cryptocurrency transactions.
“Another thing that’s important is sharing advice about how to donate to nonprofits successfully. People in this area have huge hearts, but embezzlement is common. When you want the best for everybody, you still have to pay attention to all the small pieces,” said Aho.
Since 2016, Aho has volunteered with the Sonoma County Financial Abuse Specialist Team (FAST). This is an advocacy group of specialists who meet through the Family Justice Center in Santa Rosa to track fraud against elders in criminal cases.
“We’re a combination of community volunteers from business and nonprofits like Senior Advocacy Services, a Petaluma-based nonprofit. Local officials from the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department, and the Sonoma County Human Services Department help,” said Aho.
Aho said the work at FAST helps her better understand how to work with law enforcement agencies.
“FAST has also prepared me to begin doing community outreach about fraud. Before the pandemic, I was talking to libraries about holding workshops on scams. I am working to set these up for dates down the road,” said Aho.
Aho said her advice for new entrepreneurs is that it is OK to go slow.
“Just don’t stop. My other piece of advice, for everyone working to aid people who have been hurt, is to make your office a no-judgment zone,” said Aho.
Aho said quiet time, kindness, and providing opportunities for education benefit both “teachers” and “students.”
“It’s rewarding to be able to help people. I am proud I get to do that every workday for my clients,” said Aho.