The Fraud Triangle and Tax Evasion

55 Pages Posted: 28 Feb 2019 Last revised: 2 Apr 2021

See all articles by Leandra Lederman

Leandra Lederman

Indiana University Maurer School of Law

Date Written: February 22, 2019


The “fraud triangle”—a theory of why people commit fraud—is the preeminent framework for analyzing fraud in the accounting literature. It developed out of studies of fraudsters, including inmates convicted of embezzlement. The three components of the fraud triangle are (1) an incentive or pressure (usually financial), (2) opportunity, and (3) rationalization.

There is a separate, extensive legal literature on tax compliance and evasion. The fraud triangle is largely absent from this legal literature, although tax evasion is a type of fraud. This Article rectifies that oversight, analyzing how using the fraud triangle as a lens can inform the legal literature on tax compliance. In addition, the Article argues that the fraud triangle can provide a conceptual frame that provides a place for two distinct types of tax compliance theories discussed in the legal literature: the traditional deterrence model and certain behavioral theories.

Keywords: fraud triangle, fraud diamond, tax evasion, tax fraud, white-collar crime, Donald Cressey, Edwin Sutherland, Svend Riemer, deterrence, fraud, opportunity to evade, tax noncompliance, tax compliance

JEL Classification: K29, K34, K42, M42

Suggested Citation

Lederman, Leandra, The Fraud Triangle and Tax Evasion (February 22, 2019). Indiana Legal Studies Research Paper No. 398, 106 IOWA L. REV. __ (forthcoming 2021), Iowa Law Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Leandra Lederman (Contact Author)

Indiana University Maurer School of Law ( email )

211 S. Indiana Avenue
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States
(812) 855-6149 (Phone)
(812) 855-0555 (Fax)


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