Workplace theft and fraud are common occurrences that, if left unattended, can deliver significant financial and reputational blows to a company. Businesses of all sizes are vulnerable to internal theft, but unlike their larger counterparts, small companies rarely have the required expertise or resources for proper loss prevention.
This lack of funds, equipment, dedicated security personnel, and oversight makes small businesses very attractive targets for dishonest employees who may use one of many simple methods to steal from the company.
Among those methods, the following are the most popular:
- Forging Cheques: Issuing company cheques to themselves (or their own companies) and hiding the transactions by falsifying account records.
- Fake Invoices: Creating fake invoices for existing vendors and using those invoices to conceal stolen company funds as payments to those vendors.
- Fake Vendors: Making fake entries in the accounting system, creating non-existent vendors, and sending them payments for services or materials in order to hide the theft of company funds.
- Overbilling Customers: Inflating the amounts of the customers’ bills and pocketing the difference by covering up the transaction with a falsified accounting entry.
- Double Dipping: Paying for a legitimate business expense with the company credit card and later on submitting an out-of-pocket reimbursement request for the same expense.
- Using a Company Credit Card for Personal Expenses: Paying for personal expenses with a company credit card and claiming them as business expenses; or including unauthorized personal expenses to the expense report by inflating the numbers of the legitimate expenses.
- Voiding Transactions at The Cash Register: Voiding a transaction at the cash register and keeping the cash for the purchase.
- Stealing Cash, Products, Equipment, or Raw Materials: Taking cash directly from the cash bag before dropping it off at the bank or simply taking the money from the safe or cash box. The same can be applied to other company supplies, office equipment, and raw materials that can be hidden on the premises for retrieval at a later time or simply carried out when no one is watching.
- Stealing and Reselling Returned Merchandise: Taking returned products, claiming them as “beyond repair” and “throwing them out” when in reality the employee takes them home and resells them for profit.
- Requesting to Replace Lost or Damaged Equipment: Claiming lost or broken office equipment and requesting for it to be replaced while keeping the working original for personal use, or reselling it for profit.
The above-mentioned methods can easily be prevented through proper monitoring, basic security and surveillance equipment, clear guidelines, policies, and oversight which small businesses usually lack; making them the prime targets for those types of theft and fraud.
Larger companies on the other hand, usually have security departments that can implement effective measures for reducing the impact and the number of occurrences of simple thefts; making them less of an issue. As the result, however, those companies face a significantly greater challenge of dealing with more complex schemes such as:
- Setting up Fake Projects: Creating elaborate, hard to understand (and to track) non-existent projects and positions with fake employees to pocket their pay and project expenses while hiding the transactions by manipulating the accounting records and moving information from one department to another in order to slow down any possible oversight measures.
- Receiving Kickbacks from Vendors: Collecting payments from vendors in form of cash or additional products (that the employee can later resell for profit) for “allowing” them to conduct business with the company.
- Corporate Espionage: Selling trade secrets and privileged information to the competitors, or using such information for own (unauthorized) purposes.
- Starting Own Side Business: Using the company’s resources (such as equipment, materials, databases, codes, vendors discounts, and client lists) to start their own competing enterprise.
- Falsifying Overtime or Regular Work Hours: Colluding with other co-workers to cover each other’s absences or creating false payroll entries for overtime that was never completed.
The above-mentioned methods are more complicated to execute without being detected right away, and usually require senior staff to be involved. Those methods are also difficult to track and oversee in very large corporations where some projects, transactions, and even entire departments can be lost within the corporate structure. Oversight can be slow and information can also be delayed when moving from one department to another, creating opportunities for such schemes to exist.
No company is immune to internal theft. While smaller companies deal with simpler and, for the most part, easily preventable forms of theft, larger corporations have to deal with more elaborate schemes that employees have to resort to due to the resources that those companies can dedicate to the protection of their assets.
Where there is theft, there is also very likely to be fraud as well since it is the best way for employees to cover their tracks. Complex theft and fraud schemes can be difficult to detect, but there are several warning signs that a company can be on the lookout for in order to catch those occurrences early and take preventive measures before the situation becomes problematic.
In the absence of a dedicated and experienced security department, Private Investigators are the best resources for companies to address possible theft and fraud situations. Private Investigators can identify weaknesses within the organization that can be exploited by dishonest employees, they can find evidence of such occurrences, and provide answers to managers and business owners who can then make the right and informed decisions for their companies in order to prevent future losses.