Workplace theft and fraud happen regularly in companies of all sizes. While it is difficult to avoid this occurrence, especially in tough economic times, vigilant managers and employees can observe a number of indications within their environment and coworkers’ behaviors that will alert them to undesirable situations and allow them to take the appropriate and timely measures to limit any potential losses.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO PREVENT THEFT AND FRAUD IN THE WORKPLACE
The best way to avoid those occurrences is by selecting the right employees with the right personality traits; since individuals with low moral standards are more likely to exploit weaknesses within the company and use any lack of control and oversight for their own benefit.
Such situations can be prevented by conducting character investigations on potential employees during the hiring process. It is to be noted that character investigations are different from background checks and that they are a much better indicator of a person’s motivations and possible future behaviors than the standard verifications of past employment and educational background stated on a person’s resume.
Other measures that can help to deal with theft and fraud are simple but often overlooked by smaller businesses or larger corporations with ineffective security teams:
While the above-mentioned measures will prevent opportunistic thefts and fraud (which result from lack of control and countermeasures), they will not dissuade motivated employees with a serious malicious intent who will find ways to work around them and will come up with more advanced schemes to cover up their actions.
WHAT TO DO IF THEFT AND FRAUD ARE SUSPECTED
The more complex those schemes are, the more likely that they will leave traces that won’t go unnoticed. Sooner or later, the employer will start to suspect that something is amiss by noticing signs that may warrant them to investigate the situation further.
An investigation is a crucial step when dealing with internal theft and fraud since by jumping to conclusions and taking actions against a suspected employee and accusing them of any wrongdoing without proper evidence to back up the allegations, could be a costly mistake for the company.
Unsupported allegations and unjustified actions against employees open possibilities of litigation against the employer, not to mention the negative impact on the company’s morale, its other employees, and the company’s overall image. Those incidents can also provide the opportunity for the real culprit to lay low, cover their tracks, adjust their strategy, and possibly never be caught.
To deal with such situations in a legal manner, employment lawyers, HR personnel, and Private Investigators (depending on the size and the available resources of a company) can guide the employer during the process to ensure that all the steps that will be undertaken during an investigation will be done according to the local rules and the regulations; and that the evidence that will be gathered against an employee will be admissible in court (should the mater move into a litigation stage later on to recover some of the losses; or if criminal charges will be laid against the employee in question).
WHAT TO DO IF THEFT AND FRAUD ALREADY HAPPENED
When there are clear signs of theft and losses in the workplace, the employer may need to investigate the matter further in order to find answers and a corresponding solution. However, before launching a full investigation targeted specifically at employees, there are a few things that an employer can do to confirm that the problem is indeed internal and that no other factors can explain those losses.
By implementing visible countermeasures like surveillance cameras at key locations, such as cash registers or supply rooms, and by informing the employees of an increase in computer surveillance and tighter operational and administrative oversights (whether it is true or not), the opportunistic (“easy”) thefts may drop drastically or stop completely; thus confirming that the source of the problem was internal.
Additionally, if specific employees are suspected, the employer may alter their work schedule (ex: depriving those employees of the opportunity of being all alone at the warehouse during the night shift by placing them on the day shift or changing their duties and restrict their access to the cash register or administrative systems) and see if the losses stop or if the thefts continue as before or move to a different time of the day.
It is also important to keep in mind that it is possible that an employee was distracted due to their ongoing personal life circumstances and made an honest mistake in the inventory or in the system, or they were not aware of the policy and thought that they did nothing wrong. If that is the case the issue should be discussed with the employee and the losses should stop immediately.
If, however, the situation persists and the employee continues to make mistakes, it is an indication that either they are negligent in their duties or are purposefully (albeit carelessly) continue to behave in a manner that causes losses for the company. Such behavior will require the employer to investigate the matter further and in great detail.
Finally, the employer should talk to employees and the neighboring companies to see if there is another possible explanation for the losses. Employees or other business owners may have noticed a suspicious customer or someone lurking around the area at odd hours or something unusual that could have happened on or around the premises.
Based on the information, or the lack of, the employer will have a better idea in which direction they should concentrate their efforts. If it is an external factor that is responsible for the losses, then a security consultant can help business owners protect their premises in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
If, however, all signs point to an inside job, while physical protection countermeasures will also increase security and reduce opportunities for losses, a full internal investigation will be required in order to get to the bottom of the situation, find the root cause, and identify the culprit.