Tips for Preventing Embezzlement and Employee Theft

If you are a business owner, you might be concerned about employee theft. If you aren’t concerned, perhaps you should be.

There are a number of ways that an employee can steal:

  • Embezzlement money, inventory or materials
  • Skimming – Diverting funds
  • Stealing business opportunities, data or trade secrets
  • Fraudulent disbursements like check tampering or billing schemes
  • Larceny – absolute theft

It might surprise you to find out that employees who steal are not usually new employees. Instead, they are those who have worked for a business for a number of years. (Three years is the average.) So, what can you do to protect your company from employee theft? Here are some ideas:

Watch Your Staff

You should be aware of the signs of theft. These include:

  • A sudden devotion to their work and/or the company
  • Working late
  • Living above their salary
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Evidence of gambling, bad check writing, or persistently asking to borrow money
  • A second job with materials available at your business
  • Strong objections to changes in inventory, financial, or supply procedures

Small businesses should always do background checks on any potential hire. Checking references is one thing, but to really understand who you are hiring, a full background check is best.

Supervise Employee Behavior

Research shows that employees are more likely to commit acts of fraud and theft when they don’t have a lot of supervision. You don’t have to supervise them constantly, but you should check on them often. It also is a good idea to have more than one person in charge of company finances.

Control All Business Receipts

Use pre-numbered sales slips and audit them frequently. This is especially the case with cash. You should not rely on a sales clerk to count and audit these receipts. Have another person do it.

Use Random Auditing

Start doing unannounced audits internally, and hire an outside company to do a yearly audit.

Use Purchase Orders

You should also use purchase orders and make sure that these are not handled by the same people over and over. It’s best to use pre-numbered purchase orders, and then always verify any orders coming in.

Keep Track of Business Checks

Use checks that are pre-numbered and make sure the amounts and recipient name is typed or in permanent ink. It’s best to produce checks from software, such as QuickBooks. If you have bank checks, make sure they are locked up.

Install Security Software on Computers

Start using security software on your computers that monitors employee activity, and restrict access to company records. You should also frequently change passwords and ensure that all of your security features are working.

Be Responsible with Accounts Receivable

Ensure that you are recording all of your incoming payments. Make sure incoming checks are marked as “deposit only.” Hire a forensics accountant at least bi-annually. Having a professional come in looking for discrepancies, or “cooked books” is worth every penny.

Use Security Systems with Inventory Management

Keep shipping and receiving as separate functions. Consider using security devices to monitor all inventory and merchandise that is coming in.

Install Security Cameras

Frankly, “trust” is overrated. It’s natural and normal to trust by default. As an “interdependent” species, humans can’t function without inherently trusting one another. But while most people can be trusted, the few that can’t need security cameras pointed at them all day.

Help Employees Report Theft by Their Co-Workers

You should make it as easy as possible for your staff to report theft or fraud by their co-workers. You want to make sure that you are doing this discretely, and you want to make sure that you don’t make it look like you don’t trust your staff.

What to Do if You Suspect Theft

If you have an employee who you think is stealing form you, here’s what you should do:

  • Use extreme caution when conducting your investigations and when making an accusation. If this turns out to be false, it could mean a lawsuit for you.
  • If you have a suspicion, investigate. If you can correctly identify the employee who is responsible, you should terminate their position immediately, revoke all network and building access and then consider contacting the authorities.
  • If theft is a complex or a large issue involving more than one employee, you should talk to a legal professional. They can help find experts who can help.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video.

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