FraudJournal Blog

July 30, 2013

The Cost of Over-Trusting


I recently worked a fraud case that involved a bookkeeper and a small but over trusting business owner. Often, these individuals who are entrusted with the keys to kingdom, are truly key to the success of small businesses. They are the watchdogs of the kingdom. They are there when you need them, they keep the facts managed and ‘ticked and tied’ for future reference. So what goes wrong?

In this case it was an emotional trigger. But often it can be, as one of my colleagues put it, the result of ‘the can that got kicked down the road.’ In other words, they were kicked to the curb for cause and picked up by another. This is catch-22 for fraud fighters and law enforcement. Does a company be made whole and move on, do they prosecute and hope the fight will provide the return of both funds and recovery or do they forgive and forget. I have seen the latter, but in about two to three years, the problem recurs and the battle restarts. It is expensive to dig into the archives of financial data and find the smoking-gun for court or mediation. It easy to outspend the loss easily; especially if the fraudster wants to put up a fight. I have seen this process kill a business as much as the fraudster’s theft.

Most of you who become the triage workers of fraud, are called in at the most dire times. The funds are missing, the staff are up in arms or in total shock, and the frenetic pace begins to solve for ‘x’. The saddest part of this is that the cost goes to the heart; deeply.  After all, how could this have happened on their watch? It can get ugly and fast. But it can be the rally cry that unites and brings amazing change and recovery to a business too. This is where the dynamics of the culture of a business really show.

An interesting statistic that was bounced around during a recent conversation with colleagues is the magic number for long-term entrusted employees and contractors that embezzled seems to be around the ten to thirteen year mark. That isn’t to say that a long-term employee or bookkeeper will always go to the dark side, but the cases keep showing up at around that mark of entrusted access to the financial details of the company.

So what is the moral of this post you ask? The moral is that it is the level of trust, not that you trust. Trust is an imperative part of running a successful business. But the rules of fraud are ‘trust but verify’. Whether your family, friends or business; you need to trust at some level. There are no hard-fast rules to avoid fraud. At some point, in some way, you will become exposed to fraud either personally or through others. But you can make all effort to reduce your risk by creating the ‘tone at the top’; by leading by example. Those around you will notice that you take a ‘vested’ interest in your affairs, both at home and at work. They also know that to hide the fraudulent activities requires greater stealth and complex methods to avoid detection. Unless they are in need of a mission with impossible thrills, they will think twice about theft. And the business owner, participating regularly in the financial activity, will notice those subtle changes that trigger their inner red-flags and respond accordingly. In this case it would have been the timely review of the bank statements that would have triggered questions early on.

But remember too, many who come into a serious need, whether perceived or real, will steal to survive. It is human nature to survive at all costs – however most of us have a loadstone of truth that prevails. But these triggers often include gambling or other addictive issues, a burden of medical needs, family financial crashes or a perceived shame. The perception of shame could be feeling below the financial level of others, not having stories to share around the water cooler. Many embezzlers have large egos that require a certain level of attention to life style, and will generously share their loot to impress others.

In retrospect, most victims of fraud and can and often do trace back to the beginning event that most likely was the root cause of theft. But hindsight is always the more painful way to learn a lesson. So those of you in the trenches, take time to educate your friends, family, peers and local business community on the cost of over trusting. Help them put into place those necessary internal controls that establish boundaries and steps of precaution. Wave that hypnotic watch and have them repeat, “Trust but verify, Trust but verify” until you know they get it deep into the psyche.

Stay safe friends and educate, educate, educate.

 

Advertisements

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.