More than a trillion dollars. That’s how much fraud is costing companies in the US each year.
The Computer Evidence Specialists LLC released the “2011 Report on the Cost of Fraud in the United States” earlier this year. The goal was to put a figure on the total cost of fraud in the United States from six industries: corporate, securities, financial, mortgage, healthcare and insurance.
Here was their conclusion: “Through our research, compiled from the most recent data available on the subject, we conservatively estimate that fraud annually costs victims $1.32 trillion.”
The figure is conservative, as a lot of fraud is underreported by victims or not reported at all.
Shocking, isn’t it? The truth is that no company is immune to the cost of fraud and you need to be vigilant in your efforts to prevent it.
The arts community in Atlanta was saddened this week to learn that $1.48 million was embezzled from the Woodruff Arts Center, the largest cultural institution in Atlanta.
Seems a mid-level administrator, who wasn’t even in a finance-related job, figured out a way to set up a fake company. Over a period of five years, the man regularly submitted invoices from the fake company and raked in big bucks. He wasn’t caught until after he left, for unrelated reasons, and someone took note of suspicious invoices.
A simple set of checks and balances would have caught the thief before he collected his first check.
Here are some key things to remember when considering your own system of checks and balances. Remember that any place money or goods exist or move is a place where theft or fraud could occur.
• Remember that anyone can commit fraud. Family member, long-time employee, revered CFO. Don’t consider anyone above suspicion. I worked with a company once where the son was stealing from the family business after his dad died. He felt he wasn’t being paid enough and stealing was his way of claiming his inheritance.
• Always poke around your books. No matter how large your company gets, take some time to peruse the checkbook or QuickBooks. Ask where the money is going. In the case of the Woodruff Arts Center, the fake company was one of only 13 that were regularly paid. How long would it have taken to do a Google search on the fake company or question someone about the services supposedly being rendered?
• Monitor and review monetary trends. Determine what types of numbers are most meaningful to your company—the cost of goods or services, employee expenses for example—and determine the acceptable range for those numbers. Graph the data for those numbers and pay attention if any numbers fall outside of that range.
• Change the standard by which you review transactions. For example, if your company only reviews expense reimbursement requests that are above $1,000, regularly review those at around the 80 percent level. I’ve found that seems to be a favorite spot for thieves. The Woodruff Arts Center thief got away with his fraud for so long because even though the amounts that were paid to the fake company increased over time, they remained under the limit that may have drawn attention.
• Trust your instincts. If something in your company seems a little off, investigate further. Don’t feel guilty about asking questions. You’re in charge.
Don’t let fraud cost money at your company. Tighten up those checks and balances.
Read more about fraud prevention in my upcoming book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes.” The book will be available on Amazon in early 2013.