Employee Tips Key to Fraud Prevention

The simple slogan, “If You See Something, Say Something ™” was first used by The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority to raise public awareness about terrorism, and later licensed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for a national campaign.

You may have seen some of their public service announcements that urge people to report suspicious activities to local law enforcement or in the case of an emergency, call 911.

I urge companies to institute a similar campaign to help them fight fraud. According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), the most common way internal fraud is detected is receiving a tip from someone. While many of these are received from employees, some come from customers, an anonymous person or even outside vendors who notice something not quite right. Just over half of internal frauds are detected with tips, according to the ACFE’s 2012 Report to the Nation on Occupational Fraud and Abuse.

if-you-see-something1In my career as the Turnaround Authority, I’ve uncovered fraud in all types of ways — through audits, following up on suspicions I had, or in one memorable case, installing fake cameras (until the company could afford real ones) to stem the problem of inventory walking out the door. But employee tips have also helped me uncover millions of dollars of fraud.

When I am working with an out-of-town company, I assure the employees that no one will lose their jobs for sharing information with me. Later I will drop into casual conversation the name of hotel where I’m staying. Then I ask them for restaurant recommendations around that hotel. I do this so they know where they can find me outside of the office if they wish to share sensitive information.

Once, in the middle of the night someone pushed a bunch of USB drives under my floor. The drives detailed where the company’s money had gone. I’ve also had file folders with documents with valuable inside information pushed under my door. Some people in hotels just wake up to a USA Today and a bill. I never know what surprises I may get!

Companies should have fraud awareness training for managers and employees. The ACFE recommends these programs include what actions constitute fraud, how fraud hurts everyone in the company and how to report any suspicious activity.

Frequent communication is critical to letting employees understand that the company is dedicated to fraud prevention. This can be done at meetings, in newsletters and on the company website. It is also important to let them know, as I always make a point of doing, that employees will not lose their jobs if they report something suspicious. They must feel protected from retaliation.

Many companies successfully use hotlines where employees can make anonymous calls. They can also set up an online reporting system.

Early detection is crucial to cutting the cost of fraud. The ACFE reports that the average fraud scheme lasts about 18 months before discovery and that U.S. businesses lose more than 6 percent or revenues each year due to fraud.

In my next column, I’ll talk about the behavioral red flags that are often associated with fraudulent conduct. What should you be looking out for?