One thing I consistently find to be true is that, from a legal perspective, 75% of people who are caught stealing and committing fraud are first time offenders. That’s not because it suddenly occurred to them that they could steal and supposedly get away with it; these are people who have been caught in the past but who were never prosecuted.
That’s right – people catch other people stealing money and inventory from them and don’t use the law to prosecute them, whether for restitution or punitive reasons.
Why Don’t People Prosecute?
People don’t prosecute for a few reasons.
1. It seems easy for us to say, “Oh my gosh. Someone was stealing from you? You had them arrested and sued them, right?” After all, if someone broke into your home and stole your grandma’s diamond necklace, you would sue them, wouldn’t you? Of course you would, but for some reason when people work for us and we feel like we know them, we want to forgive them and not mess up their lives, so we fire them – but we don’t prosecute. However, if people don’t go to jail, they don’t learn their lesson (this isn’t some legalistic philosophy I stick by – this is based on the experiences that I’ll flesh out more below and in future posts).
2. Prosecuting seems messy. It creates paperwork, involves lawyers, and it takes time, energy and more money, and you’d rather not lose more considering that someone’s been stealing it already, right? Wrong. You can get some of that money back if it can be had, and the mess is worth the trouble.
3. It’s embarrassing. People think it’s embarrassing that someone was stealing from them and they didn’t uncover it sooner. They don’t want other people to know, whether employees, the public, friends or family. They don’t want a big deal made, attention attracted, ill will and weird feelings. It seems icky somehow and people seek to avoid the associated feelings.
What Are the Consequences of Not Prosecuting?
When people don’t prosecute it hurts everyone and it’s bad for the larger business world. In the long run, when people prosecute it benefits everyone, from employers and industry to the average honest worker who deserves a job for which he’s not competing against thieves.
One of the biggest problems of not prosecuting those who steal and commit fraud is that you can’t say to their next potential employer that they’re thieves. Legally, if you fire someone for theft but don’t prosecute in a court of law, you can’t say that he’s a thief. That means you have to say that you chose to part ways amicably or you will be seen to be impeding his ability to acquire gainful employment without legally proving the reason he doesn’t deserve it. The word that comes to mind here is poppycock!
Prosecute thieves and those who commit fraud to ensure that you can tell future employers the information that they deserve to know. Then you can let those employers make informed decisions about who to let in their businesses.
Again, those who commit fraud aren’t first time offenders – they’re just getting caught for the first time and prosecuted. Do us all a favor and make sure people are prosecuted for their crimes.
Have you ever prosecuted someone for fraud? What happened?
Have you ever chosen not to prosecute someone for fraud? Why not?