Speaker, Author, Consultant, Fraud Examiner

“I hate calls like these,” I thought as I hung up the phone. My heart ached.

A dentist discovered his longtime, trusted employee had been stealing his hard earned money from the practice. It had been my seventh call that week.

He alternated from anger over the theft to heartache over losing the relationship.

“But, she’s worked for me for 18 years. How could she do something like this? I trusted her. She offered to repay me and gave me all sorts of excuses. What do I do now?

Most embezzlements start with an opportunistic thief, not a brazen one. An opportunistic thief, however, can quickly evolve into an experienced brazen thief, driven by greed.

A few simple changes, though, can prevent the opportunity for an embezzlement to occur, or at the very least not make it so easy! Cross training staff and tightening internal controls are just a couple of suggestions but the biggest difference comes from strengthening the leadership of the office.

BE THE BOSS.

Having a trusted employee steal from the business is ultimately a wake-up call. Become involved in every aspect of your business. Owning a business means overseeing the business.

Many years ago, I did a survey among my newsletter database of about 2500. The information I gained was rich. Unsurprisingly, the consistent thread in ALL of the stories was a lack of business focus and oversight by the practice owner.

The time for business-as-usual is over. You can no longer run a business the same way you have always and expect positive results. If you have let the “ownership” of the business slip, seize it back now.

“Do what you went to school for and delegate the rest.” I hear this time and again. It sounds tempting, but don’t be fooled; it is a dangerous pitfall. If we only had to do what we LOVE doing, nothing would ever get done. A successful business is never left unattended. Do you think Warren Buffet or Bill Gates don’t oversee all aspects of their business?

They understand they must LEAD the business. Bo Bennett said, “Without initiative, leaders are simply workers in leadership positions.” If you are not leading the business, you are simply an employee. You are not the boss.

You must not only create the reports but understand the reports. If you do not understand them, then call someone to help you.

CONSIDERATION QUESTIONS FOR PRACTICE OWNERS.

Do you study your bank statements and compare them with your management software?

Do you analyze all credit card charges? What about bank reconciliations?

Are you the most knowledgeable regarding the management software?

Who controls the passwords? Are you using passwords at all? Is the security for the management software at its full potential?

What about new hires? Are you the one calling references?

Do you do background checks on anyone handling finances? Have you checked your insurance for Employee Dishonesty coverage?

Speaking at a convention on embezzlement, an attendee quietly & honestly responded, “But, Susan. I understand why you want me to do this, but I just don’t want to do it.”

That is why we had all those lessons growing up, like taking the trash out or doing the dishes. We were trained to do the things we do not necessarily want to do but need to do to be a part of our routine. It is life. If you are not the boss of your business, someone else will be. Trust me – you will not like the result.

IN SUMMARY.

Embezzlement is on the rise. The reason for the economic shortfalls and embezzlement increases are the same. Greed. We want more and we want it now.

The loss of money is not the only loss when someone you trust embezzles, though. Money can and will be replaced.

No, the greater loss is not something material. It is experiencing a theft from someone you have greeted for a number of years, whose wedding you attended, whose kids you saw born and parents lost, who you have seen through sickness and health – it is grief. It is emotionally gut-wrenching for both the owner and the employees.

The betrayal of trust is overwhelming. It consumes your thoughts and sucks out your energy and your focus. I know this because I walk through it with my clients, every step, every day.

If someone really wants to steal from you, they will. That does not mean we have to make it easy for them. Do not enable their theft by willful ignorance or lack of leadership any longer.

It is not business as usual. Be the boss. That’s the first step in preventing embezzlement.

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