Protecting Your Assets: Honest Employees Make Mistakes, Too

Keeping honest people honest

Regardless of the industry of your business, business owners must vet their employees with care, understanding that even the most honest people can make mistakes. Frequently, there are news stories about people who committed crimes against their employers. From government workers to the private industries, people have been found guilty of stealing from the people who pay them, and have trusted them in various capacities.

National statistics show that over 50 percent of business losses are traced to internal theft. Whether it’s cash, merchandise or materials, it all deducts from the bottom line and often these losses can be minimized by a few simple steps. Every business owner needs to understand that it takes only two things to open their cash registers to basically honest people. They have a perceived need for something extra and the opportunity to commit the crime.

When stealing from their employer, people are making a choice. They have decided their need, real or imagined, is stronger than their basic instinct to do the right thing. After interviewing hundreds of people who have committed crimes against their employer, I have heard hundreds of excuses. However, it comes down to one basic reason. They felt they needed extra money or wanted something extra and saw no alternative but to take it without asking or paying. They also had little fear of being caught.

It’s long been accepted that pens, pencils and small office supplies were going to go out the door with office workers with many people ignoring this rather small indiscretion. What they do not realize is that with a few employees, if you turn a blind eye to small things, it opens the door to larger items, including cash, to disappear from the company’s books.

While there is little employers can do to eliminate the employee’s need, they can do something about providing them the opportunity to steal from them. Many small businesses have turned to closed circuit television systems, recording activities in their place of business. While these systems help deter inside criminal activity, they do not eliminate it completely. They do provide the evidence needed for prosecution.

It is also OK to trust your workers and in many instances you have no choice but to trust certain employees. However, verifying their work frequently will let them know the trust is not blind and they will therefore hesitate to take something they shouldn’t. For example, a young woman working in a two-person doctor’s office was able to steal all the payments by patients made in cash because the doctor failed to compare the daily receipts with the number of patients he had seen that day.

Had he taken the few minutes even once a week to do that, she probably wouldn’t have been able to walk off with over $20,000 over a two-year period. An audit by government assistance programs revealed the loss in overall income and resulted in her being caught. But, it took two years.

Many companies have programs in place to inspect packages leaving the business, deterring potential theft. However, many do not, giving workers the opportunity to leave with things they shouldn’t. Overall, it’s OK to trust your people, but it is necessary to verify that your trust is justified.

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Ngozi Nwabineli
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Posted on Sep 9, 2009
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Posted on Sep 8, 2009