Surprising but true, small and mid-sized businesses are more susceptible to and crippled by fraud when compared to larger organizations that have more resources to invest in anti-fraud initiatives. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners recently published its 10th annual report to the nations. The largest global study on occupational fraud, the publication highlights 2,690 real cases of occupational fraud and includes data collected from 125 countries. The 80-page report explores the costs, schemes, victims, and perpetrators of fraud. According to the 2018 report, organizations with fewer than 100 employees experienced the greatest percentage of fraud cases and suffered the largest median loss.
Unfortunately, most small to mid-sized companies are ill-prepared to detect, prevent, and react to instances of fraud in their businesses. In this article, we will provide information that business owners can use to identify gaps in their fraud prevention processes and provide recommendations on ways to better protect your business from internal fraud.
The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners identifies and defines three primary categories of occupational fraud that are most the common:
- (1) Financial Statement Fraud – a scheme in which an employee intentionally causes a misstatement or omission of material information in the organization’s financial reports.
- (2) Asset Misappropriation – a scheme in which an employee steals or misuses the employing organization’s resources.
- (3) Corruption – a scheme in which an employee abuses his or her influence in a business transaction in a way that violates his or her duty to the employer in order to gain a direct or indirect benefit.
The following strategies can help deter and detect payroll fraud from occurring in your organization.
As business advisors, we stress the importance of internal controls to deter and prevent fraud and to ensure the accuracy of accounting data. Small to mid-sized businesses often fail to establish adequate internal control systems for a number of reasons. The most common reasons are often a lack of resources or putting too much trust in employees and vendors.
One of the most effective strategies in deterring fraud is having a system in place that regularly checks for schemes. As a business owner, you have enough on your plate. Consider automating your internal controls by leveraging software that can detect red flags such as duplicate social security numbers, addresses or direct-deposit accounts.
Other recommendations for deterring fraud include increasing overall transparency and generating awareness that you will be conducting fraud audits. When you communicate the importance of internal fraud-prevention initiatives, transactions and systems will be better monitored, and any suspected scams can be quickly identified and investigated.
Finally, avoid delegating accounting and bookkeeping functions to one person. Concentrating these duties to one person makes it too easy for fraud to go unnoticed. Separating functions is the best way to increase accountability. We suggest having at least two people handle these functions or outsourcing a virtual CFO.
According to the ACFE’s 2018 report, understanding and recognizing behavioral red flags can help organizations detect fraud. The ACFE has identified six red flags that have consistently been displayed by fraud perpetrators in every one of its studies since 2008. They include living beyond means, financial difficulties, unusually close association with vendors or customers, control issues and unwillingness to share duties, divorce or family problems, and a “wheeler-dealer” attitude.
While also remind business owners that a fraud perpetrator may not exhibit any behavioral red flags. In these circumstances, be on the lookout for concealment methods. According to the ACFE’s 2018 report, the top three concealment methods used by fraudsters include creating fraudulent physical documents, altering physical documents, and creating fraudulent transitions in the accounting system.
Generally, developing strong controls and maintaining a close watch over your accounts can help you both prevent and catch fraud. If you discover fraud, do not confront the presumed perpetrator directly. Contact your organization’s attorney. While one may believe to have caught an individual “red-handed,” this version may not pass muster in court. Once an attorney assures it is a valid case, notify your insurance carrier.
The ACFE’s 2018 report identifies the most common actions organizations take to penalize fraud perpetrators. They include termination, settlement agreements, required resignation, and probation or suspension.
The professionals in our office can assess your fraud risk and provide you with a comprehensive and personalized plan to mitigate that risk. Contact one of our professionals today for more information.