Don't Let Mischief Strike Your Company: Five Steps to Prevent Fraud in your Business
Every year, businesses all over the country lose billions of dollars to employee fraud. And while the big companies make the headlines, small- and medium-sized businesses are equally - and sometimes more - at risk, primarily due to a lack of awareness or a false sense of security. According to the Minnesota Society of CPAs (MNCPA), the fraud prevention tips below offer smart small business owners steps to protect their business' financial assets as well as their reputation.
1. Screen applicants thoroughly before hiring them
Hiring the right employees is the best way to stop fraud before it happens. CPAs say that it's a good idea to perform background checks on potential employees. You'll want to screen the applicant's criminal history, civil history, and drivers' license violations, and verify his/her education, past employment and references. Since employees experiencing financial difficulties may be more prone to committing fraud, think about requesting a credit check as well. Before performing background and credit checks, be sure you understand and comply with any legal requirements for obtaining the applicant's consent.
2. Implement internal controls to reduce fraud risk
Many small businesses depend on one person to process payments and invoices, make bank deposits, handle petty cash, and reconcile bank statements. This is asking for trouble. Your business should implement a system that spreads and, if possible, rotates the financial duties of the business among two or more employees.
Store bank checks in a secure location and carefully review your bank statement each month, taking special care to look for checks made out to cash, employees, or suppliers you don't know. It's a good idea to have your bank mail your company's statements to your home address, so you're sure you receive them before anyone else.
Insist that all employees, especially those with financial responsibilities, take a mandatory vacation of at least one week of consecutive days. Fraudulent employees will often resist taking a vacation out of fear that whoever does the job in their absence will uncover the fraudulent activities.
3. Be a role model and lead by example
An effective way to prevent fraud in your business is to create a positive work culture. It is important that the business owner and senior management serve as role models of honesty and integrity. If the individuals at the top take a careless approach toward company policies and procedures, they are inviting their employees to do the same - or worse.
Set clear standards from the beginning by implementing a company-wide written code of conduct, and make it clear to employees that the company has a zero tolerance policy for employee theft. To maintain credibility, be sure to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of every incident.
4. Implement an anonymous theft reporting system
Every company should establish a system that makes it easy for employees, vendors and customers to anonymously report suspected fraud activities. Be sure employees understand what constitutes fraud and that all reports are treated confidentially and without reprisal.
5. Work with a CPA
Consider hiring a CPA to conduct both regularly scheduled and surprise audits. Audits can serve as a deterrent because when employees are aware that there will be checks of their areas, they are more likely to stay honest. A CPA can also help you set up and maintain effective internal financial controls.
Information and resources are available to the public on the MNCPA Web site (www.mncpa.org/information) including state and federal tax forms and information and financial planning information for individuals and small businesses. A free CPA referral service is also available on the Web site or by calling 800-331-4288. The MNCPA is part of the national 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy campaign to help Americans' improve financial literacy; information and resources are available at www.mncpa.org/360.