Could your employees be stealing from you? The smaller your business is, the more likely it is that they are.
Small businesses tend to be vulnerable to employee theft and other fraudulent practices because they don’t have procedures in place to prevent those things. Also, small business owners and managers have more trouble believing that their trusted employees and business partners would steal from them. Yet workplace theft happens more often than you might think. More than 75% of employees report having stolen from their employer once, and close to 40% say they’ve stolen at least twice. In fact, some estimates say that 30% of small businesses fail completely because of employee theft.
Smart owners and managers can look out for these 10 signs that might indicate a problem. But remember: Proceed with caution. You’re looking for patterns of behavior. Don’t accuse anybody.
Change in Lifestyle. If you didn’t give your employee, assistant, or manager a substantial raise, where did they get the money to go to the Jamaican villa, buy a flash car, and purchase the latest electronics?
Change in Work Habits. Remember that employee who hated mornings and slid in just under the bell? Why do you suppose they are now arriving an hour early? Changing their routine? Maybe. But there could be other, nefarious reasons, too.
Requests Privacy. Some people work better in a quieter atmosphere, but when a gregarious employee who has been a top producer in the “cube farm” suddenly wants a private office with a door that closes and less contact with others, that could be a red flag.
Makes a New Friend. When two of your employees begin to confer privately often, it could be a budding friendship. Just to be sure it’s not collusion, investigate.
Makes Friends with a Vendor. If one of your employees starts scoring 50-yard line tickets to the Sunday football game, or comes back from a weekend at a waterfront spa, keep an eye on their vendor relationships. They may be driving business to a particular vendor in exchange for gifts and perks without regard for how the vendor is pricing product.
Never Takes Time Off. The employee who never takes time off is either extremely dedicated with nothing else to do and no other interests, or they may be afraid to be absent. If they’ve been running a scam for personal profit under your nose, having someone fill in for them is likely to uncover what they’ve managed to keep hidden with their constant, daily attention.
Strange Cars Showing Up. Cars that don’t belong to your staff parked near dumpsters on your grounds could be picking things up on the downlow. Write down the plate numbers or call the police if the transfer is obvious
Change in Register Behavior. Seeing more refunds, chargebacks, or voids lately? That’s one of the oldest employee theft scams in the book—look into that one.
More Damaged Merchandise. If the number of damaged goods starts rising and continues over a period of time, you may have a problem. Check it out.
Problems with the Books. Suspicious ledger entries or columns that don’t add up could be simple mistakes—once, maybe twice. But to see these errors continue over time should ring an alarm bell—something might well be going on.
The most important thing to remember is that you are looking for patterns of behavior, not one-time events. It’s likely coincidence if an employee’s computer screen goes blank when you walk by. If it happens repeatedly, they could be on sites they don’t want you to see. Besides theft of goods, theft of time can take a big chunk out of your business’s profitability.
When you find evidence of theft, document it. Can you get video evidence? Does your inventory software log all actions? Is there something in an employee’s email that you can pull up? Did you get a tip from someone who will confirm the story? The bottom line should always be, “If you had to testify in court, how would you present the evidence in a way that would leave no doubt that the theft was occurring?”
You’re investing too much time, money, and energy in your small business to risk losing profits to unscrupulous employees. Pay attention!