If you think your business is immune from fraud and embezzlement, think again. Without the right deterrents in place, theft can come from within when the owners least expect it.
“Most people who end up stealing from their company have historically been honest people,” says Tim O’Toole, a CPA, Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), and founder of Southeast Fraud Investigation Services, LLC. “But then life circumstances change, and they need money.”
Tim speaks from experience – 25 years as a CFE and four decades as a CPA. He cofounded the accounting firm Vestal & Wiler in 1993 and led its audit, forensics, and litigation practices. He went out on his own to open the Longwood-based Southeast Fraud Investigation Services last January. The new company is also led by Wade O’Brien, CTO, a former Lockheed Martin engineer.
Tim and Wade are not out to conduct witch hunts. On the contrary, their business model is based on preventative assessments and investigations. Tim says the goal is to deter any theft before it happens. The assessments, he adds, are cost-effective; full investigations take much more time, cost significantly more money, and add negative stress to a workplace.
“We take steps to see how vulnerable a company is to fraud,” Tim explains. “We are trying to keep theft from happening.”
It’s just like preventative healthcare, Tim says, such as a checkup with your doctor or dentist.
If asked to investigate a theft or other occurrence of fraud, Tim has the forensic experience to uncover what is usually difficult to spot on the surface. He interviews employees and utilizes proprietary software to dig deep into databases. A red flag, such as a fictitious vendor or employee in the database, may suggest fraudulent activity is in the works.
“The average fraud takes 18 months before it’s uncovered,” Tim notes. “Are you in month two or month 17?”
Worse yet, a thief’s average takeaway is $140,000, and odds are most companies will not get that money back. Many businesses hesitate to press charges, though, because of the negative publicity. Instead, they simply fire the employee and take the loss so it can begin all over again somewhere else.
Companies with revenues between $2.5 and $15 million with 100 employees or less are most vulnerable, according to Tim.
“Good companies make our service part of their culture, their DNA,” he says, noting regular audits seldom find fraudulent activity. “That’s why business owners need to get re-plugged in to what is really going on.”