Some Thoughts to Keep Fraud Out of Your Company
Dec. 28, 2007 (Richmond Times-Dispatch) You've heard the horror stories - workers caught on videotape with their hands in the till.
No business is immune, including yours. But you can try to see that it doesn't happen at your company by following these tips from Virginia certified public accountants:
Rotate your personnel. At regular or periodic intervals, perhaps every six months depending upon the nature of the business, switch the people who handle the money, suggested Richmond CPA Andrew Lakoff.
The person could be an accounting clerk, somebody in the back office who normally handles customer payments. She could be switched with someone who handles customer collections or someone from a different department of the company.
The benefits are twofold, Lakoff said: It's a way of cross- training employees to work in different areas of the company, and it provides a fresh pair of eyes to see what the previous person has been doing.
Just don't have the same person always doing the same function if you're fraud-conscious, Lakoff advised.
Say a bookkeeper is employed for 20 years in the same spot with nobody going behind him checking his work. Then he goes out on sick leave and all kinds of irregularities are discovered. He may have been stealing for years.
Break up accounting duties. Do you depend on one person to open mail, process payments, make bank deposits, pay invoices, handle petty cash and reconcile bank statements?
If you have adequate staff, it may be better to divide those responsibilities, the Virginia Society of CPAs said. That way, no one person controls all of your financial activity.
Turn on your software program's audit trail. Intuit's QuickBooks and other accounting software has the feature, Lakoff said. It tracks all activity, including when bookkeeping entries are altered or deleted. It provides the user's name, date and time of changes.
Say an entry for $1,000 was changed to $100. An audit trail will show who made the change and when.
Some software can be set up to automatically send reports to the owners' computer, a good feature because running a business is immensely time-consuming. Audit trails are useless if no one reviews them.
Have bank statements mailed to your home or a post office box. That way, you get to review them before your bookkeeper does.
Look out for checks written to suppliers or others whom you don't know, or those made out to a third party but endorsed by someone in your company. Also look for missing checks.
Say a check is made out to "Office Supply Inc.," said CPA firm owner Sharon Hart of Barcalow & Hart PLLC in Glen Allen. But the signature on the back is that of an employee in your company. That's who got the money. There's something kaflooey going on.
Question gaps in check numbers. Are 10 checks missing? Are checks voided? Some people void checks in the accounting system, then falsify them for fraudulent use, Hart said.
Arrange for surprise audits. Bring in a CPA once a year at different times to conduct a surprise audit of your company's financial records. Knowing one may occur at any time can be a deterrent.
Screen potential hires thoroughly. Check past employment, personal and professional references and criminal records. Ask your trade association or a fellow entrepreneur for the name of a reputable service, or search online using the keywords "criminal background checks [your] county."
Create a no-tolerance culture. Communicate to every worker what sort of activities constitute fraud and what will happen to those committing it. Consider setting up a third-party hot line for workers to report suspicious activity.
Watch for other red flags. Among them: You ask to see certain reports, but your finance person fumbles around and can't seem to come up with them. Or, one person does everything from billing to collections to disbursements, but no one is overseeing the activity.
"The owner's involvement is critical," Hart said. "It really makes a difference."