Is Your Business Ripe For Embezzlement

Most successful small business people have one thing in common. They excel at running the production of the business, be it products, services, or being value added retailers, but they hate to manage their business.

According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), if you have reached the 4 year mark, you are in the 50% Club. At 6 years, you are in the 40% club of businesses that have been successful.

So here's the scenario: you are making money, but the management of the business is getting in the way of expanding. You decide to hire a financial person to run the routine stuff necessary for any business to function. You hire a "miracle worker" who takes over accounts receivable, starts getting your customers to pay their bills, keeps your suppliers happy and fires the payroll service as they can handle it, saving you money.

You are ecstatic, and you get to do what you love У build your business.

Believe it or not, you are ripe for embezzlement. Here is what can happen.

Your "miracle worker" gets you to sign over signature authority for the checkbook. Initially, this is just for checks for $500 and under; then, you come up with the brilliant idea of allowing this person (who after all, is doing such a great job) to sign all checks regardless of amount.

The miracle worker is so good that answering the phone and mail sorting and handling become their added responsibilities. It relieves you of that chore, saves you time and brings organization to your office. All is right with the world, you are told everything is greatФit's a banner year.

Then, one day your miracle worker is out ill. You end up answering the phone, and are startled by creditors' calls telling you the bills are not getting paid. You open the mail, and it is full of overdue notices from creditors, the IRS, and your biggest account.

When the miracle worker returns to work they explain it all. The other companies are overreacting to checks lost in their internal processing. They'll get it all straightened out and have a full report upon your return from a business trip. However, instead of a full report, you find the financial records, computer, checkbook, receipts, tax records, and personnel folder for your miracle worker have vanished. You immediately try to reach your miracle worker, but they cannot be located.

You then call the local law enforcement and file a report. They do the best they can, but it is now your word against the "miracle worker" who has hired a lawyer. The attorney sends a threatening letter stating you have no proof of wrongdoing and they intend to sue if any action damages their client's professional reputation. Local law enforcement is already swamped with white collar crime investigations, and it will be at least a year before they will be able to act on your complaint.

Now where do you go for help?

Most small businesses just give up as they figure they will never recover the embezzled funds anyway and they become busy just trying to save their remaining business. Do not be silent У criminals are counting on that!

There are multiple levels of investigation beyond filing a report with your local law enforcement division.

Report the crime to the US Post Office as there is a better than even chance that the US mail was used in this criminal action. Postal Inspectors have their own investigative methods.

Report the crime to the county sheriff and prosecutor's offices. They are a separate law enforcement entity, and may be looking at other activities involving your "miracle worker" that local law enforcement has no knowledge of. Also, within certain constraints, the FBI will investigate white collar crime. There is a dollar limit that needs to be crossed before federal officials will get involved, but it costs nothing to ask for their help.

Get every level of tax officials from the IRS down to the city (if applicable) informed of your problems. They have their own investigators and access to records that others do not have.

Be sure to include your banker in any fraud investigation. Banks have their own internal investigation resources and while they may not release any internal audit information to you personally, they do cooperate with law enforcement.

Also, call your local SCORE office or go to SCOREWorks.org and ask for free business counseling. SCORE is a nonprofit association dedicated to entrepreneur education and the formation, growth and success of small business nationwide. They will help get you back on your feet, and will give you advice that will help prevent this from happening again.

Now, what exactly can you do to prevent this problem? Several very easy steps will save you a ton of headache later.

1. Run your business! Look at and understand the weekly financials.