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Since the beginning of the recession not only has fraudulent activity increased, but the amount of money lost to fraud has increased as well.
U.S. businesses lose 7% of annual revenue, equaling $994 billion, to fraud, but small businesses are even more vulnerable, according to a report from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.
Small businesses suffered both a greater percentage of frauds (38%) and a higher median loss ($200,000) compared with companies that have 100 to 10,000 employees that only suffered losses between $116,000 and $176,000, according to the report.
Between the recession and loss due to fraud, small business owners are under even more pressure to stay profitable and stay in business. Lawyer, accountant, and identity theft expert Sonya Smith-Valentine lays out eight steps that small business owners should take to keep their assets safe from in-house thieves.
Keep important items locked up. Make employees who have access to sensitive information lock office doors and file cabinets at the end of the workday. Keep the mailbox locked and limit the keys to the mailbox. Make sure all computers have automatic password protection and instruct users to log off when they step away from their computers. Put passwords on your bank accounts so that only specific people can order new checks.
Check employee references. At a minimum, run a civil and criminal background check on employees, and as your business grows, hire bonded bookkeepers. Even get background information from building management about cleaning crews that have access to your offices.
If an employee has anything to do with money, check their credit report to learn about their debts. “If their credit is really jacked up and they are really hard-pressed for money, they might not be the person you want,” says Smith-Valentine.
Sign your own checks. If one person is doing all the bookkeeping they might make payouts to companies that you haven’t done business with. They may set up a dummy billing system to make it seem like you received a bill for services and they are just paying the bill. If you sign checks yourself, you are more inclined to pay attention to where the money is going, and employees are also less likely to embezzle, says Smith-Valentine. If the owner isn’t available to sign the checks, then require the signatures of two different employees on checks.