We hear stories and hope it never happens to us, but when we step back a moment and think about how often small business fraud occurs in Colorado, we quickly realize that we need to be vigilant. As a small business owner, there are a couple of types of fraud you are particularly vulnerable to. I will address a three common types of fraud here, all of which have happened recently in Colorado. I invite you to ask questions about any additional types you’d like me to comment on:
This is perhaps the most difficult to experience, especially if the employee is a friend, or someone you’ve come to regard as family (or, in the most unfortunate cases, the employee is family). Unfortunately, being regarded as family is a designation deceivers work hard to achieve because of the access it affords them. Staying later, taking on extra duties, and helping out without asking for additional compensation may all be indicators of a bad apple, according to Entrepreneur. It might also just mean you have an employee who is trying to make a good impression, but it is important that you put checks and balances in place in case there is more going on. You can have the employee share responsibilities with someone else – it’s harder to hide deception when there are two people sharing a task. You can also insert an accounting procedure or accountability audit that can be verified by some other means than the employee’s word, for example. Think about how a bank or retailer counts out a cash drawer – there are always two people present and both must sign off on the amount. Come up with a similar means of vetting the work or tasks your most trusted, hardest working employee is engaged in, especially if you are relying exclusively on his or her word to confirm numbers or data being provided to you.
Trusted Advisor Theft
Many of our business advisors have certifications, credentials, and excellent references but those credentials don’t guarantee we will never experience trusted advisor theft. Case in point; a Colorado attorney was recently sentenced to six years in prison for for bilking the company he worked for out of nearly 5 million dollars. A Colorado finance firm owner pocketed fees that were paid to help source loans for his clients. He has been sentenced to prison as well. The prison sentences are reassuring, and hopefully act as a deterrent to would-be thieves, but they don’t erase the stress and financial turmoil these types of thefts cause a business owner. In the instances of employee theft and trusted advisor theft, trust is the door the thief enters through. Jonathan Marks, a partner at Crowe Horwath LLP, provides excellent guidance on observing tell-tale behavior, and reminds us that trust is one side of the coin when deception is the other.
“Fraud is not about obstruction. It is about deception,” Marks said. “In other words, trust is a professional hazard. If you trust someone, you’re at risk of being deceived, so you must verify, verify, verify.”
If your employee or trusted advisor has demonstrated a willingness to deceive, even if it appears the other guy “deserved” it, or if he or she is remarkably arrogant or braggadocios, you may need to do some digging to determine if these behaviors extend to a belief that he or she is “above” the law.
Small Business Credential Theft
By credential theft, I am talking about the credentials you use to access your business banking accounts or business funds, as well as data that could be useful to a thief attempting to pose as you. First and foremost, don’t engage or allow any employee to engage in the Employee Password Worst Practices as outlined in the 2015 Password Workplace Report. The report is worth a read and offers good tips such as requiring complex passwords, and requiring passwords to be changed often. And absolutely make sure that anyone making multiple attempts to access information with the incorrect password is locked out.
If you don’t currently route your company network through a secure collocation data center (or don’t even know what that is) or aren’t sure just what sort of shared access employees have to your computer network (meaning can employee A access the computer of employee B via your network?) you should consider hiring an expert to evaluate your situation. If you don’t know one, I can refer you. If you think you are doing alright with regard to network security, take a moment to read this article with tips on boosting your workplaces network security, just to be certain.
If you need legal help or want to talk over ways of securing your interests against small business fraud, feel free to contact me at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Small Business Lawyer. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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