Steps Management Should Take in Preventing the Occurrence of Fraud

Control the mail – In small businesses, owner/management should either personally pick up the mail, or have the mail picked up by an employee who has no responsibilities related to the handling or recording of deposits, accounts receivable records or revenues. All remittances from customers should be directed to a post office box. Limiting access to the company’s mail is essential in preventing the unauthorized negotiation of cash receipts.

Control the bank statements – Similarly, the owner/management should personally pick up the company’s bank statements directly from the bank, or have them picked up by an employee who has no related responsibilities and delivered to the owner/manager unopened. Owner/management should review the contents of the statements before they are reconciled. Specific items that management should be alert to include:

  • Missing checks
  • Checks issued out of sequence
  • Unknown payees
  • Checks that appear to have been altered
  • Checks not signed by authorized signatories
  • Other unusual items

Control the accounts receivable – Owner/management should limit access to accounts receivable records, and in particular, the ability to issue credit memoranda, discounts and refunds. Accounts receivable detail ledgers should be balanced with the control account at regular intervals and any differences should be investigated promptly. Only owner/management should be authorized to charge off accounts deemed uncollectible. Any discrepancies reported by customers should be investigated promptly. Aged accounts should be reviewed monthly and past due accounts investigated.

Control the inventory – Owner/management should carefully monitor gross profit, and investigate any unexpected variances. Access to inventories should be limited as much as possible, and the use of surveillance equipment may deter inventory theft. If a perpetual inventory is used, periodic counts should be performed at regular intervals for comparison with the perpetual records.

Control the accounts payable – Establish and monitor approved vendor lists. Owner/management should periodically review the list of approved vendors, being alert to:

  • Unknown vendors
  • Vendors with names similar to other known vendors
  • Vendors with no physical address or telephone number
  • Vendors whose addresses match employee addresses

Limit the number of authorized check signers – If possible, only the owner/manager should be authorized to sign checks. If not possible, consider requiring two signatures on checks, at least those over a specified amount. The use of facsimile signatures should be avoided if at all possible. Never sign checks in blank. Review supporting documentation when checks are signed and investigate any discrepancies.

Account for sequences – Whether it is checks, invoices, credit memoranda, receiving reports, shipping documents, or other prenumbered items, all sequences should be accounted for. Voided documents should be defaced to prevent unauthorized use and retained to complete sequences.

Control general journal entries – Owner/management should either make or personally review and approve all general journal entries. Supporting documentation should be reviewed before approving general journal entries. In particular, the following items should be investigated:

  • Entries made to unrelated accounts
  • Entries made to receivables or revenues at or near the close of a period
  • Entries made by persons whose responsibilities are not consistent with the accounts being adjusted

Monitor exception reports – Unprocessed transactions should be carefully examined for propriety. This includes revenues, expenses, purchasing and payroll transactions.

Establish a budget – Owner/management should establish an operating budget and monitor actual results monthly. Any significant variances should be investigated.

Establish reasonable performance targets – Setting incentive compensation arrangements at unrealistic performance levels may encourage misstatement of financial results.

Perform thorough background checks on all new employees – Call former employers and educational institutions for verification of previous employment and education. Beware of "gaps" in employment or educational history. Consider obtaining a credit report (if authorized by the candidate) before employment.

Require uninterrupted vacations for all employees and establish a schedule of rotation of employee responsibilities – More than just good management, rotation of duties provides a strong disincentive to commit fraud. In addition, it provides an opportunity to discover fraud that has already occurred.

Be alert to changes in employee attitudes, behavior and lifestyles – Because of day-to-day contact, management is in the best position to observe the unusual – attitudes that are hostile or defensive toward management or the company in general, changes in behavior that are inconsistent with employees’ normal disposition or lifestyles that are not reasonable based on the employees’ level of compensation. Matters that may be of particular concern include:

  • Indications of dissatisfaction with compensation, lack of promotion
  • Indications of gambling
  • Indications of drug use or excessive use of alcohol
  • Indications of financial distress
  • Indications of infidelity
  • Indications of serious illness
  • Indications of excessive nervousness
  • Indications of severe stress

Provide employees an opportunity to report the occurrence of fraud or other abuse anonymously – In a recent survey, one in five employees said they were personally aware of the occurrence of fraud in the workplace. Eighty percent said they would be willing to report fraud if they did not have to identify themselves. Management can establish hotlines, "suggestion boxes" or other means to enable employees to bring the occurrence of fraud to its attention without requiring employees to give their names.

Clearly communicate to employees the behavior that is expected of them – Believe it or not, ignorance has been cited as a common cause of fraud. Some employees have been trained to commit fraudulent acts without knowing what they were doing, just assuming that "that’s they way it’s done".

Take strong action against employees who commit fraud – Call the police or other law enforcement agency and press charges. Failing to do so sends a message to other employees that management doesn’t take fraud seriously.

Conduct your own activities on a high ethical level – Employees will follow the lead of management, whether that lead is ethical or not. More than what is said or included in a policy manual, the actions of management establish behavioral norms.

Obtain reasonable fidelity bond coverage – If the unthinkable occurs, insurance coverage is the most likely means of recovery of amounts misappropriated. The amount of coverage should be reviewed periodically for adequacy.

© Audit Litigation, Training and Efficiency Consulting, Inc. 2011


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