The Insider Threat: Employee Theft

Find out how you can protect your company from employee theft.

I’m proud to state that towards the end of my 37 years of U.S. Navy and Defense Department service, I oversaw our command’s security surge following the horrific 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and our headquarters, the Pentagon.

As the administrative officer of a Defense Department command in Philadelphia, I worked with a good team to put in to place enhanced security programs, systems and procedures that increased the protection of our employees and government property.

We worked hard and fast to meet the new, bold threats of terrorism. We improved our security posture in our main office, located in a converted warehouse on a naval base, as well as our many field offices across the country.

Our layers of ringed security were designed to prevent terrorist and criminal intrusions, but even these enhanced exterior and interior security systems can easily be breeched by one insidious threat; the trusted employee who is a thief.

Most security systems are designed to prevent outsiders from breaking in to steal or vandalize property. Unfortunately, these security systems do little to prevent a trusted employee from robbing you.

A security background check prior to hiring someone is a good practice, and this will weed out known criminals. But anyone can become a thief at any time and it is difficult to predict or prevent your employees from stealing from you.

Law enforcement officers and security professionals I know generally place people into three categories; there are honest people that can’t be tempted at all, dishonest people who are always looking for opportunities to steal, and lastly, there are honest people under normal circumstances who will suddenly steal if a rare opportunity presents itself.

Many thefts from businesses are called “opportunity thefts,” which is to say that cash and pilferable property items were left exposed and unguarded, and an employee made an instant decision to steal based on a one-time opportunity.

There are also many reasons why an otherwise honest person begins to steal, from a sudden financial hardship to gambling, drinking or drug problems. There are also disgruntled employees who steal to “even the score,” and employees who don’t see the harm in stealing from a business that won’t miss it and/or has insurance to cover the loss.

An employee can steal your cash, equipment, furniture, supplies and vital business information. So what can you do to prevent employee theft?

According to the Philadelphia Police, small business owners should follow strict hiring practices. Verify all information and contact all the references listed on an application. Consider running a credit check.

You should also establish a written policy that outlines employee responsibilities, standards of honesty, and general security procedures and consequences for not following them. Make sure that new employees read it, understand it and sign it as a condition of employment.

Keep accurate records on cash flow, inventory, equipment, and supplies. Have it checked regularly by someone other then the person responsible for maintaining it.

Limit access to keys, the safe, computerized records, and alarm codes, and engrave “DO NOT DUPLICATE” on business keys. Change locks and access codes when an employee is terminated.

If internal theft is discovered, take action quickly. Contact your local law enforcement agency and be sure to send a message to your employees that theft will not be tolerated.

Reward employees for uncovering security problems and for doing a good job.

I would add to the list that small business owners should be observant and take notice of an employee’s change in personal and work habits. These changes may have been brought on by alcohol and drug abuse, which can lead to unscrupulous and criminal behavior.

I would also recommend the installation of interior cameras. Cameras keep us all honest.

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