Employee theft affects more than just businesses - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Employee theft affects more than just businesses

Posted: 11/12/2017 20:23:00 -07:00 Updated:

BILLINGS - Business owners know a good employee is better than gold but a single deceptive employee can bury a company. 

"Money is a big cause of crime -- greed -- they don't have it and they want it," said FBI Special Agent John Teeling.

Whether it’s hundreds, thousands -- or sometimes even millions of dollars, business owners in Montana face the risk of employees stealing the company blind.

"They could be sitting there at their keyboard right next to you, chatting about taking their kids to Little League," Teeling said. "And while you're right next to them they're making false entries into the computer system to cover up money they've stolen. It happens daily -- and it always will."

Teeling told MTN News that the calls never stop, adding that 90% of his caseload involves employee embezzlement. It's generally not sophisticated and it’s often that valued employee who does it -- the last person you’d ever expect.

"I just felt violated and really felt hurt. And then I'm thinking what about other employees, what's going on here?" said Bill Underriner of Underriner Motors in Billings.

It took Underriner, and out of state accountants, four months to figure out just how much his former bookkeeper had embezzled over a three year period.

"I had an insurance policy for about $250-,000 and that's when I stopped because it was costing me more money to go after money [that] I wasn't going to get," Underriner said.

"A lot of money comes in and out of car [dealerships] and that's a typical business where someone starts out as a clerk and eventually they've trained them to damn near run everything!" Underriner added.

No business is immune, with the FBI reporting that every single bank or credit union in Billings has been a victim of theft. It’s often a mistake – a fluke - that the employee even gets caught.

"I had a bank teller that had stolen quite a bit of cash from a local community bank," Teeling recalled. "The way she did it was at the end of each day, she made a false entry into the books and records to cover up her theft. But at 8:01 the next morning she had to be at work to reverse out that entry."

And if one person cashes in, it can leave an entire business and other employees -- with the damage. "When you steal people's money people suffer. It's a different type of suffering. It's not a physical pain, but like I said, it is devastating... and it is real," Teeling said.

"I've had men on the verge of cashing it in and all of a sudden they find out they're 200, 300, 400, $500,000 upside down. And they can no longer retire," Teeling said.

The FBI offered the following tips to help business owners avoid employee theft:

  • Look at bank statements and all incoming mail. The owner should receive and open bank statements. Also, be wary of unpaid bills, letters from the IRS or other notices of unpaid bills. Employees often steal by paying personal bills with company checks or other transactions. Often, company bills end up getting delayed. Watch for bounced checks, complaints from vendors and balance bank statement each month. 
  • Get a lock box as stolen mail is a significant risk, both by employees and people outside the company.
  • Make sure that all checks and cash received by the company are deposited into the company’s bank account. Have someone independent of the accounting department add up them up and make sure daily deposits are made.

The FBI also suggests rotating employee duties, carefully watching employees who gamble or have financial or drug problems, and maintaining independence between the accounting department and the owner. 

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