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Financial Fraud Investigations: Why an Employee’s Vacation is a Great Time to Detect Fraud

by | Jan 25, 2021

Time off isn’t just a necessity to help employees recover and regroup, it’s also an opportunity for an organization to measure its efficiency and to uncover vulnerabilities it may face from fraud, waste, and abuse.

Here are just a few of the ways an organization can leverage its vacation and time-off policies to help detect fraudulent activity and prevent—or, if necessary, launch—a financial fraud investigation.

1) Don’t let an employee’s time off go to waste. The first rule of a successful fraud is that it must be hidden from view. Employees who engage in fraud are often adept at using their positions to cover their tracks.

When an employee is away from the office for more than a day or two, another employee should be asked to perform the position’s key functions. If the fill-in employee notices that something isn’t right — for example, the vacationing employee isn’t following company policy or has hidden away key information critical to performing the task — a deeper review is likely necessary.

This kind of check is particularly important for positions focused on accepting or disbursing cash, purchasing goods and services, or receiving or shipping goods. All of these areas are traditional breeding grounds for employee-related misconduct, such as embezzlement fraud.

2) An employee who never takes time off should raise red flags. In an age when tech startups lionize workers for putting in 80-hour weeks and July 5 has been named “National Workaholics Day,” managers might be forgiven for thinking its counterintuitive to suspect employees who refuse to take time off.

However, in financial fraud investigations, examiners routinely find that employees under suspicion go undetected because they have exerted control over the flow of information around their work. Those employees are often the first to arrive at the office and the last to go home, and they rarely—if ever—take time off.

Refusing to take vacation should be seen as a potential red flag. Dishonest employees know that they will be unable to hide their activities if they are gone for more than a couple of days. To fight back, companies can embed a simple solution in their employee handbooks: They can make vacations mandatory.

As we noted previously, during the mandatory vacation period, the company can assign another worker to an employee’s tasks to detect any potential wrongdoing. And the knowledge that a person’s job will be under scrutiny during time away may serve as a preventative measure as well. Employees may be less likely to engage in fraud if they have a reasonable fear of detection.

3) Don’t wait for vacations to rotate job duties. Though a vacation allows an employer the opportunity to perform a spot check to help detect financial fraud, an organization needn’t wait for time off to rotate job duties.

In areas of particular vulnerability for issues like embezzlement fraud (an accounting department, for instance), a regular rotation of job duties among employees can serve as a strong fraud deterrent. Again, when employees know they will have others picking up where they left off, they are much less likely to use their positions to perpetrate a fraud.

4) Don’t be afraid to go deeper. Simply having an employee take over another worker’s duties may not be enough if managers suspect that a fraud is underway. A forensic examination for financial fraud may be necessary. This may start with a more in-depth review of accounting records and may extend to a suspected employee’s digital and personal activities.

Financial fraud investigations can uncover fictitious vendors, invoices or payments that are consistently just below approval limits, duplicate invoices, and unexpected changes to the volume and amounts of transactions, among other issues.

To learn more about the ways an organization can leverage an employee’s time off to detect and prevent financial fraud or to discuss a more in-depth forensic examination, contact us for a consultation.

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