Is my practice “immune” from embezzlement?

“I live in a small town…”

I’m not referring to the catchy John Mellencamp tune of the 1980s (although I did like the song).  I’m referring to one of the factors that dentists use to convince themselves that they are “immune” from embezzlement.
We all want to believe that our staff are honest and that they would never steal from us, and most of the time this is true.  However, there is also a significant portion of the population who, in the right circumstances, will commit a dishonest act.  When you combine the size of this cohort with the large number of staff that a typical dentist will hire in his or her career, the result is that at least two in three dentists will eventually be embezzled.
The two biggest mistakes that I see dentists making is that they underestimate the ingenuity and determination of those who embezzle, and that dentists latch onto certain factors that they believe provide immunity.
It is tempting to think that embezzlement is an urban problem and is caused because dentists in cities often end up hiring people who they don’t know, whereas in many cases those hired by a small-town dentist are already well-known to the dentist.  What the dentists with this hypothesis do not know is that the majority of embezzlers have no criminal record or history of previous embezzlement.
I have also encountered many dental specialists who believe that embezzlement is primarily a problem for general dentists.  Others think that by paying their team members a premium above the going local rate will ensure the honesty of those people.
And then there are those who are convinced that checking the day-end report from their practice management software will prevent embezzlement.  (Boy are they mistaken — see a discussion HERE.)
Embezzlement happens for one simple reason — someone working for you decides that they have an entitlement to your money.  The factors that push them into this decision have a lot to do with them, and very little to do with you.  If the factors necessary to put someone in the place where they feel that stealing is appropriate, then they will embezzle.  This can happen in any practice.
Our Hall of Shame profiles about 500 embezzlers.  Statistical analysis of them shows that they fit virtually no profile.   Most are female, but this is probably a simple reflection of the gender imbalance among administrative staff in dental practices than the propensity of one gender to embezzle.  They range in age from their early 20s to their 70s.  They have widely varying levels of education.  They live in the biggest cities and the smallest towns.  Their methods of stealing vary widely.  Amounts stolen range from a few thousand dollars to over $1,000,000.
So to believe that certain factors make your practice immune is both understandable, and naive.  Take heart, though, because there are some concrete steps that you can take to improve your chances.  A good starting point is HERE, and Prosperident does offer some excellent options for improving your protection.

Do you want to protect your practice better?  Give Prosperident a call at 888-398-2327 or send an email to

Why Dentists Hire Badly

By David Harris

Our June 2017 Newsletter’s guest columnist Laura Hatch nailed it in her article on hiring when she says that dentists HATE the process of hiring staff.  (See Laura’s article HERE.)

Let’s face it — hiring is a minefield:
  • You either have too few qualified applicants or too many.
  • In addition to the challenge of finding a single person with both the right skills and the personality you are seeking, hiring is subject to much governmental regulation.
  • Often you are operating under considerable time pressure to fill an essential position.
I think it is also safe to say that very few dentists chose their profession based on a burning desire to own a small business.  For most, being the CEO is the curse that accompanies the privilege of restoring and enhancing smiles.
Skepticism when hiring is something that does not come naturally to most dentists.
There are clear dangers out there — 25% of US adults have criminal records, and credible studies estimate that more than 50% of resumes contain some level of falsehood.  And yet when I ask audiences of dentists whether they have done something as basic as checking photo identification last time they hired very few have done so, and the thought that an applicant might be using a false identity never crossed their minds.
It is no wonder that about a quarter of our caseload involves “serial embezzlers.”  These people have stolen before, and have managed to hide this fact from subsequent employers.  This DentalTown article deals with one such serial embezzler who has worked in over a dozen practices.
There are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself better from these people. Click HERE for some good ideas on screening applicants.

Do you have questions about embezzlement?  Give Prosperident a call at 888-398-2327 or send an email to

I just hired someone and then got notice that their wages are garnished. Should I fire them?

We recently got this question from a consultant friend of ours:

“I have a question as I have a client that recently hired somebody and  shortly after she started he got a request for garnishing her  wages to pay off $3,200.00.

“He’s not sure how to handle this and are even if he should keep the team member. What would be your recommendations? It appears as it has set off the red flags for him and I myself am not sure how to handle this or what to recommend.

“Thank you in advance for your help.”

This was our answer:

It isn’t necessarily an issue, but requires a bit more investigation.

Garnishees can come from a lot of different things — unpaid parking tickets might be an example of something causing a garnishee where there might not be an employment implication.  It could also be a financial dispute with an ex-spouse.  It could also be an unpaid fine for a criminal conviction, which is obviously more concerning.

It is important for the dentist to understand WHY the employee’s wages are being seized, so he or she needs to dig into this, and ultimately make a decision about whether this person represents an unacceptable level of risk to the practice.

Of course it isn’t a good idea to take the employee’s word for what happened; your client should ask to see paperwork.

Also, it’s a good time to consider whether the background checking that was done when this person was hired was sufficient.  Were former employers contacted?  Was the applicant tested for drug use?  Some information on checking backgrounds when hiring is here — .  If screening done at the time of hiring was lax (and it often is), now is a good time to complete the background checking that should have been done before this person was hired.

Clearly the garnishee means that the employee is in precarious financial position — obviously they don’t have $3,200 available to settle this debt. If this person is a single mom living in a rented apartment, I  fully expect there to be financial issues.  However if this person drives an SUV and lives in an expensive house, the fact that they don’t have $3,200 would really concern me.

I’m happy to speak with your client if he or she wants to discuss further.

Do you have questions about embezzlement?  Give Prosperident a call at 888-398-2327 or send an email to

Doing Proper Backups

We all know that data is important, and we need to back it up.  Whether a hard disk stops working, or your network has been invaded by “ransomware,”having a proper backup can definitely save your bacon.

When we examine someone’s practice for embezzlement, we start by making a duplicate of their practice management software in our lab.  This allows us to do our work unobtrusively and isolated from the changes that take place daily in “live” software.

Normally our technical staff connect to the client’s server over the internet and upload what we need to our lab.  However, occasionally we receive a disk drive on which our client has made a backup.

Overall our experience with these backup media isn’t good.  It is common for us to receive a backup containing only empty folders.  At other times, we receive an “incremental” backup (i.e., only files changed since the last backup).

Obviously, if you are using cloud-based practice management software you don’t need to worry about this; for the rest of us there are a few rules to follow:

  1.  Test your backups.  To paraphrase an old cliche “You don’t need a backup until you need one and when you need one you really, really need one.” Testing a backup of practice management software isn’t easy — you need to restore it to a “clean” install of your practice management software to make sure that it works.  With most software, there are several critical files that, if not backed up, will make you unable to restore a working copy.
  2. Always back up data; never back up software.  Your practice management software is easy to rebuild if needed (usually as a download from the company that owns it), so there is no good reason to back it up.  And it also presents a danger — if your backup media is lost, someone finding it will have both your data and the means to read it.  Data without the software is usually quite difficult to extract, and backing up your software provides little benefit to you but makes it much easier if someone comes into possession of your data.
  3. Don’t use flash drives for your backup.  The storage of small USB drives has increased dramatically over the past few years, and it is tempting to use them as backup media.  However their small size is also their downfall; it is far too easy to lose one and not realize it.  However if a portable hard drive falls out of your pocket, you will definitely notice.
  4. Backups need to be taken off-site.  Backing up to a hard drive next to your server will not help you at all if your office burns down.
  5. Encrypt your backup.  Practice management software, except in very outdated systems, is already encrypted.  However, there are often a few files that are backed up that aren’t encrypted, and many offices back up other office files in addition to practice management software.  So encrypting and protecting your medium with a password provides a good (and easy to implement) additional layer of security.  And you really don’t want a HIPAA breach, do you?
  6. Be careful with “incremental” backups.  These are backups limited to things that changed since the last backup.  This is normally done if the data set is really, really big, but makes the job of restoring from backup much harder (typically you must restore the last full backup, and then every incremental backup made after the full backup, in sequence.
  7. Redundancy is key.  If something is important (and your practice data certainly qualifies), it should be backed up at least twice (e.g., one backup to the cloud, and another to a physical medium).
  8. Cloud backup needs to be used carefully.  Most cloud backup probably isn’t HIPAA compliant, so some research needs to be done, and, just like backup to a physical medium, cloud backup should be properly encrypted.

Hopefully you never need any of this, but in case you do…

Do you have questions about embezzlement?  Give Prosperident a call at 888-398-2327 or send an email to


Should I fire an employee if I find out that they have embezzled from someone else in the past?

By David Harris

CEO, Prosperident

Over the past week, I’ve encountered a couple of similar situations, which leads me to believe that this scenario is worthy of my writing about it.

Both situations started with a call from a practice owner who had just discovered that an employee had previously embezzled from another practice.

While this isn’t my focus today, I’ll mention that this does highlight the poor job that most dentists do when screening job applicants; in both cases this information was discoverable before hiring. An article on proper pre-employment screening is here.

In both calls, we were being asked to see if these employees were now embezzling. I think that the hope of my callers was that if our investigation came back “clean,”they could stop worrying about these employees.

Unfortunately it fell to me to burst their bubbles, and I told each caller that in my view, the employees should be fired immediately.

Embezzlers are people who, responding to a particular set of pressures, chose to steal.  Many others, in similar circumstances, adopted some other solution.  The probability that, over the duration of their employment, those pressures will reoccur is considerable.

Once someone has shown a preparedness to cross the “criminal threshold,”particularly if doing so had relatively few consequences, the likelihood of recidivism is high.

There are certainly people (and I count myself among them) who, after youthful miscreance, choose to change their behavior.  I know and admire many people who mad a positive change in direction.

However, both of the employees in question failed a basic honesty test when applying for their current positions — they could have owned up to their pasts instead of concealing them.  Since both got their jobs on the basis of lies, this tells me that they have not yet turned the corner towards honesty, and are “ticking time bombs.”

While it wasn’t exactly what my callers were hoping to hear from me, I’m pleased to tell you that both have taken my advice and have parted company with these employees.  In a similar situation, you should do the same.

Do you have questions about embezzlement?  Give Prosperident a call at 888-398-2327 or send an email to

If my day-end report balances to my bank deposit, can I still be embezzled?

In a word, YES.

Many dentists believe that if the “daysheet” generated by their practice management software balances to their bank deposit, embezzlement is not happening in their practice.

Please don’t take us out of context — carefully checking the daysheet is something every dentist should do daily.  This recommendation is not based on the idea that it will catch embezzlement (it probably won’t), but it will help you spot data entry errors and other mistakes that can cost you money.

Dentists tend to believe that the daysheet is “right” because it comes from their computer, is nicely formatted, and is produced by a sophisticated practice management software. It is human nature to accept the veracity of documents that arrive in this way.  However, what these dentists are forgetting is that normally entry of transactions in the software and printing of this report are performed solely by staff.  With this kind of control, it is not difficult for a staff member to make the daysheet say whatever they want it to, and therefore make it balance to a bank deposit that has been reduced by embezzlement.  Thieves are both motivated and clever, and generally have little trouble finding a way to make the daysheet present an untrue picture.  (For a discussion of the creativity and determination of thieves, please see our article at

Because we do not want to enhance the tool kits of embezzlers, we won’t discuss specific methodologies for adulterating daysheets here, but we will mention that we see situations where daysheets have been “cooked” on a weekly basis.

Put slightly differently, if your bank deposit does not balance to your daysheet, you have an embezzlement issue.  However, the reverse is not true — the fact that these things balance may mean nothing more than that your embezzler knows how to add.

We should also mention that the task of determining whether these two things truly balance is a bit more complicated than it once was.  Deposited funds may arrive at the bank in many different ways (carried by you to the bank, deposited by check scanner, directly deposited by an insurance company or a patient financing company, deposited directly by your “merchant terminal” that accepts credit card payments etc), and some of them have a time delay compared to when they are recorded as received in your practice management software, a proper reconciliation requires more than the comparison of the funds being carried by the office to the bank, and normally can’t be fully completed until several days later (when the “delayed” funds have arrived).

So what should a busy dentist do?

We’d suggest starting with our Ten Great Monitoring Ideas at (incidentally, one of the monitoring ideas is that you should print the daysheet yourself, and not rely on a staff member to do it for you.

A great tool for simplifying the balancing process is our Monthly Monitoring Spreadsheet.  Email us and ask for it, and we will be happy to provide a copy.

If you have embezzlement concerns for this or any other reason, we are happy to speak with you.  Call us at 888-398-2327, or email us at, and we will be happy to help.

What Squirrels and Embezzlers Have In Common

David Harris
I was discussing embezzlement with my friend Rick Willeford a few months ago.  Rick is a CPA and engineer who founded DentaMetrix, a company that helps dentists and consultants make sense of their data.
Rick was analogizing embezzlement to, believe it or not, bird feeders. He told me that he was having trouble keeping squirrels away from his feeder.
When he tried to buy squirrel-proof bird feeders, Rick was told that they don’t exist. Rick asked the hardware store clerk why.
“How much time per day do you spend thinking about the problem you are having with squirrels eating your bird seed?” the clerk asked Rick. Rick acknowledged that it was less than 10 minutes. Next came the wisdom.  “Let’s consider this from the squirrel’s perspective,”the clerk said. “He want nothing more than to steal your birdseed. In fact, he thinks of nothing but that birdseed all day. Of course he is going to beat you!”
Watch what happens in this video:
Many dentists assume that their considerable intellectual prowess and lengthy education should give them an advantage over embezzlers. And yet we see less gifted thieves successfully embezzle for years, so the bird feeder parable is accurate. Thanks for the perspective, Rick!

Do you have questions about embezzlement?  Give Prosperident a call at 888-398-2327 or send an email to

Ten Great Embezzlement Monitoring Ideas


By David Harris MBA, CPA, CMA, CFE, CFF

CEO, Prosperident

If you read our articles or receive our monthly newsletter, you probably are familiar with our telling people that “prevention” of embezzlement is impossible, but detection of embezzlement is fairly easy, if you go about it the right way.  Here are ten steps that take very little time but can make your practice much safer from embezzlement:



1. Print reports yourself — this prevents the possibility of a staff member using “selective reporting” in the information that they give you.

2. Review and initial day sheets. Retain for three years or more. You may need these some day if embezzlement is suspected.


3. Review entry log (alarm system).  Staff members coming to the office at unusual times is often a symptom of embezzlement.  Taking five minutes to review this information from your alarm company is one of the best time investments you can make in detecting embezzlement.

4. Review AR listing and compare with previous month.  Make sure that balances are “aging” properly in the reports, and ensure that suitable collection action is being taken on older accounts.

5. Review the Modified transactions report (the name varies with the type of practice management software you are using).  This is a much smaller report than the “audit log” (which can run to thousands of pages per month) and is often a place where certain types of embezzlement transactions can be seen.

6.Have bank and credit card statements sent to your house instead of your office.  This prevents employee tampering.

7. Use Prosperident’s Monthly Monitoring Spreadsheet (ask for it at to reconcile daily reporting with monthly reporting and deposits.

As needed:

8.Embezzlement Risk Assessment Questionnaire (available at

9. Mandatory vacations and cross-training for all staff.  And don’t let them take a vacation one day at a time — everyone from your office should be gone for at least two consecutive weeks per year, and this needs to be done when the office is open.  The idea is to force another staff member to do the work that would normally be done by the person on vacation.  This will not happen if vacation is taken a day or two at a time.

10. Skepticism when hiring (Prosperident’s Hall of Shame is a great resource).  Did you know that 65 million Americans (i.e., one in four adults) have criminal records?  And that published studies suggest that at least 60% of resumes have at least some level of false or misleading information.  Often dentists “hire in a hurry” and end up skipping a proper background check on an applicant.  From basic items like checking photo id for job applicants to having short-list applicants take a drug test, dentists are very reluctant to apply proper screening before hiring.

Do you have questions about embezzlement?  Give Prosperident a call at 888-398-2327 or send an email to

Former MA office cleaners accused of stealing cash, drugs from dentist

dentalmugs1.jpg dentalmugs2.jpg

PITTSFIELD — A city couple are accused of breaking into a Merrill Road dental office and stealing cash and drugs.

Shawn Chapin, 37, was a former employee of a company responsible for the cleaning of the office and knew the code for a lockbox containing the building key, according to a report authored by Pittsfield Police Patrol Officer Brandon M. Gallagher.

Witnesses who were parked outside of the Aspen Dental building on the night of April 1 saw two people, later identified through a photo lineup as Chapin and Kara M. Wilson, 32, open the door with a key and enter.

Through the glass windows, witnesses were able to see the pair walk through the building and open drawers before exiting and driving off.

The witnesses, both employees of Aspen Dental, waited about 10 minutes then entered the building themselves to find drawers and lockers open, money missing from the cash drawer and the drug cabinet unlocked before contacting police.

The witnesses also provided police with the license plate number of the vehicle in which the pair left. That plate number came back as registered to Wilson.

In addition to $74 in cash, the pair allegedly stole midazolam and ketamine — both anesthetics — and dexamethasone, a type of steroid medication, police said.

A police interview with the owner of the cleaning company said Chapin used to clean the office for about six months, but was no longer working for the company.

The owner told the police Chapin was only one of two people who knew the code for the lockbox containing the building key, but there was no reason for him to enter the building.

Police requested warrants for the pair and placed both under arrest Monday evening.

The pleaded not guilty in Central Berkshire District Court on Tuesday to three counts of larceny of a drug and one count each of nighttime felony breaking and entering and larceny from a building.

Judge William Rota released them on personal recognizance and ordered them to return to court May 17 for pretrial hearings.

Do you have questions about embezzlement?  Give Prosperident a call at 888-398-2327 or send an email to

Great story about how an optometrist prosecuted an embezzling employee

How I prosecuted an embezzling employee

My life was turned upside down by the theft and the fallout

During the summer of 2013, I was starting to hit my stride as a relatively new practice owner. I had taken the helm of my practice in 2011. Cash flow had started to stabilize, and I was starting to plan the next round of investments to improve the practice. My team consisted of three full-time employees, two of whom had been working for the previous owner since 2001. These two long-term employees had a long history with the office and our patients, and they were integral to a smooth transition after I bought the practice. My team was performing well, and we were relatively drama-free.

Or so I thought.

I discovered that an employee had been dispensing glasses to her family without collecting payment for the materials. After studying the relevant charts, I was certain that the activity was deliberately hidden from me. The employee was terminated the following day, but at the time, she insisted that the missing payments were errors rather than evidence of theft.

From three employees to one

A few hours after the termination, my best employee resigned. She was close friends with the one who had been terminated, and although I do not believe she was involved in the theft, I presume that she thought I was incorrect in my accusation. She told me that she no longer needed to work because her husband’s income was sufficient to support them. I may never know her true reasons for quitting, but I was stunned.

My team of three had been reduced to one employee in a matter of a few hours. The person remaining was pregnant with plans to be a stay-at-home mom, so I would be losing her in a matter of months. I would have to rebuild the entire team from scratch. I returned home that evening with a feeling of deep despair, unsure how I would maintain day-to-day operations while also searching for and training new employees.

The scramble to hire temporary and full-time employees began immediately, and I was incredibly fortunate to find wonderful people within a very short time. However, the training process would be long and arduous because I chose to hire for talent rather than eyecare experience. I was fortunate to have friends and colleagues offer to help in many ways to help me through those first few weeks, but nonetheless, the emotional distress was tremendous.

A few weeks after the initial discovery, I learned that the terminated employee had also repeatedly stolen money from the cash drawer in small amounts over a period of two years. My husband and I spent six weeks sifting through charts and making copies of relevant documents to prepare for an insurance claim. There were more than 70 instances of theft, and the amount was far past the threshold to qualify for a felony charge if we chose to pursue legal action.

Taking legal action

Ultimately, we decided to turn the information over to the local police department and press charges for three reasons. First, the amount of theft was significant, and I felt the former employee should be punished. Second, I was certain that the accusations were correct because our research had been very thorough. Finally, while talking with local colleagues about the events in my office, I learned that they all had fired someone for theft, but none had pursued criminal charges. Most told the person to return the stolen money or goods in exchange for a promise that the police would not be notified. In other words, the thieves were allowed to move along and prey upon their next employers.

In October 2013, I submitted a four-inch binder of evidence to the local police department. The case was assigned to a detective, but he was unable to start working on it until the following May due to a homicide investigation that was in process. In a way, the delay worked in my favor because it allowed me to focus on training my new team during that period.

The detective and I met in early May 2014, and by the end of that month, his investigation was complete. My former employee confessed to the theft in a recorded phone conversation with the detective, and because she was cooperative, he allowed her to turn herself in the following day. She was arrested and posted bail on the same day. The charges filed against her were felony grand theft and embezzlement.

I was surprised by my reaction to the news that she had been arrested. I expected to feel good and victorious at this milestone, but instead, I just felt sad and unsettled. It was difficult to concentrate on work for the remainder of that day.

The subsequent court process lasted about 10 months. There were several types of hearings, and they were scheduled and rescheduled multiple times along the way. Given our line of work, it was difficult and stressful to remain flexible with the schedule changes. The deputy district attorney assigned to my case was negotiating with the defense attorney. We agreed to drop the charges to a misdemeanor in exchange for a “no contest” plea and a partial upfront restitution payment. I was relieved to avoid the stress of a jury trial.

The sentencing hearing occurred last September, and I read a victim impact statement at the hearing. The judge mentioned that it’s often hard to understand the downstream effects when theft occurs, and he thanked me for articulating them so well. He thanked me three times for being there, which seemed odd to me at the time, but I learned later that victims rarely appear at these hearings.

After sentencing was complete, the next step was restitution. Although I had filed a claim with my business owner’s liability policy for the amount of the theft in 2013, that claim did not include reimbursement for the time that my husband and I spent to conduct the investigation and participate in the court proceedings. In addition, the carrier for my business owner’s liability policy dropped me as a client due to “loss history” after the claim had been paid. Ultimately, the new policy’s premium was significantly higher than the previous policy’s premium.

The restitution process was intended to collect against these additional damages as well as the $1,000 deductible. I used fixed-cost overhead to “charge” for the days that I had to clear my schedule for court hearings—because the hearings had been rescheduled so many times, the total restitution claim was approximately three times the amount of the original theft.

I was sworn-in to testify at the restitution hearing in February 2015. The defense attorney attempted to discredit me, but I stood firm and calmly explained the rationale behind each item on the restitution claim. The judge issued his ruling six weeks later, and I was granted nearly all of the restitution that I had requested. He omitted a few small items that were categorized as incidental costs of turnover rather than as a direct result of the theft. Overall, I was pleased that the court had validated my restitution claim.

Was it worth it?

Looking back, I would definitely choose to pursue legal action if I had to face that decision again. It was time-consuming and stressful, but I achieved closure through the process, and it is satisfying to know that my former employee was held responsible for her actions. I learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way, and an article in Optometry Times’ sister publication Medical Economics became a good resource for me as a navigated through the process:

I had previously heard that employee theft was a common occurrence in medical practices, but until it happened to me, I had no idea how pervasive the problem had actually become. The realization that a trusted employee had stolen from my practice had far-reaching implications, and the full impact went much deeper than the initial financial damage. I had never before experienced a violation of trust of this magnitude.

The betrayal was personal because I trusted the employee and cared about her during the few years that we worked together. Our backgrounds share quite a few similarities, so I identified with her and wanted to see her succeed. At the same time, she knew that as a new and struggling business owner, I was making significant personal sacrifices to transform the practice. The practice provided her with a job with steady daytime hours, paid vacation time, and fully paid medical, dental, and vision benefits. Yet she felt it was appropriate to also help herself to materials and cash from my office on a regular basis for more than two years. In light of her knowledge of my situation and the generosity extended to her, that was despicable to me.

My life was literally turned upside down by the theft and the subsequent fallout, and it took a solid six months to restabilize my business. The good news is that my practice is stronger now than it was before the theft was discovered. I have a stellar team in place and we have a bright future, so thankfully, I have been able to return to focusing on my original goal of providing excellent eye care for the community.

Do you have questions about embezzlement?  Give Prosperident a call at 888-398-2327 or send an email to

Content retrieved from,0