Embezzlement is a Selfish Crime…

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Embezzlement is a Selfish Crime…

May 10, 2013

I was speaking somewhere a couple of months ago, and this phrase popped into my mind. I jotted it down and resolved to discuss it in a future newsletter column.

Embezzlers fall into two categories; there are those who steal from necessity, and others who steal, not because they need to, but because they want to.  I recognize that there is some inherent subjectivity between these two, but for most embezzlers, the delineation is pretty clear.  We did an examination a few years back where someone was embezzling, and then they won several million dollars in the State Lottery.  What did they do next?  They continued embezzling!  Clearly, this was being done to address an emotional (as opposed to a financial) need.

When I speak with dentists about embezzlement, many of them have the feeling that certain attributes of them or their practices make them more or less “prone” to embezzlement.  For example, many doctors believe that there is some correlation between how well team members are paid and their propensity to embezzle.  Our research doesn’t support this, and in fact, points to a slight negative correlation; in other words, better-paid employees are slightly more likely to embezzle. (We have debated the explanations internally; personally, I think that doctors with well-paid employees tend to believe that they have bought immunity against embezzlement and are therefore less vigilant).

However, what I’ll tell you about embezzlers is that, regardless of whether they are stealing out of need or greed, they are very consumed by their own problems.  They spend a lot of time thinking about how to steal (and how to cover it up), and their own needs.  They spend almost no time thinking about you, their victim, and the swath of financial and emotional destruction that their actions create.

We are dealing with employees who are powerfully motivated to steal and would do so in whatever situation they found themselves.  For this reason, I don’t accept the widely held belief that some doctors or practices are “embezzlement magnets,” and I view victims as essentially selected at random.

Does this mean that you are powerless against embezzlement?  Absolutely not.  there are a few things you can do:

1.  Hire carefully.  Most dentists despise the hiring process — understandable, but it shouldn’t push you into taking short cuts.  Once fired at one office, embezzlers are remarkably successful at getting hired at another office.  Last month’s newsletter had an article on avoiding hiring mistakes.  If you missed this article, you can check it out here.

2.  Systematically watch employee behavior.  The one constant of embezzling employees is that they act in a predictable way.  Thieves don’t want to take a vacation, resist your hiring of consultants, guard their duties and workspace carefully, conspicuously point to their own honesty, and so on. Our Embezzlement Risk Self Assessment Questionnaire (which is on sale this month in our online store) provides a systematic way to assess and classify employee behavior.  I’d recommend a look — that questionnaire has helped many practice owners realize that they had an embezzlement issue.

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