How Big Is The Embezzlement Problem?

We are featuring some excerpts from the upcoming second edition of David Harris’ book Dental Embezzlement; the Art of Theft and the Science of Control.

Embezzlement has been around since the beginning of recorded history. The Code of Hammurabi, the law code of the Mesopotameans, is most famous for its “an eye for an eye” provision, but also specifically addressed embezzlement, as did the legal code for Ancient Egypt.

The earliest record that I can find of embezzlement in a dental practice was in 1857 (which, by the way, also involved a murder). When you consider that the world’s first dental college, the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, admitted its first class in 1840, it didn’t take long for this problem to emerge.

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said this about embezzlement:
“Corruption, embezzlement, fraud, these are all characteristics that exist everywhere. It is regrettably the way human nature functions, whether we like it or not… No one has ever eliminated any of that stuff.”
While measurement issues make the answer to the question of prevalence in dentistry somewhat elusive, a comparison of surveys taken of dentists over time shows that the problem is growing.

The most recent broadly-based survey of embezzlement was performed by the American Dental Association’s Center for Dental Practice, which was published in 2019. In this survey, 19,991 dentists were polled, and the astonishing result was that 48.64% of those who responded confirmed that they had been victims of embezzlement.

It didn’t stop there. As can be seen from the graph below, almost half of the dentists who reported being embezzled disclosed that they had been victims more than once, with 9% of respondents confirming that they had been victimized four or more times.

If we simply multiply the number of dentists in each frequency category by the minimum frequency (i.e., 27% x 1, plus 11% x2 and so on), we can determine that, for every 100 dentists, there have already been at least 91 embezzlements that have taken place.

In comparison, a 2007 American Dental Association survey determined that 35% of the respondents had been victims , so in the 11 years between the two surveys, the percentage of dentists reporting embezzlement increased by more than a third (i.e., 13% of those surveyed). This growth is a significant and alarming trend.