Much has been written about hiring the right people for dentists. Finding a good personality fit and ensuring that employees properly project your office’s personality are things others know far more than I do, so there is little that I can contribute to that discussion to help you avoid making the biggest hiring mistake of your life.
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However, my background and experience provide some insight into how “serial embezzlers,” who are the very LAST people you want to hire, successfully conceal unsavory pasts. I’d like to share what I have learned about their tactics.
Published studies suggest that over 60% of resumes contain some form of lying. This might be as basic as some form of skills enhancement, or it could extend to covering up that the applicant was fired from a previous job for stealing.
Let’s start by profiling typical embezzlers. They are smart, organized, and have strong computer skills. They present well in interviews, and convey an understanding of the preciousness of your time, and commit to creating an environment where that time can be used most effectively. They present an attractive resume without typos (seemingly a rarity today). And, of course, they have dental experience, although you don’t yet fully comprehend the nature of that experience.
It is likely that you are thinking that I have just described a perfect employee. One of the ironies of embezzlement is that thieves superficially resemble the perfect employee. Fortunately, there are areas where embezzlers differ from truly ideal employees, and this article will help you differentiate.
The most obvious area is that many, but certainly not all, serial embezzlers have criminal records. A properly conducted criminal records check will uncover this, and allow some rotten apples to be foregone. Two things should be kept in mind here. Many embezzlers don’t have criminal records either because charges were never brought, or because of the agonizing slowness of the justice system. Also, since a criminal record could reside in many different places, criminal background checking is complicated and best contracted out to professionals. Did you know that 65 million Americans (i.e., 1 in 4 adults) have criminal records?
On the subject of background investigations, it amazes me that, while there are many organizations that require prospective employees to be screened for drug use, even with the direct access to controlled substances that most dental offices have, drug testing is not normally part of pre-employment screening.
My next advice is that, when checking with former employers, verifying education, etc., eschew any phone number provided by an applicant. We have seen many cases where doctors thought they were speaking to former employers, finding out much later that it was actually a friend of the applicant pretending. So when verifying past experience or a credential, locate the phone number independently so that you know with whom you are speaking.
Now that you are speaking with the right person let’s consider what you should check. What you are seeking is the “undisclosed job” that the applicant wants to conceal. This job can be hidden either by covering it with non-employment (“home with children,” “traveling through Europe,” etc.) or by “stretching” the dates of other employment to cover what they want to hide.
If an applicant claims a lot of time out of the workforce, request a copy of their tax return and assessment from the IRS. Like any document, a tax return could be forged, but the nature of this form makes the forgery a lot of work, so most applicants trying to hide something will simply move on to another victim.
My other suggestion is to ask each former employer (and you should normally contact all employers from at least the last five years) a few strategic questions.
Check photo ID for every applicant. Can a driver’s license be forged? Of course it can. But most applicants for dental office jobs know how trusting dentists are and typically are not expecting to be asked.
Get them to provide the exact dates of employment. Don’t prompt them with the dates in the resume and ask for verification; human nature may result in them agreeing without verifying
Verify job title and responsibilities
Ask who the previous and subsequent employers were (most former employers know this)
If the applicant claims to be currently working for that employer, confirm this with the employer. People who have been fired tend to conceal this fact from you.
Drug test every applicant. It makes no sense that I can’t get a job working for UPS or FedEx without a drug test, but I can work in most dental offices without one. And unlike UPS, you have prescription pads readily available.
Finally, ask each former employer a very specific question, “if this person were available and if you had a suitable opening, would you rehire them?”
The attractiveness of this question is that, while former employers are often cautioned by attorneys to avoid derogatory statements, most will find this question, which simply asks about future intent and not about specific actions or characteristics, to be a “safe” question to answer. And a single word answer, like “no” (or anything short of an enthusiastic “yes”), shouts volumes about the applicant. Compare all answers to the resume, and reject any applicant where dates or job history do not line up exactly with the information you determined independently.
While there is no foolproof means of identifying resume cover-ups, the simple techniques outlined here give you an excellent chance of spotting situations when resumes have been “doctored”. It is tempting, particularly in areas where qualified applicants are in short supply, to shortcut the hiring process. However, doing so can have disastrous consequences.
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 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.
Three out of five dentists will be embezzlement victims
Dr. Jones loved her practice, enjoyed her patients, and felt very lucky to go to work every day and do what she loved to do. She also was well aware that a major reason her work was so enjoyable was because her office manager handled the financial side of the practice effectively and efficiently. She could enjoy doing what she did best — helping patients improve their oral health — while not worrying about the financial details. In fact, she frequently bragged to other dentists about how lucky she was to find such a hard-working office manager. She was saying that right up until the day she found out the office manager had embezzled $150,000 from her practice!
How could this happen? How could she be so wrong about somebody she thought she knew so well? The surprising answer is that her story is not unique; embezzlement in the dental office happens far more frequently than most dentists realize. But don’t take my word for it. Join me in a conversation with David Harris, CEO of Prosperident — the only company in North America specializing in dental embezzlement prevention and detection— who has been investigating embezzlement in dental offices for more than two decades. You may be surprised at who is likely to embezzle from your practice and what it really takes to minimize your risk of being a victim.
While dental embezzlement is a touchy subject for many doctors, it is a growing problem that cannot be ignored. You spend a lot of time and resources training your team and getting them to “buy in” to your vision of delivering quality patient care. We become close to our teams and, in many cases, they become like extended family. How would you feel if you discovered a valued team member has been stealing from you?
If you have been a victim of embezzlement, you already know how it feels! Many of us think it is unimaginable that someone we trust could resort to embezzlement. We spend most of our time delivering patient care and must rely on our team members to handle most of the patients’ financial transactions. The combination of these factors provides an opportunity for an employee to embezzle. In this article, I will explain the challenges you face and how you can mitigate the financial and emotional burdens that invariably result from being victimized by an embezzler.
Over the past few years, a plethora of articles have been published in dental journals discussing embezzlement. The prevailing theme is that by implementing a series of processes called internal controls, doctors can block opportunities for employees to commit embezzlement. Some of the articles suggest that as few as four or five internal controls are sufficient. At the other end of the spectrum, I read one article that listed over 100 internal controls.