I continue to see articles published with titles like “Four Things You Can Do To Stop Embezzlement In Your Practice” — in fact, I saw a new one online a couple of weeks ago.
Many of these articles are written by someone working in the dental field but without the daily contact with embezzlement that we have. So they write from “intuition” and recapitulate what others have written. While these authors have the very best of intentions, they consistently make a couple of errors.
First, they assume that what controls other types of crime will also work for embezzlement. So people fall into what we refer to as the “hard target fallacy,” where they assume that if we make it hard for a prospective thief to steal, they won’t try. This works really well, for example in deterring house burglars, because an alarm (or even the sticker that says that you have an alarm) is normally all that is needed is to convince a burglar to rob someone else instead of you. However, embezzlement is different; unlike most economic crime where the thief is able to choose his or her victim, for embezzlers, the victim is pre-ordained — it’s the practice owner. So the notion that we can redirect an embezzler to an alternate victim is misguided.
Second, many pundits underestimate the motivation and creativity of embezzlers. People embezzle to address a perceived need; sometimes it is financial, and other times it is an emotional need that causes them to steal.
In either case, it is a powerful motivation, and we shouldn’t expect a few minor obstacles to steer an embezzler toward honesty. And as for creativity — we have been at this for over 25 years and have seen hundreds of embezzlement methodologies employed, and we still encounter new ones on a regular basis. So picture your dental practice as having hundreds of embezzlement “doors.” Unfortunately, believing that locking four (or ten or fifty) of them will solve your embezzlement problem, is wishful thinking.
I’m not suggesting that there is nothing that you can do; on the contrary, there are plenty of steps that you can take that will make embezzlement easier to spot, minimize its damage and facilitate the investigative process. Check out our Ten Great Monitoring Ideas article here.