Teacher Background Checks are becoming more vital in today's volatile world. MSA Investigations' Director of Investigative Due Diligence and former longtime FBI Special Agent Neil Moran's tale from the field illustrates why.
Notes from the Field
How do you think you would react as the assistant principal of a parochial elementary school if one day there was a knock on the door from a well-groomed man in his 50s wearing the uniform of a vice admiral in the United States Navy, looking for a position as a teacher? Even though there was no posting for an open teaching position and the man had no references or known reason for selecting your school, he presented himself as a consummate professional and within several minutes had captivated the attention of school officials with his charismatic manner. In this instance, is a background check really necessary? After all, the individual has already demonstrated allegiance to his country, never mind the fact that he humbly appeared at your door ready and willing to work.
Parochial school teachers are notoriously low paid with their private and public school counterparts. In addition, teachers affiliated with a religious institution, at least in New York, where this scenario occurred, do not have to be licensed or have the same teaching credentials as in public of private schools. So, the mere thought of having a vice admiral retired from the U.S. Navy as a member of your staff would add considerable credibility and stature. Is it possible that the judgment of school officials speaking with the man made them somewhat "star struck," with this larger-than-life figure and overlooked potential "red flags," including how and why the man selected their school and moreover, why a retired senior U.S. Navy officer was parading around New York City seeking a job by knocking on the school door with his active duty uniform. This is the set of circumstances with which I was presented as an FBI Special Agent during the early 1980s when I was assigned to a possible "Impersonation" of a naval officer matter.
When my partner and I arrived on the scene in the Bronx we were greeted warmly by school officials. Both of us had been educated in parochial schools and were raised in New York City, which appeared to provide a measure of comfort to school administrators.
As they went over the story step-by-step starting with the man's unexpected arrival, we both began to wonder, "Did these folks hire this guy on the spot without having performed a background investigation?" We soon had our answer, "Yes." The story developed as red-faced and clearly embarrassed officials showed us pictures of the man who embraced the school and the parish community as a whole to the point where he had been honored as the "man of the year" and had been feted at the annual gala parish ball. Photos of the man giving his acceptance speech adorned the principal's office. "Did you folks do your due diligence and perform a background investigation?" we asked. The response, which was shocking to us was, "No."
As we pressed on for further details, we clearly had the sense that behind all of this school administrators were not forthcoming on all of the details and we soon discoverd why. They clearly felt foolish having been so captivated and endeared by the man upon meeting him that they failed to exercise sound judgment in ensuring that he would be exposed to young children and, regardless of his prior military career, should be thoroughly vetted. And then the bomshell dropped.
Among the many parish sponsored activities in which the man exhibited an interest was the Boy Scout troop, which included weekend trips to area campsites. The Boy Scouts have had a number of similar child abuse problems in recent months and years, as news sources report. Several young male scout members, who were also parish members and students, had come forward and informed their parents that the man had sexually molested them on several of the camping outings. The man, having realized that the parish community was aware of what had occurred departed the school suddenly and without explanation.
Although the man was arrested and prosecuted at a later date, this is a situation which should never have occurred. Imagine that school officials never confirmed that the man had retired from the U.S. Navy, which the FBI later determined that he never spent a day in military service. Also imagine that on the man's word the school hired him for a position of trust where he was exposed to children without first conducting a background investigation, which would have revealed that the man had no college degree.
Another lesson learned, no matter what the scenario or circumstances, if it's too good to be true it probably is. More importantly, would you buy a car without having a qualified mechanic look at it? Or purchase a home without having a professional engineer perform a thorough examination? So why would anyone hire a total stranger, no matter how impressive he or she may be on the surface for any position of trust without a complete background investigation?
Teacher background checks and pre-employment screening are necessary means to raise awareness and help enforce laws that protect children from abuse.
Email Neil Moran to learn more about MSA Investigations' background investigations services.
(Image Credit: Reuters News)
Pre-employment screening and background checks often involve reviewing an individual's credit history and their ability to manage their finances, which isn't always as clear-cut as it may seem. In fact, a recent Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) study, which involved 1,001 study participants and 2,968 credit reports revealed that approximately:
One out of four consumers identified a mistake on their credit reports that might affect their credit scores;
Four out of five consumers who filed a dispute experienced some kind of modification to their credit report;
49.2% of the consumers who filed a dispute saw a change in their credit score; and
26.2% of all disputed reports had a maximum score change of more than 25 points; and 11% of all disputed reports had a maximum score change of more than 50 points.
For individuals undergoing background screening, the FTC study shows that many of the errors disputed and corrected by a nationwide credit reporting agency ("CRA") are errors in the tradeline (information on a credit account) or collections information. In the study, 413 collection accounts were disputed as "Not Mine" (defined as an item that does not belong to the consumer) and nearly half, 209, had to be corrected.
Credit scores may be lowered due to late payments, not paying at all, judgments, bankruptcy filings, foreclosures, and having an account sent to collections. A low credit score can affect your ability to obtain a loan, insurance, employment, and even a home.
A change of 25 points on a credit score may seem modest, however, when utilizing Fair Isaac Corporation’s ("FICO") auto loan tier thresholds, the change of credit score may save or cost you between $16 to $72 in monthly payments.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA"), a federal law, allows you to receive a free copy of your credit report from each of the big three nationwide CRAs by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com. And here's a handy tip - order a report from one agency every four months and you'll have an idea of what's on your report on an ongoing basis.
If you do find error(s) on your report, file a dispute; the CRA is required by law to investigate within 30 days, unless they deem it frivolous. It's recommended to include any copies of documents and evidence that may help your case.
An investigative firm such as MSA Investigations can assist in gathering information and evidence that may help your dispute in pre-employment matters, or identify any other adverse information available in public records that may affect your chances of receiving a loan or a job.
Ricky Tong is an Investigative Analyst with MSA Investigations. For more information about this blog post contact Mr. Tong at email@example.com.
On November 9, 2012, the Today Show aired a misleading report on the use of pre-employment background checks. Jeff Rossen of NBC made the argument that background check companies are causing innocent people to lose jobs by mistaking them for felons, armed robbers and sex offenders.
This report is incendiary, and more importantly, it misrepresents the truth. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), consumers have the right to dispute information contained in their pre-employment background screening report. According to the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), fewer than 1 percent of consumer disputed reports are actually found to contain an error.
NAPBS, LexisNexis, and ADP have all issued statements denouncing the NBC report as misleading. NAPBS Chairman Fred Giles made the following comment about the report:
NBC's Today Show and reporter Jeff Rossen have done a disservice to employers and the general public by focusing on a small number of unfortunate instances in an attempt to indict an entire industry that is critical to the safety of our homes and workplaces . . .
NBC failed to provide the full story as to why sufficient time, accounted for in the law was not allowed for the applicant to resolve the dispute. Instead, there was a sensational rush to indict an industry that in fact does more to protect the safety of the workplace, than a handful of unfortunate sensationalized anecdotes would indicate . . .
. . . By relying on a few such examples to illustrate incidents of error, the Today Show ignored the vast majority of the millions of background screens conducted each year and the serious workplace problems they helped to prevent. Each year business owners, corporate HR departments, government agencies and nonprofits, conduct millions of pre-employment background checks to ensure that job applicants are competent and fit for the position for which they are applying. This helps businesses protect their own employees as well as the general public. Most importantly, it helps to ensure the safety of our children and the elderly who represent the most vulnerable populations in our communities.
Employee background screening is critical in today's business environment, allowing employers to meet their legal responsibilities to provide a safe and secure environment for their existing employees and the customers they serve. For the Today Show to suggest otherwise is not only unwise, but potentially dangerous.
LexisNexis Risk Solutions noted in a statement that the example provided in the Today Show report was almost seven years old. Since then, quality measures within their system have been improved. LexisNexis also noted that less than two-tenths of one percent of all LexisNexis pre-employment background checks requires changes as a result of consumers disputing their reports.
On the other hand, a study by American Data Bank found that 45 percent of potential employees either have a criminal record, poor driving record or bad credit history. The same study also found that 30 percent of businesses fail due to employee theft. According to Bankrate.com, a third of all resumes are exaggerated and 16 percent of potential employees post false academic credentials.
The benefits of performing thorough background screening on any prospective employee far outweighs any potential drawbacks. These due diligence investigations can eliminate the costs associated with hiring dishonest, less qualified candidates, not to mention protecting your company against the risk of workplace violence by eliminating candidates with a criminal record.
Employers can be sued for failing to exercising proper due diligence in the hiring of a new employee - and can also be sued for negligent retention if they fail to terminate or discipline another employee who is seen as a potential threat. Pre-employment screening is a vital step for any company to protect itself from potentially costly litigation.
At MSA Investigations, all of our analysts have successfully completed the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) Basic Certification Training offered by NAPBS. This act protects the rights of job applicants in disputing incorrect information in pre-employment background checks. Furthermore, our analysts are trained to take the appropriate safeguards to minimize the risk of mistakes being made in any pre-employment screening.
Contact us to learn more about MSA's background checks.
Image: Photo by Lauren Manning on Flickr.
Organizations around the world lose an estimated 5 percent of their annual revenue to fraud, according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE). November 11-17 is International Fraud Awareness Week. The weeklong campaign encourages business leaders and employees to proactively take steps to minimize the impact of fraud by promoting anti-fraud awareness and education. In order to help kick off this important awareness week, MSA Investigations has a few tips for employers seeking to reduce or prevent workplace fraud.
- Conduct thorough background investigations on all prospective employees. Know who you are hiring! Pre-employment screening can help your company avoid hiring convicted felons, hackers, predators, and con-men.
- A vital component of any background investigation is a search of media and social media. Media searches can identify criminal records or adverse items that may be missed in a standard investigation. Social media searches can provide an employer with a glimpse into an employee's personal life - exposing personal traits that may not have otherwise been uncovered in a personal or reference interview or in a background check. For example, social media sites may reveal derogatory information or comments posted by others about an employee.
- Install proper security systems and monitor employee access. Knowing who has access to client files and other sensitive information is imperative to preventing workplace fraud.
Following these tips can help prevent a significant loss in revenue, especially for small businesses that fall victim to embezzlement or employee theft.
Unfortunately, most investigators are retained following or during the discovery that fraud has occurred. Should your company fall victim, MSA Investigations has skilled professionals that are experienced in these types of investigations to help determine the extent of the fraud and identify those responsible.
Contact us to learn more about fraud prevention and fraud investigations.
Background checks are an increasingly vital aspect of doing business these days. At MSA Investigations, we have first-hand experience in fielding a range of background investigations, from vetting employees and conducting pre-employment background screenings to the more unfortunate instances in which we are called upon after-the-fact to conduct fraud investigations on employees whose backgrounds were not properly checked.
Case in point
A tire manufacturing company that employs about 350 people and reports earnings of about $30 million annually was in need of a new accountant. A married man in his 50s living with his wife and kids learned about the position and forwarded his résumé. Shortly thereafter, the man was interviewed and eventually landed the job.
The résumé, which listed the man’s former employers and employment history, was never investigated. Former places of employment were never contacted to even confirm that the man had once held a position. Even more amazing was the fact that no background check was ever performed to determine whether or not there was any record of a prior criminal history.
Had the company made a simple telephone call to the employer where the man worked prior to being hired at the tire manufacturing company or performed a criminal background check, they would have avoided a huge financial loss, which ultimately would have a significant impact on the business.
The Cost of Skipping a Background Check
Had a criminal background check been conducted, the company would have learned that the accountant had misappropriated $200,000 from his prior employer and, surprisingly enough, been sentenced to six months in jail prior to commencing his new position. So, for the first six months of his new employment, while maintaining the tire manufacturing company’s books, where his responsibilities included the payment of expenses and control of the payroll, the accountant was still on probation, having been freshly released out of jail.
The man, following his arrest and cooperation with authorities, admitted that after spending only one week at the new job, he realized that when the timing was right he could misappropriate funds with relative ease. He was also cunning and shrewd enough to wait until his sentence was completed, which included a period of parole following the aforementioned period of incarceration.
Following the conclusion of his sentence, the accountant soon went to work and systematically engineered a sophisticated payroll and expense scheme whereby he diverted in excess of $3 million to his personal bank account. Employees and consultants stealing money from clients is, sadly, common news these days.
An interesting twist to this story is how a married man living in a paid-for house managed to squander approximately $3 million during the course of the embezzlement. Tickets all over the country to prestigious professional sporting events, including the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball All-Star games; clothing at lavish department stores; a $50,000 BMW and more gifts to other family members; weekend trips to Las Vegas at least twice a month where the casinos put him up in suites and chauffeured him and any associates in limousines; and a propensity for playing the Lotto several times each week are just a handful of the ways the accountant spent the illicit funds.
When investigators performed a forensic review of the criminal’s financial transactions they learned that at the height of the fraud he had spent as much as $26,000 per week on playing lotto. Investigators also learned that given the vast amounts of money being spent on lotto games, the man even won significant amounts, as much as $55,000, on several occasions.
One noteworthy discovery that investigators also found during a forensic review was that among the substantial sums of cash being spent on all of the above-described items, a record of a $12 contribution to a homeless shelter was identified.
What’s the Lesson?
Given the world economic situation of the past few years, anyone employed in the field of professional services has come to realize that clients are attempting to streamline many of their processes and cut back on expenditures. This instance, failure to perform a routine background check and not confirming items on an applicant’s résumé is a classic example of an area where companies cannot and should not hesitate to spend the necessary money to provide a level of comfort with their new hires. The fastest route to securing a company's reputation and financial health is conducting background investigations on new employees, if only to avoid embezzlement scandals.
In today’s uncertain climate, most smart businesses would never hire anyone in a position of trust and, in this particular case, where the person had the primary responsibility for maintaining the company’s financial records, and fail to conduct a basic background check. To do so would be imprudent at best, high-risk and financially disastrous at worse.
Pennywise and pound foolish? Most certainly, yes. This company learned a hard lesson, where not conducting a relatively simple and inexpensive background check ultimately cost them $3 million.
Don’t allow your company to make the same mistake that occurred in this case. Always perform basic due diligence on new hires, and never skip on the background check.
Neil Moran is Director of Due Diligence and Business Intelligence at MSA Investigations.
Learn More about Neil Moran.
Contact Neil Moran.
One of the “most wanted” investigative services in New York that MSA Investigations delivers to law firms and other clients is the ability to perform a criminal history record search (or “CHRS”) on individuals through the New York State office of Court Administration, more simply known as the OCA.
Just how do investigative services in New York that include criminal searches work, and what does a criminal record search entail?
The OCA performs criminal record searches using its database by searching the individual’s full name and date of birth. One important thing to note is that variations of the individual’s name and/or date of birth are not automatically searched, and results may therefore not be comprehensive. For example, say a client wants to know if a nice lady named Jane Doe has a criminal record, and MSA Investigations uses the OCA to perform a criminal records search. Jane Doe may not have a criminal record, according to the OCA’s database. But now let’s imagine that Jane Doe’s maiden name was Jane Snow before she married John Doe. In order to adequately search for criminal records naming Jane Snow a separate search of the OCA criminal record database would need to be conducted using this name variation.
Open Warrants, Sealed Records, and ACDs
Similarly, when it comes to criminal record checks there is another factor to take into consideration when viewing results. This factor is open warrants as a result of “adjournment in contemplation of dismissal” (ACD). In New York Criminal Procedure Law, an ACD is a type of dismissal of criminal charges whereby if an individual is arrested, his or her criminal charges may be suspended for a limited period of time (typically six months), after which, if the individual stays out of trouble, the criminal charges will be dismissed. Thereafter, the case will be recorded as “sealed,” and the ACD disposition will not get recorded in the OCA database. In this sense, it is indeed possible that an individual who had a criminal arrest and passed the six-month time period without being re-arrested would result in a “clear” status in the OCA database, with no adverse information filed against that individual. Performing investigative services in New York can be a complex task, and requires an experienced staff that is deeply familiar with law enforcement and how criminal charges in New York are filed against an individual.
Conversely, if the individual does get re-arrested during the aforementioned six-month period and fails to comply with the terms of an ACD, the court will issue a warrant for the individual’s arrest. As an example, imagine the court sentences a defendant named Tom Smith to an ACD on a charge of reckless driving. The conditions imposed by the court order Mr. Smith to pay a $100.00 fine and complete eight hours of community service. If either of those conditions is not fulfilled, the warrant for Mr. Smith will remain active. In this instance, the New York OCA would have sealed the case. Currently, in order to obtain the status of an active warrant, which can only be identified by the originating police agency, the OCA must be contacted and furnished with the specific county where the defendant’s arrest occurred. The OCA is currently working to remedy this issue; however, in the meantime, there is no publicly accessible database that contains active warrants issued as a result of violating the terms of ACDs. For individuals seeking investigative services in New York, this is why it’s supremely important to use a licensed private investigative firm such as MSA Investigations to conduct these often-complicated criminal record checks.
Are Criminal Record Searches Foolproof?
Offering clients investigative services in New York is no easy task. Unfortunately, the aforementioned “glitch” in the current OCA system could have potentially devastating results in a situation in which an open warrant is overlooked during a background investigation. An individual applying for a bus driving position, for example, may have an open warrant for failing to complete the terms or conditions of an ACD for excessive speeding. This could potentially result in an individual obtaining a position for which he or she is not fit to perform, thereby leaving the company that hired the individual potentially liable.
Until the New York OCA rectifies this issue, background researchers have very little hope in identifying an open warrant issued in connection with an ACD.
For more information on our Background Screening and Criminal Records Search services, contact us today.
Due diligence investigations are becoming increasingly essential for risk-averse businesses in America, as well as for European institutional investors. Conducting research for due diligence investigations is complex, and the best reports include a comprehensive search for criminal and civil litigation in regions where the individual or business in question has a known presence.
Despite common rhetoric to suggest otherwise, there is no publicly available national criminal background check.
What Does This Mean?
Attorneys who authorize due diligence investigations should not be fooled by firms and databases that advertise an ability to perform national criminal records checks. While a national criminal records check -- the National Crime Information Center (“NCIC”) -- does exist, it is maintained by the FBI and is not accessible by the general public. The database is only available to registered law enforcement agencies.
The decentralized nature of criminal records in the United States, which are maintained at the municipal, county, state and federal levels, means that in order for an investigator to conduct a "national criminal check," literally, thousands upon thousands of indexes would need to be checked -- every municipality, county, and state, individually. There are over 3,000 counties in the United States (and many of these have multiple courts housing criminal records). Furthermore, many of these records are not yet digitized. Not only would this be prohibitively expensive, the amount of time and energy necessary to do so is mind boggling - and furthermore, inefficient.
How Criminal Records Can Be Searched
In the absence of a national criminal database, as seasoned investigators we resort to the next best thing. Most criminal records inquiries are conducted by searching the counties where individuals are known to have worked or resided. Address histories are gathered via databases, Social-Security number traces, examining property holdings, voter registrations, and registered phone numbers. Civil court records and drivers license information can also be used to compile a thorough address history during a background check. Only in this way--by identifying the exact region where an indivdual and/or business is known to operate--can an accurate criminal record search for due diligence investigations take place.
The moral of the story?
Don't be fooled by firms or websites that advertise national criminal records checks. If you have a hunch that the information you've received from one of these providers is incomplete or inaccurate, it would be prudent to hire a licensed private investigations firm with know-how and experience to check the data.
The horrific murder of two young New York City Upper West Side children by their nanny of two years, Yoselyn Ortega, has sent shock waves through the city, and the nation. It was especially traumatic for those New Yorkers who rely on hired caregivers - strangers who essentially become intimate members of a family's life.
As reported by the New York Times, the fulfillment of every parent's worst nightmare has highlighted the importance of background investigations and will undoubtedly increase the intensity of nanny searches.
While completing a background check cannot guarantee that tragedy won’t occur, the importance of background investigations should not be discounted -- they can still reveal important information about prospective nannies.
In addition to ensuring that prospective nannies do not have a criminal record, or have been identified as sex offenders, a comprehensive background check can identify a number of less obvious red flags of which parents should take note.
At MSA Investigations, we have the experience and proper resources to conduct thorough background investigations. Our investigators are trained in Fair Credit Report Act (FCRA) requirements, and have years of experience in conducting pre-employment screening. We understand the importance of background investigations, especially when hiring a potential nanny to care for one's children.
Let MSA Investigations help safeguard you and your family against hiring an unsuitable or unqualified candidate.
Contact us to learn more about domestic employment background checks.
At MSA Investigations, some of the questions we most often hear from clients seeking due diligence investigations and background investigation services are: What public record searches are conducted by MSA Investigations during a routine background check on an individual or enterprise? And, secondly: Given the amount of information publicly available on the Internet, why should clients hire an intelligence firm such as MSA Investigations to perform investigative due diligence rather than conduct this research themselves?
To answer these questions, it helps to know a bit more about public records in the U.S., the different access levels of various public records, and how investigators, as research professionals, can utilize public records to execute due diligence and background investigations in a way that the so-called “ordinary” citizen often cannot.
Access to Public Records
The Internet has given average citizens as well as investigators greater capability to search and view public records in the United States and abroad. From Google to Facebook, Secretary of State records to legal filings, the Internet has contributed to a vast amount of data being made available online. When it comes to investigative due diligence and background searches, having access to public records simplifies the process for investigators, individuals, and businesses that want to search and collect information from various online public records resources and centralized databases.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) administers access to U.S. national public records. Each state government has policies and regulations that govern what information can and cannot be viewed by third parties such as private investigations firms. Licensed private investigations firms such as MSA Investigations are granted access to a number of for-pay databases that contain information culled from a variety of federal, state, and local databases, as well as databases developed by private entities. As such, while a great deal of information is available to the public online, individuals looking to perform thorough due diligence and background research would be wise to hire an intelligence firm with a team of experienced researchers who know their way around relevant databases.
Because information located in databases is sometimes out of date, and/or may contain inaccuracies, investigators not only need to conduct thorough searches of public records, but also compare information culled in databases to ensure that the most accurate, up-to-date information is crosschecked before it is relayed as “fact” to the client. Courts and government agencies at federal, state and local levels are increasingly making the most up-to-date and comprehensive public records more accessible online. Access to this information assists investigators conducting investigative due diligence, pre-employment screenings, background investigations, and a variety of other types of investigations.
What to Expect
The following public records are examples of areas covered in investigative due diligence reports and background checks conducted by MSA Investigations, most often for law firms, private clients, and businesses looking to hire a new executive to its team. If you’re a client seeking due diligence research on a person or company, these are areas you can ask investigators to check in order to obtain a comprehensive view of the individual and/or entity you want to learn more about:
Motor vehicle records – driver history information (accessibility varies by state)
Registered voter files (restricted in some states)
Professional and business licenses
Criminal, arrest, incarceration and sex offender
Security and Terrorism Sanctions Lists
Litigation (criminal and civil)
Education information and verifications
Financial information, i.e. credit history, judgments, liens, bankruptcy filings
International and national news sources
Financial regulatory agency filings
Investigative Due Diligence Outside the U.S. – What’s the Difference?
When it comes to the amount of information available on the public record, few countries have the same access as the U.S., or can compare with the reliability and accuracy of public records obtained in the U.S. In the EU, for instance, privacy laws are strict and vehemently protected, even against technology giants such as Google. The nature of laws governing a nation’s availability and access to local records, as well as the information required to conduct a legitimate search, can significantly increase the cost to perform these searches outside the U.S. More importantly, the variation of laws in each country raises the issue of differing guidelines on what is legally permissible for investigators conducting due diligence and background research.
The following is a list of some of the challenges with which investigators are confronted in the course of conducting international due diligence research:
Prevalence of paper-based records (little access to electronic records)
Legal and cultural obstacles
Differences in records repository structures
Variations in records accessibility policies
Years covered varying from country to country
Centralized databases are severely limited
When conducting research in a specific country, MSA Investigations recommends clients inquire about:
The existence of information in that country
How the information is maintained
The reliability and credibility of the information
Legality of using consumer information, i.e. for employment purposes
Requirements needed in order to obtain the information
Gathering reliable information in different countries is no easy task, and is best left to professionals in the investigations field. Individuals cannot rely on the Internet as the sole basis for obtaining information. As such, MSA Investigations uses a network of third-party sources in various countries, which play a critical role by conducting research “on the ground.” As an example, traveling to the courthouse in person and retrieving court records or visiting a physical address to confirm an individual’s residence or place of business is something that only highly experienced, resource-dense intelligence firms can execute. In the end, when conducting international due diligence investigations, investigators rely heavily on third-parties that have an established physical presence in a specific country, speak the language and can navigate easily within its borders.
Theft in the workplace can result in significant revenue, especially for small businesses. As we deal with uncertainty in today’s economy, cases of internal fraud, embezzlement and theft are issues with which employers are faced during these turbulent economic times. At times it appears that cases involving corporate fraud dominate the airwaves. Fraud is a serious problem for all businesses, big or small. Regardless of the line of business, any organization is at risk of having one of its employees commit theft or other fraudulent activities.
While many business owners may say they have sufficient internal controls in place to deter, or even eliminate, fraudulent activities, experience has shown that internal controls do not entirely prevent fraud. Businesses change in many ways over the course of time, including areas such as growth, the hiring of new employees and the creation of new positions within the organizations.
Normally, when a company suspects fraud is occurring in the work place, it will hire investigators to ensure that the assets of the business are being safeguarded and not being diverted. After working on employee fraud cases, an investigator can, through experience, identify vulnerable areas in a business’ operations. One area that commonly presents a problem is whether or not proprietary information is being stored in a safe and secure manner.
Investigators are often retained following or during the discovery that fraud has occurred. As investigators we try to determine the extent of the fraud and attempt to identify all of the participants in a potential scheme. Some companies will hire investigators with specific skills, including certified computer forensic professionals that can identify, collect, preserve and analyze electronically stored evidence (ESI) or a Technical Surveillance Counter Measures Specialist (“TSCM Specialist”) who can inspect or “sweep” physical areas in the workplace to ensure that sensitive internal communications are not compromised by illicit listening (eavesdropping) devices and can also make recommendations to improve the company’s communications security. An investigator should also explain to his or her client different ways they can be proactive in the prevention of fraud and how to recognize such activities before the company becomes a victim.
Four areas where companies should pay particular attention to avoid potential theft in the workplace are the following:
- Hiring Practices: Conducting a thorough background check on prospective job candidates.
- Internal Procedures: Creating an internal policies and procedures document, detailing company protocol, available to all employees. All employees should acknowledging they have been made aware of and understand company policies, as well as the repercussions should they fail to follow internal guidelines.
- Monitor Employee Access: Knowing who has access to client files and other sensitive information.
- Installing Proper Security Systems: Installing appropriate security equipment inside and outside of the premises.
Taking these factors into consideration, businesses can prevent significant losses and also major headaches. Investigators are well-equipped to handle such cases, however, having preventive measures in place can give any business comfort that their hard work will not be jeopardized.
Melissa Rodriguez is a Senior Investigative Analyst at MSA Investigations.