Protect Your Business: Understanding Practice Embezzlement

Just about everyone has had something stolen from them at some point. That possibility becomes much greater for business owners, so it pays to heed a problem that is growing by the year — embezzlement.
Greg Kelly
Published: October 04, 2017
Based on her training and experience, anti-fraud expert Susan Gunn believes about 70 percent of the nation’s health care professionals will experience some form of embezzlement during their careers.
Owner of Susan Gunn Solutions in Arlington, Texas, Gunn’s expertise is in implementing procedures to stop embezzlement. She uses her vast background in criminology and business law to help professionals spot embezzlement and implement procedures to stop it.

Even if a practitioner is “the most caring, nicest, sweetest doctor you could imagine,” it won’t stop the embezzlers, Gunn said. In fact, the pilfering works better when the doctor is too agreeable and trusting. It was the noble works of health care professionals like veterinarians that compelled Gunn to become a certified fraud examiner and go into this business.
A popular author and speaker, Gunn laid out several facts to show practice owners that embezzlement can happen to them and gives tips for protecting their business.

Who Embezzles?
No one in a practice is above suspicion for embezzlement. It could be the young assistant, the friendly receptionist, the seasoned office manager, the trained veterinary technician, anyone. It might even be the doctor’s spouse. Even practice CPAs and bookkeepers have been known to embezzle. Anyone can steal from you at any time of the day.

The successful embezzler is always someone who is trusted. “They just can’t be stealing – they would never do that to me,” is much too often the unwitting veterinarian’s lament.
The boldest embezzlers are typically longtime employees – usually five years or longer. They’ve been around long enough to spot weaknesses and feel comfortable taking chances.

There are two kinds of embezzlers — opportunistic and brazen. The first looks for an opportunity, seizes it and takes funds occasionally. The second strategizes about stealing and figures out ways to take a lot more.
The brazen thief can wreck a veterinary practice. These people have absolutely no care or concern for the doctor, the animals, the staff or anything else. The only way to end their thievery is to catch them.

Preventing Embezzlement
The longer you have been practicing, Gunn said, the greater the likelihood that you have been cheated. Longtime practitioners have a very good chance of be taken by embezzlement, and all too often health care professionals like veterinarians are reluctant to do anything about embezzlement problems.

The best way to prevent embezzlement is to focus closely on “day-end activities” of the practice. Embezzlers prefer to act when no else is watching. These are the employees who will tell you they always must work late or on weekends because “there’s too much to do.”

To effectively thwart embezzlement, veterinarians must really pay attention. Vigilance is the price of economic survival, and successful business owners must learn to wear many different hats. To properly oversee the practice, a veterinarian must be able to pair good clinical skills with good financial skills.

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