November 19, 2016 • By Dennis Beaver
Recently we told you about a Central California dentist who discovered that his office manager had been embezzling money for years.
That story examined some steps that can be taken to reduce the risk, but as we learned from Halifax-based, private investigator David Harris, “The statistics on embezzlement in dental offices are scary. Three out of five dentists will become victims.”
Harris is also a CPA and CEO of Prosperident, the only company in North America that specializes in investigation and prevention of dental embezzlement. In an extraordinarily interesting hour-long telephone interview, he shared with You and the Law advice for any employer who suspects or discovers embezzlement.
We begin with a look at behavioral warning signs employers should never ignore.
“One of the most frequent calls we receive is from a dentist who has suspicions about an employee, but there’s no “smoking gun.” The doctor isn’t sure – yet. The employee is suddenly driving an expensive car and wearing clothing that would seem out of reach, given their income. Their lifestyle just doesn’t add up,” Harris notes.
“When you see behavior that requires more money than you know they have available, something is happening and this needs to be a concern. Might they have inherited a small fortune from a long lost aunt? Sure, that’s a possibility, but you would expect this would be announced to co-workers.
“Trips to Las Vegas or other gambling venues — addictive or compulsive behavior — sends a message you cannot ignore. Pay attention to how they are describing their life, as clues are often dropped unconsciously.”
Any employer who learn that a “loyal” employee has been embezzling, at the least will be highly upset. For a dentist, it is far worse, as Harris explains:
“Dental offices are unique, small places where the staff develops a bond resulting from shared adversity. Patients associate a visit to their dentist with discomfort, pain and significant expense — so many hate it! Constantly the staff has to deal with this negativity. It’s similar to cops who take abuse. So, you become family, kindred souls facing a world that doesn’t appreciate you.
“When you give trust and an employee uses it against you, you feel devastated. The emotional fallout for dentists is horrible, and it’s normal to want to take quick action, such as calling the police. Don’t! Please, wait.
“If the employee is still at their desk, telegraphing your suspicions not only can result in evidence vanishing, but destruction of patient records and your entire billing system. Of course, losing data is one thing. Losing your life is quite another. Just Google Baltimore dentist, Dr. Albert Ro.”
We did. In September of 2006, Baltimore dentist Dr. Albert Ro discovered that his receptionist, Shontay Hickman had been stealing checks. Afraid of going to prison for theft, she paid her cousin and two of his friends to kill Ro. Now they are all doing life in prison, over just $17,000.
We asked Harris, “From movies and television programs, most people would expect that when law enforcement is notified, a team of officers will come out and determine what was stolen, so calling them first seems logical.”
“There are several reasons why you do not want to immediately call the police. First, you have probably stumbled across it by accident, for example, when an employee is ill or on vacation and do not yet know its scope. Next, few police departments have officers with the training or time resources to thoroughly put these cases together.
“The typical CPA does not understand embezzlement very well, and might not be aware of their own limitations. You need someone who has experience in this area, such as a Certified Fraud Examiner or a private investigator with a certification in financial fraud.
“In health care — medicine, dentistry and related fields — it is critical to have someone familiar with coding and the specialized accounting software in use,” he underscores.
We asked: “So who embezzles, and why, in a close-knit, supportive working environment, why hurt your employer? It’s got to be more than just wanting money.”
“There are ‘needy’ and ‘greedy’ thieves. Needy ones steal when the spouse has lost a job, they are facing foreclosure, those kinds of things. Greedy thieves feel undervalued, and that they are largely responsible for the boss’s success. This group steals to address their perceived under-compensation, and sometimes for the thrill they get from successfully taking a risk.
“They are truly evil,” Harris concluded.
We recommend that anyone in business spend time on www.prosperident.com. You will be given powerful financial self-defense tools.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.