Fraud is like a box of chocolates. Okay, maybe not, but believe me when I say that workplace fraud comes in a variety of forms. Most of the time, identifying fraud is a difficult task for any manager, owner or accountant. However, determining the true loss can, at times, be very challenging…even tricky.
In many fraud litigation cases, the loss extends beyond the actual dollar amount appropriated and results in additional economic damages. This type of calculation will help identify the opportunity costs incurred and answer the “but for” questions that arise when a business falls victim to theft or fraud. For the purposes of this article, let’s put economic damages aside and focus on the big question on everyone’s mind after a fraud has been discovered: “How much did they take?”
Depending on the type of scheme perpetrated, various elements should be considered. When conducting a fraud examination, I usually ask myself if any of the following four factors apply:
No, I am not referring to income tax. The sneaky devils that typically come into play here are payroll taxes and sales tax. For example, a few years ago we examined a fraud scheme where the perpetrator gave themselves unauthorized pay increases and fictitious overtime hours. In calculating the theft amount, it is common to calculate the loss as the gross amount overpaid to the individual. Unfortunately, the company who paid the wages also incurred additional, and unnecessary, employer paid payroll taxes. That’s 6.2% of the gross wages for social security and 1.45% for Medicare. This additional 7.65% is a loss that can be easily overlooked.
Sales tax may also be overlooked when dealing with unauthorized purchases schemes. A common example involves a perpetrator who orders additional items through a vendor that is routinely used by the business. For instance, let’s imagine that a company buys equipment and supplies from the same vendor each month.
Let’s also imagine an employee was purchasing additional supplies and equipment for personal use. Looking through the invoices, there may be 50 items purchased, but only five of those items were fraudulent. In these instances, the portion of sales tax applied to those items may be overlooked. These are costs that otherwise would not have been incurred. This brings me to my next point.
Using the last example, shipping costs associated with any fraudulent purchases may also be neglected. Depending on the size, weight and frequency of the products fraudulently purchased, shipping costs may account for a significant portion of the loss amount.
Benefits may be another factor to consider and are often overlooked when dealing with payroll-related schemes. Going back to my first example, when a perpetrator fraudulently inflates wages they may also receive additional benefits tied to those wages. In the case we examined, the perpetrator was receiving retirement benefits as a percentage of their wages. When they gave themselves unauthorized raises, they also received additional contributions to their retirement fund. These amounts, in addition to employer-paid payroll taxes, were included in the fraud loss suffered by the company.
Fees can be tricky as most businesses have recurring fees that can easily go unnoticed. Fraudulent disbursement schemes are typically where fees need to be addressed. Here are some examples:
- Misuse of a company credit card resulting in additional finance charges, cash back fees or over-limit fees incurred by the organization.
- Fraudulent check or debit card payments by a perpetrator resulting in non-sufficient funds (NSF) fees or overdraft fees.
- Transfer fees incurred as a result of fraudulent or unauthorized transfers from company bank accounts.
No matter how cut and dry a fraud scheme may seem, all costs associated with the activity should be considered. If you or your business has been the victim of fraud, consult with a professional fraud examiner. There could be more damage than you think.