To catch a thief

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One of the unfortunate facts of employing people inside the office and out on the road is that sooner or later one of them will try to steal from your company. If you employ more than 25 people, one of them will steal if the opportunity presents itself. Employ more than 100 people, and someone in your company is looking to create that opportunity.

Don’t think theft is going on in your company? What about the dispatcher who makes 20 copies of his son’s soccer team rooster? Or the clerk who calls her mother long distance during lunch every week? These minor thefts may cost your company less than a dollar, but they are still theft of company resources.

I am not suggesting that you clamp down on the copy machine or telephone. The point is that people think so little of a company’s property that it is accepted behavior to use it for non-company business. Once people begin to think this degree of theft is acceptable, a few may graduate to more serious abuses.

To protect yourself, follow these three basic rules, especially as your company grows.

Make stealing difficult
Most companies focus their security attention on internal controls. We put additional locks on the doors to rooms that contain valuable supplies. We require multiple managers to sign off on expenditures. We require passwords to enter the computer systems. Most companies have safes to lock up cash or cashable items such as Com-Checks.

If you haven’t done so in the past two years, think about changing all the locks inside your company. As employees come and go, some will get or make copies of keys. Changing all the locks will give you a clean start. Similarly, insist that all passwords to your computer systems are also changed on a regular basis.

This level of security certainly helps to discourage employees from stealing. But don’t rely totally on locks or passwords to keep a thief at bay. Once a thief has found a bypass, the illusion of security allows him to operate undetected. For example, if a thief gains access to a room holding maintenance parts, he can continue to pilfer parts on a low level and go unnoticed.

Monitor variances
To catch a parts thief who has access to the parts room, one of the steps is to audit parts purchased, parts used, and parts on hand. If there is a consistent pattern of shortages, then you know a problem exists.

There are quite a few monitoring devices available to trucking companies that don’t get used. For example, most electronic engines will report the actual amount of fuel fed into the engine. Yet few companies try to match up this information to the number of gallons purchased by the driver. With fuel prices still very high, you can assume that some unscrupulous owner-operators are offering your drivers cash to siphon off some fuel at a truck stop. Monitoring potential theft problems helps to keep people honest when an opportunity for theft prevents itself.

Rewrite the rules
Sometimes basic efforts at discouraging or monitoring theft just aren’t enough to foil sophisticated thieves. I have seen schemes ranging from phantom drivers receiving paychecks to organized crime pilfering cargo on store delivery operations. These crimes lasted years and represented hundreds of thousands of dollars in theft. The way to address this problem is to break the pattern that allows the thieves to operate.

For example, rotate the staff out of the parts room and into other jobs and see if usage changes. Or switch the people who prepare a payroll with those who do the billing to see if any paychecks stop. If your drivers have regularly scheduled runs, rotate them occasionally. You can always use as an excuse the need to have people trained in more than one job or one route. I knew one warehouse manager who randomly assigned the delivery route to his drivers every day. That may be extreme, but his theft rate was almost non-existent.

Unfortunately, security is one of those items managers don’t take seriously until they have been burned. Taking even a few steps to improve your company’s security can vastly improve the chances that it never happens to you.