For many business owners, white collar theft seems like a pretty abstract concept until faced with its fallout first hand. We tend to romanticize the idea of the white collar criminal, and how could we not? Over the years, cinema has glorified this kind of perpetrator—from Leonardo DiCaprio in the Wolf of Wall Street to Christian Bale in American Hustle. But as fascinating as the idea of a well-paid professional taking an insane risk for illicit gain may be, at the end of the day there are always victims left behind.
The FBI reports that white collar theft costs the United States upward of $300 billion per year. And while its true that 31% of this kind of illegal activity is undertaken by operations staff, the vast majority was ultimately traced to trusted leadership. Yes, some 34% of white collar theft was found to be committed by middle management and 26% by senior management. That means that if someone’s going to engage in this kind of behavior within your business, the chances are they’ll be doing so from somewhere within your core leadership team.
Delving Into the Mind of White-Collar Criminals
A substantial part of mitigating white collar theft among your leadership lies in anticipating where the criminally inclined might find means and opportunity. This begins with conducting comprehensive background checks on managerial or high-responsibility candidates—or potentially leaders already in place if this step was overlooked during recruitment.
Introducing security-centric procedures such as segregating and rotating certain duties can remove opportunity to some extent, as can using accounts-monitoring software and making timely audits. Launching an anonymous white collar theft tip line is also a powerful tool that shouldn’t be overlooked. In fact, the #1 way that occupational fraud is detected is via a tip, and companies with a hotline manage to detect white collar crime 33% faster than their counterparts.
Of course, the ill-intended are most likely to thrive in a working environment where many of their colleagues are already bending or breaking the rules. Team members suffering low morale due to work-related stress are also far less likely to feel motivated to report white collar theft if they witness it. These factors alone should be enough to inspire you to prioritize elevating your corporate culture if you aren’t already.
It’s true that organizations with strong culture enjoy better employee performance and greater profits, and the flip-side of that is that those with an eroded culture can become a hotbed of white collar crime—right under the nose of oblivious executives. Fundamentally, your leadership staff are critical to setting the tone on corporate culture, so if you suspect that their example is anything but shining, a corporate culture audit is definitely in order.
Navigating White Collar Theft When It’s Rooted With Leadership
When employee misconduct is coming from lower-level team members, the process to deal with it—from investigation through to discipline or dismissal if required—can be uncomfortable, but is ultimately a part of being responsible for a functioning team. However, when the suspect of workplace criminality is a member of your most trusted inner-circle, and perhaps someone who has been by your side for years, the situation becomes a little more challenging.
While HR may usually take the lead on employee investigations, this can become problematic if the individual in question is senior to the HR team. Simultaneously, impartiality is critical to navigating a potentially criminal corporate investigation, and long-standing colleagues can hardly be expected to assess the facts without bias, making it tricky for fellow leaders to investigate a peer. The only logical option in dynamics such as these is to bring in an external corporate investigator to provide pivotal support.
The investigator’s work may begin with a corporate culture audit or a targeted investigation following an unexplained discrepancy. In instances where discretion is key, an undercover investigator can be placed within your team to covertly gather facts until a case is solid enough to bring it forward. Providing peace of mind to those seeking this support, the seasoned and specialized corporate investigator will be able to advise on how to navigate each unique situation in pursuit of the best possible outcome.
So, whether you wish to initiate a culture audit or risk assessment as a preventative measure against white collar theft, or want to know what truth lies concealed from your suspicions, the expert corporate team at Lauth Investigations International is ready to assist. Learn more about our approach to white collar crime or reach out to us today for a no-obligation consultation and we’ll help you explore your options.