A private investigator can identify employee fraud and thief in your workforce, eliminating future threats while maintaining objectivity.
Despite the ability of a business to flourish in any economy, every company is still vulnerable to the possibility of employee theft or fraud. Like a frog in a boiling pot, sometimes companies can be taken by surprise when the theft has gradually grown over a period of time, and no one is the wiser until the business takes an unexpected financial hit. Companies can protect themselves from these frauds with costly in-house investigations into the crime, but a private investigator can go a long way towards identifying all perpetrators, no matter how high up the chain of command it goes.
Recent statistics from several government agencies who supervise finances and labor estimate theft committed annually by employees reaches an excess of $50 billion. Even an isolated incident can blanket a company in a crisis and leave them clawing out of the depths of bankruptcy. It starts with small things, such as taking office supplies for personal use. When this action goes unchecked, the employee might begin taking from petty cash without authorization. The level of the theft will always ratchet up the longer the thief goes undetected.
When an investigator attempts to identify employee fraud is knowing what to look for. Elliot Rysenbry of Trustify says there are six warning signs of employee theft for which Human Resources should be vigilant.
Behaviors of people who might be very dedicated to their jobs are also characteristic of people who might be stealing from your business. People who are always working long hours and never take a vacation. This “dedication” is a front for superiors. People who are stealing via their position do not want to be absent from the workplace for fear a temporary replacement might notice inconsistencies that could indicate fraud.
Hyper-vigilance of connections
When an employee has a close personal connection/relationship with any vendor or associated financial institution, it’s usually not cause for concern of impropriety. However, hyper-vigilance or strong protection of those relationships, it’s possible there’s something in the business arrangement for this employee. One of the most common names for this kind of fraudulent arrangement is “kickbacks” or getting a cut of the profits vendors or financial institutions receive from a thieving employee.
This is one of the most common types of theft committed in the workplace. Line items on expense reports are either inflated or fabricated entirely in order to pad the thief’s pocket.
Payroll knows what individual employees make week to week, so when there are unexplained extravagences in an employee’s life, such as a flashy new car, it’s important HR keep an eye on said employee.
Frequent small transactions
Taking from petty cash in small amounts can add up quickly, and is often a sign of more serious, larger-scale fraud being committed within the company.
Employees who feel as though they are underpaid or undervalued at their company are also plausible perpetrators of theft. Whether as a motive or a rationalization, they feel as if what they stole was deserved payment.
While theft can be an extremely toxic element in any work environment, one of the ways to exacerbate it is by conducting a poor internal investigation. Human Resource employees are unsung heroes of companies and businesses, as they are one of the crucial gatekeepers with control over the quality of employees. Not only are they very busy individuals, but they might not be the most objective persons to conduct an internal investigation.
Sometimes a lack of experience with investigations will cause a member of HR to make false or unprepared accusations about the guilt of a particular employee. If this employee is unimpeachable, the company can open itself up to lawsuits and bad press. Even if HR is not conducting the investigation, most employees are not trained investigators and might conduct an inquiry in an illegal manner that could also open the business up to litigation. Sometimes a pay cut for an employee suspected of stealing might seem like a quick and quiet way to resolve these issues, but legal counsel should always be consulted before making these decisions. By the same token, hasty termination of these employees to avoid a messy investigation should always involve the opinion of a legal expert—all in the name of protecting the country from plausible legal trouble.
The simple answer to avoiding all of the aforementioned ways to inflame an internal theft investigation is to retain the services of a private investigator. Private investigators can save companies from themselves in terms of opening themselves up to litigation or bad press. Private investigators have more skill and experience in these areas preventing investigations from blowing up in a negative manner. They are independent contractors, therefore, do not have a dog in the race when it comes to identifying the culprit of the theft. Their objectivity will be crucial, especially if the theft within the company goes all the way to the executive level. Because of their authority over employees, CEOs of companies might often get a soft front from HR or other investigative bodies within the business. Private investigators—being unknown to other employees in the business—can also conduct undercover operations to yield truthful and unbiased results. The private investigator, along with business counsel, can also advise Human Resource departments how to proceed once the culprit has been identified. Whatever the specific needs of a company, always consider hiring a private investigator to conduct internal investigations in order to protect and enhance the longevity of your business.
Identify employee fraud and theft today with Lauth Investigations International. Call 317-951-1100 or visit us online at our website for a free quote.
Over the past weekend, many Americans participated in St. Patrick’s Day festivities in their community. With the 17th of March falling on a Sunday this year, many service industry establishments held events and promotions all weekend, which for many employed individuals meant three days of imbibing and socializing. After all of the excitement and green beer, it’s no wonder that March 18th is one of the most common days for employees to call off in the entire calendar. Consequently, there is a spike in employees who are suddenly experiencing “flu-like” symptoms, including sweating, headaches, and stomach upset—employees who are calling in sick who could very well just be hung over. This is what employee malingering looks like, and it can have disastrous impact on businesses and corporations throughout the country.
Employee malingering can be a difficult subject, as it usually falls under the umbrella of other sensitive topics, such as FMLA abuse. Some companies do not feel comfortable investigating possible abuses of FMLA, and do not probe into suspicions of malingering. Often, however, sometimes it’s just a matter of an employee who has a chronic case of the “sniffles.” Malingering employees have a pattern of faking sick in order to get out of working. This can be for a single day Malingerers cost companies across the country billions of dollars a year, with exponential costs of investigation and possible litigation, laying heavy blows to a company’s profits.
Malingering is preventable, but only if an employer provides consistent and accommodating policies concerning their employees’ physical and mental health needs. These enforced policies will leave no single employee feeling victimized by a vindictive supervisor or employer. If your company requires employees to document visits to the doctor, then there should be no exceptions in to that rule, barring extenuating circumstances. After all, asking for documentation is one of the best ways to prevent malingering, because employees who would simply rather stay home will be reluctant to spend their day in the doctor’s office as an alternative. This consistent enforcement of company standards also adds another veneer of integrity that becomes valuable in later stages of any investigation. It’s also important for an employer to remember that there must always be room to accommodate an employee’s needs. Unreasonable, aggressive policies with regards to sickness can make a work environment unhealthy, both in the physical and metaphysical sense. Employees who don’t feel free to take a sick day when they have an actual illness can spread it to the entire workforce. Employees who also feel as though their needs are not being accommodated can be resentful and their work performance may suffer as a result.
Just as the case with FMLA abuse, in order to have an objective investigation into any honest suspicions of malingering, it’s crucial to retain the services of a external, third-party, private investigator. Investigators appointed from within a company to investigate suspicions of malingering may know the ins and outs of a business intimately, but are objectively useless when it comes to investigate one of their own. For starters, if this employee is well-known to much of the workforce, they will be easily spotted when conducting any surveillance on an employee who is suspected of malingering. They will be recognized and the employee will immediately be on their guard. If an internal investigator is not licensed by the state, they may not know the legality of their methods and it can taint the investigation going forward. Private investigators—while having more autonomy than law enforcement—still must operate within state and federal law. Private investigators are trained to gather and document evidence and interview witnesses to corroborate their observations of a malingering employee’s movements. Any business owner knows that investigating employees for any reason has the potential to lead to litigation, and during those proceedings, an objective, third-party investigator is the one with the most integrity during deposition or testimony, as they do not have a stake in the outcome of the case.
If you suspect an employee of yours is malingering, then lay the groundwork for a solid investigation by retaining the services of a qualified licensed investigators. When it comes to taking the steps to investigate employee malingering, an employer must begin with what’s called “honest suspicion,” which is pretty self-explanatory. When an employer investigates a malingerer with honest suspicions, the decision to hire an external investigator to do so continues the transparent narrative in which the employer acts in the best interest of the company. Hiring private investigators to maintain objectivity not only make for a quality investigation, but also foster a culture of integrity and mutual respect within any company.
When growing a business, executives and owners have to go the extra mile when it comes to protecting trade secrets. In the pursuit of their company’s business, a common practice for corporations of all sizes is implementing non-compete clauses in their employees’ contracts. This ensures, should an employee leave the company for any reason, they cannot utilize trade secrets for the purpose of building a similar business of their own. It’s in a business owner’s best interest to be preemptive in protecting themselves from client poaching, theft of company secrets, and possibly even slander when it comes to current and former employees who violate their non-compete agreements.
Though they go by several names and the laws concerning them vary state to state, non-compete agreements are generally a legally-binding contract between an employer and an employee, whereupon acceptance of a job offer by a company, an individual agrees during their employment and following their termination they will not enter into any competing business for a predetermined period of time. Whether it’s working for a company’s top competitor, or striking out in their own business, non-compete agreements protect trade secrets, sensitive company information, and prevent competing businesses from poaching successful employees with promises of a handsome pay-raise in exchange for the expertise they might have gleaned from their time at their previous position. This kind of information can range from client bases to business operations to future products and services. The duration of the non-compete agreement following an employee’s termination have to be well within reason, as no employer can permanently preclude a former employee from any line of work.
Not every company experiences difficulties by virtue of a former employee violating their non-compete agreement, and some companies do not see the need for non-compete agreements at all, but the consequences of trade secrets being used to steal a company’s business can have devastating effects, ending in the worst possible circumstances with a business closing and an owner in debt. Even if a company is able to quash a non-compete violation in court, the cost to the company in legal fees can be astronomical, especially for smaller businesses. That’s why it’s important for owners and executives to be preemptive and proactive when it comes to potential violators. Luckily, a private investigator can help at all stages of a non-compete violation investigation.
Human resource employees are the salt of the earth, and can have a great influence on how a company develops based on the individuals they select for their workforce. However, human resource employees are not lie detectors, and do not always have access to legitimate, comprehensive background screening tools. Background screenings and checks are among the most common service associated with private investigators. If there is something suspect in a candidate’s past, licensed private investigators have the tools and experience to find it out. Private investigators can pull a candidate’s criminal history, financial history, and interview persons in their lives who can speak to character and work ethic. They can also spot patterns in a person’s work history or lifestyle that could be high-risk factors in a hypothetical non-compete violation—things like transience, long periods between positions, or financial destitution.
Some malingering employees can’t wait to be terminated before violating their non-compete agreements. It’s not uncommon for these individuals to exploit trade secrets for their businesses own gain while on company time and dime. While on a business trip, an individual might use company per diem to buy drinks for a person who could be a potential investor in their new business. Employees might use company supplies to supplement their project, such as printers, fax machines, computers, and other equipment. Private investigators can conduct diligent investigations within a company’s workforce to root out the source of the theft. Private investigators can interview witnesses, including upper management and other staff, review vital documents like bank records, and conduct surveillance of the company’s operations as needed to expose the perpetrator. Their objectivity makes them an ideal candidate to conduct such an investigation because they do not have a stake in the outcome.
There are many circumstances under which a business owner might come to suspect a former employee has violated their non-compete agreement. Word might have traveled through business circles that a similar business is starting up. Employees might start disappearing in clusters. Clients may suddenly decide to sever business ties in favor of a new contender in the competition. Whatever transpires, one thing is certain—documenting and exposing this exploitation is imperative, because the consequences can be costly. Retaining a qualified private investigator who specializes in corporate crises is crucial to resolving non-compete violations quickly, before the exponential costs begin to erode profits. Private investigators can perform surveillance on suspected former employees to document their movements, record with whom they met, and collect evidence such as pictures of a brick and mortar establishment, marketing materials, vital documents, and filings with the Secretary of State. Private investigators can send undercover operatives to infiltrate a workforce to get information the business privy only to employees. They can also enlist the aid of a confidential informant—an individual already within the company to provide information. This requires quality interviewing skills and developing a natural rapport with potential witnesses, both important qualities in a qualified investigator.
When non-compete violations are at their ugliest, not only do violators seek to siphon off their former employer’s business by exploiting trade secrets and knowledge of their operations, but they can also play dirty by exposing this information publicly. Another method involves deliberately spreading lies about the competition in order to drive business towards the former employee’s company. That’s known as slander and it’s legally actionable. Documenting the perpetuation of these lies and proving they are in fact false are crucial in these cases. Diligent fact-finding is the cornerstone of any private investigator’s expertise. Private investigators can conduct cyber investigations to track down the users behind profiles that post false negative reviews, follow rumors back to their roots, and forensically track how information left the competition and made its way into the former employee’s business nucleus. They can implement many of the strategies aforementioned: surveillance, interviewing witnesses, documenting evidence. Slander cases tend to have a divisive they-said, they-said narrative, which is where a private investigator’s objectivity becomes invaluable once more. Private investigators have no stake in the solution of an investigation. Their independence coupled with their expertise and resume make them spectacular witnesses in any subsequent litigation.
When a company has a non-compete agreement in place, it’s important that executives and owners are proactive when performing a risk assessment on a potential employee. It’s important that a healthy company culture fosters good comradery, honesty, and a policy of “if you see something, say something.” Building a case against a former employee who violated their agreement can be time consuming at the expense of company resources. Dealing with the fallout from litigation can bring a reliable business to its knees. Private investigators can assist in all phases of any non-compete agreement violation, and retaining their services will go a long way towards a body of objective evidence and testimony that can resolve a company’s crisis.
If you have suspicions that a current or former employee has violated their non-compete agreement, contact Lauth Investigations International today for a free consultation on how we can help you! Call 317-955-1100 or find us online at www.lauthinvestigations.com.
Carie McMichael is the Media and Communication Specialist for Lauth Investigations International. She regularly writes on investigations, missing person, and other topics in the criminal justice system.
Even if you’re not a fan of Fox’s successful prime time drama, Empire, you’re likely aware of the name Jussie Smollett by now. Smollett has come under fire in the media and on the internet for his allegedly false account of a racially-motivated attack against him in January, where he alleged two men attempted to strangle him and pour bleach on him. When the story first broke, it was shaping up to be a watershed moment in conversations about how the current administration is affecting race-relations throughout the country. After law enforcement conducted an investigation into his version of events, they’ve released statements that Smollett may have hired the men responsible to help him stage the attack. The case has created divisive new conversations about the United States’ current political climate, but is also prompting career investigators to highlight the importance of thorough and diligent fact-finding in the early stages of any investigation—especially within corporations.
Conducting an investigation with unimpeachable integrity is very similar to building a structure ready to withstand natural disasters. Laying a firm groundwork from the moment of the intake narrative will set an impregnable foundation allowing investigators and support staff to develop strong leads. Investigators must be prepared to ask every question—albeit inane or delicate—in order to ensure they are getting all of the existing, relevant information on the case. This is a process called fact-finding, in which a victim or witness’s statement is documented and entered into record, thereby allowing investigators to thoroughly vet every aspect of their statement. Were they in fact present when the incident took place? Can they accurately describe the alleged perpetrator? Is their story consistent across multiple iterations?
As is the case with any investigation, operatives are racing against the clock. With time, witnesses’ memories fade and witnesses themselves disappear, having relocated or simply left town. As time goes by, evidence is eroded, eventually disappearing, eliminating the leads they might have developed. This is why thorough fact-finding is so important, because investigators who are operating off false or inaccurate leads can lose days or weeks on a case as they chase a lead that will eventually come to no end. While investigators chase those dead leads, the truth about what actually occurred dissolves into obscurity.
Investigators in the Smollett case were able to vet his account of events and discover there may be more to the story than meets the eye. The case was not an isolated incident of allegedly false accusations having major consequences for the parties involved. Regardless of why an individual would make false accusations—whether it was with malice or simply a mistake—these circumstances could occur in many areas of life that could be devastating to both individuals and corporations.
Allegations of misconduct in the workplace immediately come to mind. Whether it’s allegations of theft or sexual harassment, these are the kinds of cases where it’s crucial to have the intake narrative well-documented, with detailed first accounts from all principles on the who, where, when, how, and why in any series of events. Cases regarding misconduct in the workplace have a higher chance of being litigated following the completion of any investigation, usually through civil and wrongful termination lawsuits.
A thorough and diligent private investigator is an invaluable asset to both sides of any investigation, as they are an independent third party and do not have a stake in the outcome of the investigation. Any fact-finding performed by an objective third party stands up to a much higher degree of scrutiny by the opposition. Investigators who are directly employed by any parties in either side have a lot to lose if their employer faces ruin following a lawsuit.
Which brings us to another issue in handling the fact-finding internally. Internal investigators can have a variety of qualifications depending on the corporation’s procedure. It’s true some businesses have licensed investigators on retainer to assist in regular operations, like a business who hires a private investigator to run a background check on a candidate for an upper management position. However, depending on the size of the company, the investigating party in some corporate crises is just the head of Human Resources—who might then be supervising other subordinates to do the legwork. Human Resource managers are invaluable employees who keep businesses running like clockwork, but this does not necessarily qualify them to conduct an investigation in every possible scenario, such as investigations requiring surveillance, undercover work, or properly documenting any evidence that might be recovered. This kind of oversight can have disastrous consequences in the later stages of an investigation, or even in a court of law. The opposition’s case is strengthened when there is evidence an internal investigator has not done their due-diligence.
Corporations of all sizes, trades, and levels of notoriety experience crises throughout their history. When disaster strikes and the stakes are high, it’s important to retain the services of a qualified, licensed, private investigator to begin an investigation. It’s not uncommon for a private investigator to be hired on after internal investigators have already made an attempt. It’s best to start strong, with due-diligent service from a seasoned external investigator to lay an impenetrable foundation for a thorough investigation.
The growing awareness of sexual abuse in the media has the public on high alert in all walks of life—a steady stream of investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct within religious communities, sport teams and franchises, civil service, and the workplace to name a few. It seems like every week the news cycle is dominated by another story in which a religious leader is denounced following allegations of sexual abuse against minor members of congregation. Investigations into United States Olympic teams have the parents of minor athletes with their ears to the ground, as the horror of Larry Nassar’s crimes continue to shake out in civil court. Leaders within these communities are educating themselves on how the power structure of these institutions leaves minors vulnerable and in many cases are depending on the services of independent private investigators to conduct unbiased, thorough investigations.
In cases where there are allegations of abuse, there is an immediate division between the survivor and the alleged predator. Many of the parties involved will immediately fall on one side or the other. Employers, colleagues, and public relations representatives in the alleged abuser’s life will begin a rash of character defenses, claiming that there’s no way an individual as friendly/respected/admired as them could be capable of such disgusting actions. Parents and loved ones in the survivor’s life will rally in support as they attempt to take on not just their abuser, but potentially an entire institution as well. All of the parties directly involved have a stake in the outcome of the investigation. Institutions that are suspicious of predatory behavior in their ranks often prefer to handle the investigation in-house, using their own investigators in the form of management, attorneys, or employees in another supervisory capacity to do the fact-finding. Not only can the qualifications of these individuals range across a spectrum of investigative prowess, but because they are employed by the employer of the abuser, they likely will have some sort of bias as an investigator. This is why it’s so important to hire an independent, third party private investigator from the onset of any allegations of abuse. Like any unimpeachable structure, the integrity starts at the foundation, with thorough fact-finding by an experienced, qualified investigator. Ethically, a private investigator’s only loyalty is to the truth, and without any stake in the outcome of an investigation, their findings can withstand a higher level of scrutiny than an investigator employed by the abuser’s corporation or institution.
The most qualified private investigators for sexual abuse investigations have a wide array of experiences in multiple areas of criminal justice. Unlike the resumes of corporation and institutional employees, they will have likely majored in an area of criminal justice, have worked law enforcement, have been retained by either the prosecution or defense to assist in a case, and have an intimate knowledge of criminal procedures and investigative methods. Independent private investigators have to be able to work multiple angles in an abuse investigation, vetting every statement by survivors and witnesses, as well as doing thorough fact-finding on the alleged abuser in the form of an extensive background check, with special focus on their work history and criminal record. This kind of comprehensive groundwork lays a strong foundation for any litigation that might take place following the solution of the investigation. And because the private investigator is an objective third-party, the case will have integrity in a court of law.
Another specialty of a seasoned private investigator is surveillance and undercover operations. An investigator who is able to move through a crowd completely unnoticed, melting into the background while they keep an eye on the subject. Sometimes it’s just a matter of looking like you belong, and surveilling the subject from a short distance, or keeping a digital eye on the subject in the form of a camera or tracking device. Regardless, subjects behave most naturally when they do not know they are being watched. Hiding in plain sight, private investigators are able to document an abuser’s movements, correspondence, associates, and schedule to establish means and opportunity with regard to the allegations. Private investigators specializing in undercover operations have an advantage when interviewing witnesses and subjects, building a rapport that allows them to open up to the investigator. This form of subterfuge is often crucial in abuse investigations, particularly if the allegations have not yet become public knowledge. This time is valuable to an undercover operative, because when there are abuse allegations in an institution, there is often a circumventing culture of silence within it. Employees and associates are instructed not to speak to press or law enforcement regarding the allegations, there has not been need for any sort of legal gag order, and these potential witnesses will have their guard down. Private investigators and their field investigators can garner credible leads, leading to a more comprehensive, thorough investigation.
There have been many institutions, particularly in the Catholic faith, that have been accused of what has been characterized as a “cup and ball” routine in which supervisory entities will transfer employees or members of clergy accused of sexual abuse to remote branches of their network, often in different jurisdictions, to prevent law enforcement and investigators from doing their due-diligence. Private investigators are given an autonomy that is free from bureaucratic or jurisdictional chains. They can follow leads to track down multiple witnesses and can track an abuser’s movements—all across state lines.
Regardless of an alleged abuser’s reputation or status, allegations of abuse must always be handled with due-diligence and a sense of urgency. Corporations and institutions have it only in their own interest to eliminate potential predators in their ranks. The cost to retain a private investigator to conduct a thorough, objective investigation is a small fraction of the potential cost to these entities in the form of lawsuits that result from an investigation, usually on the part of survivors who were vindicated in their accounts of trauma and betrayal on behalf of mentors and leaders in their lives. Retaining the services of a qualified private investigator can go a long way to bringing predators to justice and preventing potential ruin of institutions that otherwise provide a great service for individuals in communities across America.
Carie McMichael is the Communication and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International. For more information, please visit our website.