Catching A Thief: Employee Theft

Employee theft is a common occurrence. The National Retail Federation has claimed that 60% of inventory loss is caused by employees, while Forbes have reported that retailers in the US lose $60 billion a year and that employee theft is the top concern surrounding this issue.  Here in Asia, a deluge of evidence pinpointed that ‘inside jobs’ were responsible for the rising frequency of cargo theft in Malaysia.

Whether it’s stealing office supplies, raiding the cash register or committing customer identity theft, the odds are that it will happen at some stage. So how should you deal with it as a business owner or manager?

The truth is that there’s no set rule – the severity of the crime tempers, or indeed strengthens, the method of dealing with it. Following these guidelines, however, will help you make better decisions when you encounter employee theft.

Have an Official Policy

Your handling of employee theft can be the difference between a simple, cut and dried matter and possible litigation. You don’t want to expose your business to litigation if you can avoid it. Make sure you have a company policy that covers both the topic of theft and the penalties. Furthermore, make sure your employees are aware of your policy.

Supervise Closely

Thieves will are often opportunistic, responding to lax supervision or monitoring. Often thieves will cease their activities for a while, waiting until their employer has relaxed and dropped the guard again. Never drop your guard. If you suspect that your business could be a victim of theft, it’s imperative to keep a close, and constant, watch on those who could cause harm.

Get Your Evidence

Document everything. If, at a later stage, you suspect an employee of wrongdoing, you’ll need hard evidence to support your suspicions. Physical evidence, CCTV footage, witness statements, receipts should all be catalogued with date and time.

Consider Who You Speak To

So you suspect you’ve had something stolen, but you need more information. Consider who you speak to about the subject, as a chain of dishonesty could lead to a tip off for the suspect. However, honest and  innocent employees will usually be encouraged (since they think they are a suspect), to discuss rumours, policy violations or unusual occurrences which happened around the time of the offence, they may even discuss changes in other employees’ behaviour. Professional investigators obtain as much of their valuable information on a case from innocent people as they do from records and documents.

Choose Your Words Carefully

Using the words ‘thief’ or ‘stolen’ right off the bat is a sure way to get a suspect’s guard up. Consider how he or she will feel isolated and targeted – this will have a negative effect as pressure builds on you to resolve the issue. Remember, valuable information should be gently acquired, those being questioned should feel as relaxed as possible, making it easier to spot giveaway signs from a dishonest employee. These signs might include eye contact, posture and movement of the head, hands and feet. These signs often reveal much more than words.

Prevent a Recurrence

The most effective deterrent to employee theft is the perception that thieves will be caught and punished. People who think they’ll get caught are highly unlikely to break the rules. Businesses that are serious about theft will convince employees that they will be promptly apprehended and strictly penalised. One way to do this could be by asking employees about fraud or theft in a general way. This reinforces the perception of detection which in turn acts as a strong prevention method.

Ask an Expert

Some of the above steps are simple enough, but others are complex. The practice of questioning or confrontation is every bit as much an art as it is a science. Even by following a chain of formulaic, step-by-step questions, it can be very difficult to achieve a satisfactory outcome.

Professionals in this field train stringently and learn through experience. Their hard-earned intuition helps them build the necessary evidence, and tells them when to stand off and when to strike. If you suspect that you’ve been a victim of an employee theft, professionals will assist you to resolve the matter promptly and minimise the risks of it occurring again.