U.S. organizations lose about 7 percent of their revenues to fraud, according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. When compared to the projected U.S. Gross Domestic Product for 2008 — 7 percent equates to $994 billion.

In their just released Report to the Nation on Occupational Fraud and Abuse, the average case cost a business $175,000. In a quarter of 959 cases used to compile the study, the loss was $1 million or more. The most costly type of fraud was financial statement fraud — more commonly known as cooking the books — which cost organizations an average of $2 million.

Not surprisingly, smaller businesses suffered the greatest losses. I say not surprisingly, because smaller businesses normally can’t afford dedicated resources to detect and prevent fraud. For small businesses, the average case studied cost about $200,000.

The most common type of fraud found in the study was corruption and the second most common was fraudulent billing. The average scheme wasn’t detected for two years and the most common form of detection was from a human being tipping off management, or a business owner.

In the small business fraud model, check tampering was a common cause, also.

Businesses that had fraud controls did a lot better than businesses that didn’t, according to the study. For instance, businesses that did surprise audits suffered an average loss of $70,000, while businesses that didn’t suffered an average loss of $207,000. Other controls that made an impact cited in the report are anonymous hot lines, training management to detect fraud and hiring dedicated personnel to detect and resolve fraud.

According to the report, fraud perpetrators can be identified by the behaviors they display. These include living beyond their means, financial difficulties or even by trying to please their boss by making it appear that the business is doing better than it really is. Please note that in the case of larger corporations, the word “boss” can mean investors or shareholders.

Please note there are many more signs of dishonesty and recommended controls for small business owners. Another good resource to read about these subjects is put out by the National Association of Veterans’ Research and Education Foundation.

The extensive report covers all type of fraud, whether they are financial, or otherwise. The three main categories it is broken down into are Corruption, Asset Misappropriation and Fraudulent statements. Corruption schemes entail bribery, conflicts of interest, illegal gratuities and economic extortion. Asset Misappropriation schemes (most common) cover cash manipulation, inventory theft, and fraudulent disbursements.

For those businesses, who can’t afford hired help to deal with fraud, I guess this means a owner should check their books and accounts randomly without letting their employees know when they are going to do it. They should also diversify controls and oversight (separate key duties). No one person should have complete control over a revenue stream or valuable asset. Additionally — there are third-party anonymous hot line services and if they are too expensive — a creative small business owner might set up a telephone line with a voice mail and have some posters made.

So far as training management and employees on what to be aware of — the current AFCE report is a wealth of information, also. A little awareness and knowledge of how fraud is facilitated can go a long way towards preventing it, as well as, giving your human resources the knowledge to spot and report it.

Most fraud is defeated by people, who are knowledgeable of what to look for. This is because fraud schemes rely on tricking everyone else to think nothing is going on.

On a final note, if you are a small business owner and detect fraud, I recommend leaving any legal recourse matters to someone who is familiar with how to do it. Handling these matters the wrong way can add to the problem by causing other losses, such as civil litigation or the protecting yourself against it. In any situation, where a crime is detected, the best thing to do is to contact the authorities and seek their assistance with it.

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