Category Archives for "Fraud"

Oct 05

A Fraudster’s Refuge: The Appalachian Trail

By Charles Hall | Asset Misappropriation

Some fraudsters funnel money into fraudulent bank accounts. Today, I show you how one controller did so and walked away with millions.

A Fraudster's Refuge: The Appalachian Trail

 

The Theft

In May 2015 James Hammes was arrested for the theft of $8.7 million from his former employer, G&P Pepsi-Cola Bottlers. After Mr. Hammes was confronted about the theft in February 2009, he left his home and hid on the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine. Hammes assumed a hiking name of “Bismarck” and spent several years on the popular trail. Fellow hikers enjoyed Bismarck since he seemed to be one of them.

How the Funds Were Stolen

The FBI reported the following:

Court documents show that Hammes’ embezzlement began around 1998. As a controller, he was responsible for all financial accounting and internal controls for his division, including supervising accounts payable to several hundred outside vendors. He carried out the fraud by establishing a new bank account for an existing vendor at a different bank. He then deposited hefty payments to that vendor—often $100,000 at a time—in the phantom account that he alone controlled. He then could transfer money from the phantom account to his personal accounts.

“He knew how to cover his tracks by manipulating audits and ledger entries,” Jones said. “He got away with it for so long because he knew how to manipulate his subordinates and how not to raise accounting red flags.”

So, Hammes opened a fraudulent bank account at another bank (one the company did not use) and deposited vendor checks into that account. Then he transferred funds out of the fraudulent bank account to himself.  Since he opened the account, he was the authorized check signer. Simple but effective.

The Weakness

If extra payments were made to vendors (and it appears that occurred), then the company may not have been reviewing vendor payments. If appropriate controls are not in place, it’s easy for a fraudster to make fraudulent vendor payments without detection, especially if hundreds of monthly checks are processed.

Also, it appears the company may have lacked sufficient segregation of duties since Hammes was able to disburse extra vendor payments without detection.

The Fix

Periodically, review the total payments made to each vendor. For example, generate the total monthly payments made to XYZ Company. Then compare the monthly payments over a two to three year period. If payments dramatically increase, then someone within the company may be making additional payments and stealing those checks. Or there may a legitimate reason for the increase. Either way, it’s wise to review vendor payments for anomalies. 

You might also contact your company’s bank (and other local banks) and ask for a list of accounts in your company’s name. Then compare that list to your general ledger to see if the accounts match. If mismatches are present (there’s bank account listed but no corresponding account in the general ledger), follow up to see why.

Positive pay is another strong payables processing control.

steps to prevent fraud
Aug 12

10 Powerful Steps to Reduce Fraud

By Charles Hall | Fraud

As businesses grow, the risk of theft increases. In this post, I offer ten powerful steps to reduce fraud.

Windows open. Curtains blowing. The sound of crickets and an occasional train in the distance. It was a simple childhood. It was my childhood. My mother parked her black Ford Falcon and left the keys in the ignition. The doors to our home were unlocked. We trusted our neighbors and they trusted us. And why would we not? We’d known each other forever.

steps to prevent theft

 

But then one night at the dinner table, my father said, “someone stole Miss Gussie’s Chevy.” Unthinkable. Our innocence was broken, and soon my mother took precautionary measures. Each evening, after parking, she would place the car keys under the car seat. No need to take chances. We began to close the windows at night, but still, the back door was left unlocked in case my father needed to go out for a smoke.

A couple of months later, I overheard my mother whispering to my grandmother that a man slithered into Miss Kidd’s house in the dead of night and had taken valuables. Miss Kidd lived diagonally from our home, just a stone’s throw away. To think that someone just walked–unannouncedinto the octogenarian’s home. How could this be?

Fear was palpable. Our neighborhood’s character shifted. No longer would Mom leave the keys in the car. No longer would we leave the windows open. No more cricket sounds. And my father even locked the back door.

Safely we would sleep, not because there were no threats, but because of protection.Continue reading

Ways Fraud Happens
Jul 13

25 Ways Fraud Happens: Ideas for Audit Brainstorming

By Charles Hall | Fraud

As auditors perform their fraud brainstorming, it helps to have ideas to consider. So today I provide you with 25 ways fraud happens. 

Ways Fraud Happens

25 Ways Fraud Happens

Here’s a list of common company thefts:

  1. Collection clerk steals cash prior to recording it
  2. Collection clerk steals cash after recording a customer receipt; he voids the receipt and adjusts (writes down) the customer’s account
  3. Collection clerk places a personal check (for $5,000) in the cash drawer and takes an equivalent amount of cash; the clerk leaves the check in the drawer for months—in effect the clerk has an unauthorized loan
  4. The cash collections supervisor steals cash after receiving funds from collection clerks but before the money is deposited; she adjusts the related bank reconciliation by the amount stolen
  5. The person opening the mail steals checks before they are receipted; these amounts had not previously been recorded as a receivable
  6. Employees steal capital assets (knowing that no one performs periodic inventories)
  7. Employees use company credit cards for personal purchases but code the transactions as company expenses
  8. Accounts payable clerks cut checks to themselves (or to an accomplice) but record the check as company expenses; the check signatures are forged
  9. Accounts payable clerks establish fictitious vendors using their own addresses, a P.O. Box, or that of an accomplice; payments are made to the fictitious vendor and covered up with fictitious invoices; the checks are signed electronically as they are printed
  10. Accounts payable employee intentionally double-pays an invoice, then requests that the vendor refund the extra payment (with the refund going directly to the payable clerk)—check is converted to personal use
  11. Payroll personnel increase the pay rate—in the master pay rate file—for themselves or for friends working in the company
  12. Payroll personnel pay themselves (or friends) twice for each payroll
  13. Payroll personnel purposefully overpay withholding taxes and inflate the withholding amount on their own W-2, resulting a tax refund that includes the excess payments
  14. Purchasing department personnel are bribed by a vendor; the vendor recoups the bribe costs by inflating its subsequent invoices
  15. State, city, county elected officials are bribed; the vendor recoups the bribe costs by inflating its subsequent invoices
  16. Vendors give favors (e.g., free vacations) to those with the power to buy—commonly called a gratuity; vendor recoups the cost of the favors by inflating its subsequent invoices
  17. CEO orders accounts payable staff to make payments to himself (with an implied threat); payments are coded in a manner that hides the payment
  18. Money is wired by the CFO to the CFO but is recorded as a legitimate expense using a journal entry
  19. Money is wired to the CFO who then leaves the country without trying to cover up the theft
  20. The CEO or CFO makes payments to someone who is threatening their life or is blackmailing them; the expense is coded as legitimate
  21. A secret bank account is opened in the name of the business by the CFO but the sole authorized check signer is the CFO; checks are made from a legitimate business bank account to the secret bank account; the CFO writes checks to himself from the secret account
  22. A sales person steals rebate checks that belong to the company; she deposits the checks into her personal bank account by writing “pay to the order of…” on the back of the check
  23. The payables clerk writes a manual check to himself and then records the check with a journal entry that reflects a legitimate vendor
  24. The CFO inflates revenue at year-end with fictitious journal entries; stock prices go up; the CFO sells personally-owned company stock, then the CFO reverses the year-end accruals
  25. The inventory clerk steals stock and covers the theft by altering the inventory records

Fraud Brainstorming for Auditors

In performing your fraud brainstorming, consider printing out this list and seeing if any of these thefts are relevant to your audit.

How to prevent payroll fraud
Jul 06

How to Prevent Payroll Fraud

By Charles Hall | Fraud

Do you know how to prevent payroll fraud? Today we take a look at how you can protect your business.

Direct deposit of payroll checks can open the door to theft. Also when one person is in control of payroll processes, danger lurks.

prevent payroll fraud

Picture is courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

I was teaching a fraud prevention class this past Friday, and one of the participants, a school payroll clerk named Dawn, asked me to address how fraud might occur in her department. So I asked her a series of questions.

“Does your school use direct deposit?” She answered yes.

“Do you fully control the issuance of W-2s?” Dawn said yes.

“Who adds the direct deposit information to your payroll software?” She answered, “I do.”

“Can anyone else change the direct deposit file?” Her answer was no.

“Who controls the master pay rate file?” Here again, she was the only one who had rights to this payroll function.

Then I asked Dawn if she reconciles the bank statement. She said that Randy, a gentleman sitting in front of her, reconciles the account. I was also told that they have hundreds of employees.

How Can Dawn Steal?

I told the class that a person in Dawn’s position could steal in multiple ways. Here are a few:

  • She can leave a terminated employee on the payroll and change that person’s bank account number to her own, allowing her to receive all payroll payments for the discontinued staff member. Then, she can also alter the related W-2s to cover her tracks.
  • She can change the master pay rate of any employee, including herself.
  • She can inflate the hours worked for any employee.

Prevent Payroll Fraud

After pointing out the flaws in internal control, I asked the class how they would reduce these threats. Angela (another student) sang out: “Create transparency by allowing another person to review or see what the payroll clerk is doing.” (This made me smile since I had been preaching this idea all morning.)

To lessen the threat of fraud, always ask, “how can I create transparency?” The answer will almost always involve allowing another individual to monitor the work of the primary persons in the process. And I am not proposing that this observing person be present 24/7—just that she periodically review the activity of the primary person (e.g., payroll clerk). 

The monitoring person can be someone that works with the entity or someone from the outside (e.g., external CPA). Here are sample fraud prevention measures for the above-described threats:

  • Download all the payroll records, including each employee and direct deposit bank account number; sort for identical bank account numbers (a same bank account number may mean that a terminated employee was left on the payroll, and their deposits are being routed to another person such as the payroll clerk)
  • Have someone (other than the payroll clerk) pull the payroll personnel files for twenty employees and then compare the authorized pay rates (in the personnel file) to the payroll master file (in the software); tell the payroll clerk that this procedure will occur with some frequency and will happen without notice
  • For hourly employees, have someone (other than the payroll clerk) pull the reported hours for two departments and review for appropriateness; inquire of the department head regarding any higher-than-normal hours
  • Examine the W-2s of the payroll personnel
  • Print a budget to actual salary report or a current year/prior year comparison of wages; provide the same to the governing body
  • Report findings from these procedures to the governing body; do this at least once per year (regularity makes the payroll personnel think twice about theft)

Take Away

By the way, the payroll clerk was the only person with access to the payroll master file. This is not necessarily a bad thing. You want to limit the number of persons with access to payroll master file, but a second person should monitor the payroll clerk’s inputs into the payroll software.

So how can you prevent payroll fraud? Think about your own payroll system. Are there any potential threats to your payroll system? Also, be aware of backdoor payroll thefts and ghost employees.

If you’ve seen payroll fraud, please share a comment about how it happened.

If you are interested in more information about white-collar crime, check out my other fraud prevention articles.

$16 million stolen from bakery
May 27

How $16 Million was Stolen from a Bakery

By Charles Hall | Asset Misappropriation

$16 million was stolen from a bakery. You read that right.

Today I show you how large sums of money can be taken from a small business with one simple fraud scheme.

The Theft

Sandy Jenkins, the controller of Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas, made off with more than just fruitcakes. He took over $16 million, so says the FBI. And what did Mr. Jenkins do with the money?

He used the funds in the following ways:

  • $11 million on a Black American Express card
  • $1.2 million at Neiman Marcus in Dallas
  • 532 luxury items, including 41 bracelets, 15 pairs of cufflinks, 21 pairs of earrings, 16 furs, 61 handbags, 45 necklaces, 9 sets of pearls, 55 rings, and 98 watches (having an approximate value of $3.5 million)
  • Wine collection (having an approximate value of $50,000)
  • Steinway electronic piano (having a value of $58,500)
  • 223 trips on private jets (primarily Santa Fe, New Mexico; Aspen, Colorado; and Napa, California, among other places), with a total cost that exceeded $3.3 million
  • 38 vehicles, including many Lexus automobiles, a Mercedes Benz, a Bentley, and a Porsche
  • And more…

How the money was stolen

You might think that stealing $16 million would require an elaborate scheme. But did it? 

Here’s an example of his method: Jenkins would print a check to his personal credit card company, but he would void the check in the accounting system. (He still had the printed check.) Then, he would generate a second check for the same amount to a legitimate vendor, but the second check was never mailed. Next, Jenkins would send the first check to his credit card company.

The result: Jenkins’ credit card was paid, but the general ledger reflected a payment to an appropriate vendor.

$16 million was stolen from bakery

The Weakness that Led to the Theft

No one was comparing the cleared check payees to the general ledger. 

The Fix that Will Detect the Theft

Someone other than those who create checks should reconcile the bank statements to the general ledger. As they do, they should compare the cleared check payees to the vendor name in the accounting system. Some businesses have hundreds (or even thousands of checks) clearing monthly. Therefore, they may not desire to examine every cleared check. 

Alternatively, the business could periodically sample the cleared checks, comparing the cleared checks to the vendor payments in the general ledger. The persons creating checks should know that this test work will be performed. Doing so creates the camera effect. When people know their actions (in this case, the creation of checks) will be examined, they act differently–they are much less likely to steal.

If you desire a preventive control, require a second-person review of canceled checks.

Additionally, someone should be reviewing the profit margins of the company, comparing the ratios with prior periods.

Lastly, when segregation of duties is not possible, have the bank statements mailed to someone outside the accounting department such as an owner. That person should review the cleared checks before providing them to the accounting department. Alternatively, provide online access to the reviewing person. The reviewer should examine the cleared checks and provide documentation of his or her examination to the accounting department.

What Happened to Sandy Jenkins?

Sandy Jenkins was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade to serve a total of 120 months in federal prison. His wife, Kay Jenkins also pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Ms. Jenkins was sentenced to five years of probation.

In March 2019, Sandy Jenkins passed away in a federal prison.

Forthcoming Movie

You may be familiar with the movie Catch Me If You Can which chronicled the exploits of Frank Abagnale, one of the most brilliant cons of all time. Now, it appears there will be a new movie about another: Sandy Jenkins. 

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