Your Small Business and Embezzlement

Orange County embezzlement investigatorsMany business owners know to keep an eye out for theft, burglary, workers comp fraud, and other security hazards, but there’s one type of loss that few are prepared for- embezzlement.
The very nature of the crime makes embezzlement particularly hard to catch, because it is rooted in trust- trust that you have placed in an employee, and trust that is all too often abused.
The definition of embezzlement is, according to Merriam-Webster, “to appropriate (as property entrusted to one’s care) fraudulently to one’s own use.”

Embezzlement is most often committed by employees who have access to and control over finances, like the bookkeeper or accountant. In larger companies, it’s fairly easy to put checks and balances in place to ensure that no one controls the entire cycle of receipts and payments; however, in smaller companies it is much harder to segregate accounting tasks. This can leave the control of the entire billing/payment cycle in the hands of just one person, putting the business completely at the mercy of that person’s integrity.

Even if not a strictly “family business,” small businesses often have a tight-knit, familial atmosphere, leading the owners to put a lot of trust in their employees, especially long-standing ones. Unfortunately, in our experiences as Orange County private investigators, it is often the most senior, trusted employees who are guilty of embezzlement.

That’s why it is so important to involve an outside party in your corporate security! At Systematic Inquiry Group, not only can we help you identify the source of fraud or embezzlement from within your company, but we can also help you prevent further security issues in the future by evaluating your internal security procedures and policies.

Start 2016 With Better Restaurant Security

When you own a rrestaurant security retainerestaurant, keeping your employees and customers safe and protecting your assets and equipment is crucial. Otherwise, your restaurant can end up losing a considerable amount of money and business. From employee theft to workers comp claims, it’s important to have reliable restaurant security in place.

Restaurant Security Issues

If your Orange County restaurant is in business for any length of time, security issues are sure to crop up eventually, from outside threats like burglary to employee theft.

In addition to stealing by customers or employees, your restaurant can run into other types of security problems. These include incidents that result in employees being hurt on the job or incidents involving harassment or discrimination. These types of risks can affect the reputation of your restaurant and have a negative impact on business. Fortunately if you suspect a case of workers compensation fraud or need to get to the bottom of harassment allegations, our private investigation services can help.

Security Solutions

You can take steps to prevent restaurant security risks, as well as measures to effectively handle any security problems that occur. With our Corporate Security Retainer program, we can handle all of your security issues. This saves you time and money and helps ensure that your workers and customers stay safe. This type of program can also reduce the risk of losing money or equipment and supplies that are costly to replace. The security measures included in this program provide your restaurant with resources to prevent and investigate theft, fraudulent workers compensation claims and lawsuits resulting from civil matters, which offers peace of mind and allows you to focus on other aspects of your business.

If you would like more information about our Corporate Security Retainer program, please contact Systematic Inquiry Group.

 

Photo by Serge Bertasius Photography via freedigitalphotos.net

Employee Theft Prevention Tips from the Corporate Security Experts

preventing embezzlementAt Systematic Inquiry Group, we not only provide Orange County businesses with corporate investigation services to hunt down and prosecute employee theft and fraud, we also help prevent internal security threats in the first place with an array of preventative security services like our Food Cost Program and Monthly Security Assurance.

As another year draws to a close and you begin to look ahead to 2016, keep these tips in mind to reduce your risk of employee theft, fraud, and embezzlement.

Eliminate opportunities for theft

One of the best ways to keep employees from stealing is to simply deprive them of the opportunity. While some people will find a way to steal no matter what, most are more opportunistic and will not steal if they think there’s a good chance of getting caught. In retail and restaurant settings, always make sure there are two people opening and closing, preferably not the same pair each time. Switch it up regularly. Make a policy that a manager or supervisor must sign off on refunds or voided transactions and stick to it.

In an office setting, never let anyone have complete control of financial matters. There should always be oversight and an expectation that the books will be reviewed for discrepancies, from business trip expenses to vendor receipts.

Always run a quality background check

It’s important to not only background check employees, but also ensure that background check is comprehensive. Online database checks can be extremely hit-or-miss, so it’s much more effective to leave this task to a private investigator. You’d be amazed at some of the major red flags we have found on prospective employees that would have been completely missed by an online background check.

Embrace surveillance technology

These days, there’s no excuse not to use the surveillance tools at your disposal. This can range from closed circuit video surveillance to inventory management systems. Surveillance can help you catch and prosecute a criminal (either an employee or an outside threat) but it can also deter crime. Going back to opportunity, people are less likely to steal if they think someone might be watching.

Give employees a way to speak up about theft

Finally, it’s important to create a culture of honesty in your business. Let your employees know that you are on their side and you want them on yours. Honest employees get discouraged when they see dishonesty go unpunished, so make it clear that you take employee theft seriously and will prosecute. Set up a tip hotline or another way for employees to discreetly report dishonest activity, and consider offering a reward for tips that lead to catching a thief.

Photo by photostock via freedigitalphotos.net

3 Tips for Holiday Loss Prevention

Orange County loss preventionWith Black Friday- the unofficial kickoff to the holiday shopping season- just days away, retailers are gearing up for their busiest time of year. Many retailers and restaurants are employing seasonal workers during this time to meet heightened demand. Between the new (and often temporary) employees and higher volume of customers, it’s easy for the holiday shopping rush to turn into a security nightmare.

Now is a great time to refresh your knowledge of loss prevention with these tips- and don’t hesitate to call Systematic Inquiry Group for all of your security needs, from Monthly Security Assurance to employee theft and fraud investigations in Orange County and the Inland Empire.

Perform regular register checks

Checking the register at different times throughout the day will not only help you catch shortages, but also overages. What many business owners don’t realize is that overages may not be a simple mistake, but rather an indication that an employee is overcharging customers and building a reserve of cash throughout their shift, which they will then remove at the end of the day, leaving the register with the correct amount. Track overages and shortages in the register and, if you suspect an employee of stealing, it’s time to call us for advice on monitoring and surveillance to catch the suspect in the act.

Engage with customers

Employee theft is a major concern for retailers, especially at the holidays, but it’s also important to watch out for external security threats like shoplifting. One of the best ways to combat this huge source of loss for retailers is to encourage your employees to simply be friendly.

It may seem hard to believe, but a simple “hello” can discourage a shoplifter from developing sticky fingers in your store. And it shouldn’t stop with a greeting; instruct your employees to check in regularly with all shoppers, asking if they need help, if they’re finding everything OK, if they need a different size, color, etc. Attentive service is simply good hospitality, but will also give potential shoplifters the message that your store is not an easy mark.

Use surveillance

Having a video surveillance system in place is an important deterrent for both employee theft and shoplifting. Not only will it help you catch the thief if a theft does occur, but it also discourages crime. Let employees know that you have a surveillance system in place for their protection (they’ll be more likely to follow company policies and security procedures if they know they’re on camera), and install a monitor at the entrance to let visitors know they are being watched.

Photo by imagerymajestic via freedigitalphotos.net

 

 

Protecting Your Business from “Friendship Fraud”

Orange County fraud investigations

You think you know him… But do you really?

It’s a story any corporate investigator has seen over and over again: You hire someone you think you know or think is safe- maybe a friend, a friend’s child or spouse, a niece or nephew, a second cousin, a neighbor, a church acquaintance- to work at your business. It could be a simple retail or restaurant job, or maybe it’s something more sensitive, like bookkeeping. You don’t bother with a background check- this person is family/a friend/a neighbor after all! And then the IRS comes knocking. Or the bank account is empty. Or maybe it’s just a slight trickle of lost revenue that takes years to notice. Regardless, by the time you realize what’s going on, you could end up losing thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) when that “safe” person commits fraud or embezzlement.

This kind of betrayal is devastating to the victim whose trust was violated, but can also be devastating to everyone even peripherally involved, causing the company to shut down and all of the employees to lose their jobs and their livelihoods, causing investors to lose their money, and ruining the reputation that the owner worked so hard to build.

There’s no way to completely eliminate the threat of internal crime, but at Systematic Inquiry Group, we can help you greatly reduce your risk of being victimized this way. Our Orange County corporate investigations and security firm can help you protect your business with:

  • Background checks- Never hire someone without a background check, even if someone you trust has vouched for them. Unlike the limited capabilities of online background check services, our professional investigators can get you the information you need to make informed hiring decisions.
  • Ongoing security services- Visit our Services page to explore our Corporate Security Retainer, Monthly Security Assurance, and Food Cost programs, and give us a call to discuss which one is right for your business.
  • Employee theft and fraud investigations- Of course, while good hiring practices, security procedures, and oversight can reduce the risk, you could still face theft or fraud. If you suspect someone of robbing your bottom line, don’t tip your hand- just call us ASAP. We can conduct a full investigation, including surveillance and interrogations.

Don’t let “friendship fraud” destroy everything you’ve worked for. Call us at  714-406-4618 to discuss your case with our Orange private investigators.

Photo by David Castillo Dominici via freedigitalphotos.net

 

4 Ways to Spot a Liar

identifying employee theftWould you know if your employees were lying to you? Many people think that it’s possible to tell if someone’s lying by looking for subtle clues, “tells,” or “micro-expressions” a person may unwittingly display while lying. Certain changes in eye contact, body language, and tone are thought to indicate deception, or so the conventional wisdom goes. However, according to studies in deception research, attempting to identify a liar by looking for these signs is not much more effective than guessing!

The reason people are so bad at guessing when someone is being deceptive lies in the pure variety of human expression. Everyone has their own vocal mannerisms and body language style, not to mention personal reactions to lying (Are they nervous? Exhilarated? Guilty?), so attempting to identify universal tells is an exercise in futility.

However, there is a much more effective way to tell if someone is lying. Read on to learn 4 ways to catch a liar, or better yet, give us a call. As professional corporate investigators in Orange County and Los Angeles, we are experienced in interrogation, surveillance, and a host of other ways to help you root out the liars who could be robbing your organization through employee theft, fraud, or embezzlement.

  • Ask open-ended questions. You may be familiar with this strategy thanks to the idiom “Give him enough rope to hang himself.”
  • Surprise them. Asking a question “out of left field” or requesting that the person describe a course of events backwards chronologically increases their “cognitive load,” making it harder for them to keep up with the details of their lie.
  • Check the details. Pay attention to concrete details you can later check up on. If you notice a discrepancy, don’t give it away- let the liar continue digging themselves into a hole.
  • Look for a change in mood or tone. If the suspect is weaving a long-winded tale for you but then all of a sudden gets quiet and terse after being pressed on a question, you may have uncovered a hole in their story.

If you suspect that an employee is lying to you or covering something up, it’s best not to tip your hand. Just give us a call at 714-406-4618 to discuss your situation and find out how we can help with corporate investigations in Orange County and beyond.

Photo by imagerymajestic via freedigitalphotos.net

Surveillance Investigations Are Best Left to the Pros

OC corporate investigationsAs corporate investigators working primarily in Orange County and the greater Los Angeles area, we are familiar with all manner of internal crimes, from employee theft to workers’ compensation fraud to embezzlement. There are many reasons we are called in to conduct surveillance for clients in a wide range of industries, but some of the most common reasons we conduct surveillance include:

  • Gathering evidence for the prosecution of a crime
  • Gathering evidence for a civil lawsuit
  • Fact-finding as preparation for an interrogation
  • Documenting operations and procedures
  • Verifying a suspect’s location
  • Investigating claims of harassment or abuse

When the suspicion of wrongdoing arises, many people’s first instinct is to investigate themselves. It’s understandable to want to get to the bottom of a security breach or other situation, but take it from a private investigator who has seen it all- surveillance is best left to the professionals.

Reasons to hire a licensed private investigator

Despite what your favorite police procedural TV show would have you believe, surveillance is more than just hanging out in your car with binoculars and a cup of coffee. There are many reasons you should hire a professional corporate investigator to conduct surveillance for you, for instance:

  • We are licensed and insured. (License # PI 16156)
  • We know the law. With over 25 years of experience and a Juris Doctor degree, our lead investigator Michael Wojtanowicz knows how to uncover relevant information while staying on the right side of the law, something amateur investigators often violate unintentionally. Evidence gathered by the pros is generally going to hold up better in court, while a amateurs often make mistakes that can result in the culprit getting away on a technicality.
  • We are highly skilled in surveillance. In order for surveillance to be effective, it must go unnoticed by the party being surveilled. If you blow your cover, your case could be blown as well. We are trained to gather information without drawing attention, and furthermore, we are unknown faces unlikely to be recognized by the perpetrator, while conducting your own surveillance is just asking for a “What are you doing here?” moment.
  • We possess specialized technical knowledge and tools. We have an array of surveillance tools and technology at our disposal and we know how to use them (and the legal intricacies of doing so).

Rather than investing your time into learning the basics of surveillance and the laws here in California, why not leave it to the pros so you can focus on running your business? We can help you get to the bottom of your case and even act as a liaison with law enforcement should you choose to press charges.

 

To get started with your corporate surveillance investigation, please call us at  714-406-4618.

Photo by imagerymajestic via freedigitalphotos.net

Tipping Tricks: Common Tip Scams That Cost You and Your Customers

restaurant security tips scamsAs we’ve discussed often here on the Systematic Inquiry Group blog, internal crimes are a major threat to your bottom line, especially in the restaurant industry. Our Orange County corporate investigations firm specializes in restaurant security, and we’ve seen it all, from employee theft to workers compensation fraud and much more.

Below, you’ll find a few of the most common tipping scams perpetrated by restaurant employees. Take a look to familiarize yourself with these scams, and give us a call at 714-406-4618 to take control of your company’s security with our range of corporate security and investigation services.

Changing the tip

One of the simplest forms of theft among restaurant workers is simply changing the tip on a credit card slip. After altering the amount to be more than the customer intended, the server will cash out and get their “new” tip.

How often do you review your credit card statement to see if the amount you were charged matches what you wrote on the ticket? In most cases, customers won’t ever find out. If they do call to complain, the manager will have to credit them the difference and track down the credit card slip from that transaction. While it is usually possible to track down the perpetrator (assuming the customer calls to complain), investigating the fraud usually falls to the bottom of a manager’s list of concerns in the face of more pressing issues.

Padding the tip jar, shorting the till

Another type of tip scam, common at coffee shops and counter service restaurants, is for the cashier to charge the customer the correct amount for, say, a coffee and a doughnut, but only ring up the coffee. The price of the doughnut then goes into the tip jar.

The “soft steal”

While a server may not consider this “really stealing,” this practice harms your bottom line all the same. Servers will often ring up a party’s check minus small items like side salads, appetizers, or sodas. Customers feel like they are getting special treatment and tip more- which goes in your server’s pocket- while you are losing food inventory and compensation for everything that went in to preparing the items.

If you suspect that these tip scams are going on at your restaurant or bar, contact us today. Our range of corporate security and investigation services for businesses in Orange County and Los Angeles can help your company thrive.

Photo by Nan Palmero via Flickr (CC by 2.0)

3 Ways to Prevent Business Burglaries

Inland Empire business securityThere are many joys to owning a business, but unfortunately security is not usually one of them. As a business owner, you must always keep your guard up to prevent theft, burglary, and other crimes from both outside and inside your business.

At Systematic Inquiry Group, our team of security experts and private investigators can advise you on the best ways to protect your Orange County business, as well as helping you investigate and address any crimes that do occur. Call 714-406-4618 to discuss your business investigation and security needs, and read on for some burglary prevention tips for businesses.

  • Install a surveillance system. You should have operational surveillance cameras both outside and inside your business. The mere presence of cameras is enough to discourage many burglars and employee thieves, but just having cameras is not enough. (You’d be surprised how many business owners have non-operational cameras.) It’s important to keep your surveillance system in good working order so that you have recorded proof on hand in case a burglary or other crime happens.
  • Give your employees better security training. Teach your staff warning signs to look for (strange behavior, loitering, etc.) and even more importantly, what to do if they notice something off. You should have a clear set of protocols an employee should follow if they see something suspicious, if they catch another employee stealing, or if the business is being burgled or robbed.
  • Add more and better lighting. Installing bright security lights around all areas of your business makes you a less attractive target to burglars, who typically go after easy targets that won’t draw attention. Today there are lots of great options in motion-activated security lighting, allowing you to save energy while protecting your business.

Want to learn more ways to protect your business from burglary, internal theft, fraud, and other threats? Let Systematic Inquiry Group assist you with security services to fit your business.

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National Preparedness Month: Preparedness Tips for Businesses

business preparedness tipsDid you know that September is National Preparedness Month? This awareness-raising month is meant to encourage people to make plans in case of major disasters like floods, wildfires, hurricanes, or extended power outages. The need for preparation is not just for individuals in their homes. If you own a business, it’s also important to plan ahead and have protocols in place to deal with possible emergency scenarios. Read on to learn the 5 steps to creating a preparedness plan for your Orange County business.

  • Program development and management
    • Know your state and local minimum requirements
    • Organize and implement preparedness planning program
  • Personalized preparedness
    • Research the hazards and risks an emergency situation could create and how they could specifically affect your business (also known as a Business Impact Analysis).
    • Plan how to reduce or prevent risks to your business.
  • Creating your preparedness plan When writing your plan, it should provide protocols for the following needs/scenarios)
    • Emergency response
    • Communication (remember, cell phone, internet, and land line communication can be unreliable in an emergency)
    • Resource management
    • Business continuity
    • Information technology
    • Employee direction and assistance
    • Incident response
    • Employee preparedness training
  • Testing your plan
    • After training your employees on the proper response in a given emergency situation, it’s important to run regular drills.
    • Practicing responses will not only teach employees what to do so they are comfortable and will quickly know what to do in case of an emergency, but will also help you identify any weak areas in your business preparedness plan.
  • Program review
    • It’s important to routinely evaluate and update your company’s preparedness plan

At Systematic Inquiry Group, we are firm believers in the old adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That’s why it’s so important to think about emergency preparedness for your business before something happens. It’s also why our Orange County private investigations firm not only responds to security emergencies, but also has a strong focus on preventative security services for businesses.

Image via ready.gov/september