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4 Ways to Avoid Small-Business Fraud

But employees are less likely to attempt fraud if they know the company is at least trying to prevent it. Occasional audits can help prevent money laundering, and installing cameras in loading zones can prevent property theft. Sounds like common sense, but many small-business owners don't employ common sense.

"Many times the entrepreneur has blind faith," Springer says. "And then the bookkeeper can write expense checks to companies that don't exist."

More than 80% of frauds in the ACFE study were committed by people in one of six departments: accounting, operations, sales, executive/upper management, customer service or purchasing.

3. Invest in fidelity coverage

Most business owners are familiar with insurance fraud. But fewer are familiar with fraud insurance -- aka fidelity insurance -- which protects businesses in case of losses due to embezzlement, forgery, robbery, burglary and so on.

"Sometimes to save money, people won't buy fidelity insurance, but in the scheme of things it costs peanuts," Springer says. "We had one case in which the bookkeeper was the one who said they couldn't afford the fidelity insurance, and it was the bookkeeper who was stealing the money."

4. Enable anonymous whistle-blowing

In a small business, where the whole company works side by side, employees might worry about the ramifications of ratting each other out on fraudulent behavior -- unless they can do so anonymously.

Hire a third-party intermediary to field anonymous tips and help determine whether an accusation is valid or just sour-grape complaining. According to the ACFE, such a system can be even more effective than an audit.

"Staff members are an organization's top fraud-detection method; employees must be trained in what constitutes fraud, how it hurts everyone in the company and how to report any questionable activity," reads a recent ACFE study. "Our data show not only that most frauds are detected by tips, but also that organizations that have anti-fraud training for employees and managers experience lower fraud losses."

-- Reported by Carmen Nobel in Boston.

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