Dealing with and Preventing Fraud When Trusted Employees Go Bad – Part 1

David Anderson is principal of David Anderson & Associates, a Philadelphia forensic accounting firm that provides a full range of fraud investigation, forensic accounting, and marital dissolution services in Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley.

Fraud is most often committed by employees who have decided to take advantage of their trusted status. They are usually able to commit these frauds because their relationship with the company has caused management to relax its oversight of their activities or because, as members of management, they can override internal controls.

This article is Part 1 of a three-part series addressing frauds investigated by forensic accounting expert David Anderson of David Anderson & Associates, Certified Fraud Examiner in Philadelphia. It will focus on some payroll frauds committed by trusted accounting employees, and how the frauds could have been prevented. 

Payroll Fraud #1: The Controller of a real estate development company noted there was a “bug” in the new payroll software.  The bug caused the cash requirements report (used to determine how much was required to fund the payroll bank account) to show a higher total funding requirement than was necessary.  Rather than reporting the bug to the software company, the Controller funded the payroll bank account with the total shown on the flawed report, and, using out-of-sequence checks, paid himself the overage each pay period.  Because of his trusted status, the company’s owner never noticed the problem until several years later when the company experienced cash flow problems.  The discovered fraud exceeded $3 million.

If the owner had decided to have the payroll bank account statements (and corresponding cancelled checks) delivered directly to him, and spent a few minutes each month reviewing these documents, he would have noticed the large checks written to the Controller and would have discovered the fraud much earlier.  Alternatively, the owner could have required regular analyses of fluctuations in expenses.  In such a case, he would have noticed a sudden and ongoing sizeable jump in payroll costs, and could have investigated the cause.  In either case, the fraud could have either been prevented or discovered in its early stages.

Payroll Fraud #2: The newly hired Director of Finance for a municipal utility learned, among other responsibilities, she was wholly responsible for setting up employees with the utility’s payroll service, and for tracking (via a spreadsheet) employee vacation and sick pay.  Using these trusted capabilities, she started her fraud by informing the payroll service that she had a higher starting salary than she did.  She then based subsequent raises (which were rewarded as percentage increases) on this higher salary.  Additionally, because she alone was responsible for tracking vacations and sick pay, she regularly took additional vacations and sick pay over her actual earned vacation and sick pay.  This was magnified even further because she frequently worked overtime during weeks that she took the unearned vacation and sick pay.  As a result, some of her regular work hours were paid at overtime rates.  This fraud was only discovered when she retired, and, in reconciling her pension entitlement, the new Director of Finance noticed the difference in her original approved starting salary and the salary that was paid to her.

If the municipal utility had instituted certain procedures for handling the payroll, vacation and sick pay for senior executives, this fraud could have been prevented.  Such procedures would require either multiple signoffs for executive salary changes as well as for approvals of vacation and sick pay, or would have designed a specific executive to approve these items for another executive. 

Payroll Fraud #3: The long-time bookkeeper for a small professional services business was given total responsibility for processing payroll.  One of the features of the payroll process was that the company used the payroll system to reimburse employees for business expenses.  The bookkeeper realized this could enable her to receive reimbursements for non-existent expenses.  Experimenting with small amounts at first, she noticed that management was not reviewing payroll, and not picking up on these improper reimbursements.  She eventually increased the reimbursements to herself to many thousands of dollars per pay period (because she was also given total responsibility for the company’s accounting system, she was able to manipulate how the reimbursements were recorded in the company’s system). This fraud encompassed many hundreds of thousands of dollars and was only discovered when the company experienced cash flow problems and hired an outside consultant to help it improve its cash flow.  The outside consultant found the excessive reimbursements and reported them to the company.

Because the company was relatively small, if the owner had taken a few minutes each pay period to review the payroll and payroll funding reports, he would have noticed the increase in payroll costs and the unusual amount of reimbursements going to the bookkeeper.  This would have either prevented the fraud or caught it in its early stages.

You’ll note a common scheme in each of the above frauds.  Because the top executive or owner trusted the accounting employee, he or she failed to take the small amount of time necessary to review payroll activities.  This in turn enabled the perpetrator to execute the fraud.

Next week, Anderson will discuss non-payroll frauds perpetrated by trusted accounting employees who turned to the dark side.

If you want to learn how a Certified Fraud Examiner from an experienced firm that provides forensic accounting services in Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley can help safeguard your company against such fraud schemes, please contact the Philadelphia forensic accounting firm of David Anderson & Associates by calling David Anderson at 267-207-3597 or emailing him at

About David Anderson & Associates

David Anderson & Associates is a Philadelphia forensic accounting firm that provides a full range of forensic accounting services in Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley.  The experienced professionals at David Anderson & Associates provide forensic accounting, business valuation, fraud investigation, fraud deterrence, litigation support, economic damage analysis, business consulting and outsourced CFO services.  Company principal David Anderson is a forensic accounting expert who has more than 30 years of experience in financial and operational leadership positions and is a Certified Public Accountant, a Certified Fraud Examiner and a Certified Valuation Analyst.