New Zealand workers' low wages combined with their expensive tastes are one reason fraud in the workplace is on the rise, says PricewaterhouseCoopers.
According to PwC's 2011 Global Economic Crime Survey, released today, 49.5 per cent of respondents were hit by economic crime in the past year.
This was up from 42 per cent in 2009 and gives New Zealand the fourth-highest level of fraud out of the 78 participating countries, behind Kenya, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
Director of forensic services at PwC Alex Tan believes fraud is even more rife than the survey suggested.
"There's going to be people, even though it's confidential, who are going to say 'no' even though they knew [they had been a victim] or there [are] people who don't know they've had a fraud. So the true number is actually higher than 50 per cent ... New Zealand isn't as crime free as people think," he said.
Tan attributed the increase in fraud to New Zealanders' lifestyles being out of step with their wages.
"We're a relatively low-wage economy but we like high-wage living. You look at baches, it's a New Zealand rite of passage to have a bach. Well, a bach is a million dollars by the beach, isn't it? How many people can afford a million dollars?
"There's probably a lot more million-dollar baches than there are millionaires and there are a lot of luxury cars being driven around which people can't afford to buy outright and are buying on finance," Tan said.
Almost three-quarters of the survey's local respondents suffered from asset misappropriation - "fraudsters wanting to steal money" - and 30 per cent from accounting fraud, the report said.
Eighty per cent of those surveyed from the retail sector were victims of fraud, while 71 per cent of the energy, utilities and mining industry had been hit.
Almost all sectors covered by the report recorded an increase in fraud from the 2009 survey.
The financial services industry was the only sector that registered a drop, with 47 per cent of respondents falling victim to fraud, down from 50 per cent in 2009.
Sixty per cent of respondents from public organisations had been swindled.
The report said public sector fraud was a growing concern in times of "austerity measures and government cost cutting".
Fraud was most prevalent in organisations with more than 1000 employees, but the report noted an upward trend in businesses with up to 200 workers.
Just over half the reported fraud came from within an organisation, and 71 per cent of the perpetrators were junior staff members.
Internal fraudsters were likely to be male and educated to a high school level or less, the survey suggested.
Almost 40 per cent of perpetrators had been with the organisations for between three and five years, the survey found.
Only 8 per cent of fraudsters were from senior management, down from 11 per cent in 2009.
* The PwC survey was carried out between June and November 2011 and involved 3877 people from 78 countries - including 93 from New Zealand.
* Almost 50 per cent of New Zealand respondents had suffered fraud in the past year.
* More than half of fraudulent behaviour was an "inside job".
Cybercrime a worry, says PwC
Cybercrime - fraud over a computer or the internet - is an emerging and worrying threat for businesses, says PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Ranked as the third most common form of fraud in PwC's 2011 Global Economic Crime Survey, cybercrime struck almost a quarter of local respondents over the past 12 months.
The survey said cybercrime was an ambiguous term, but identified five categories: financial crime and fraud - using technology to steal money and other assets - espionage and theft of intellectual property, warfare, terrorism and activism.
Cybercrime was attractive to some criminals because they could commit illegal acts from anywhere in the world via the internet and there was less chance of prosecutors tracking them down, the survey said.
PwC partner Colin Slater said it was tough to get concrete statistics on cybercrime and quantify what it was costing organisations. But it was clear this sort of fraud was on the rise.
"Businesses are starting to cotton on to the fact that confidential information is an asset. It's something that has a value," Slater said.
"It's hit their radar - the value of reputation and how quickly it can be eroded through cybercrime," he said.
Slater gave the example of Sony, which had customer information stolen this year, as an example of the damage cybercrime can do. The breach reportedly cost Sony almost US$1 billion ($1.32 billion).