Fraud much higher than firms admit: investigator

By Steve Deane

70 per cent of economic crime committed by company employees, survey shows.

A survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) found 33 per cent of Kiwi businesses surveyed admitted to being victims of crime. Photo / Thinkstock
A survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) found 33 per cent of Kiwi businesses surveyed admitted to being victims of crime. Photo / Thinkstock

A third of Kiwi businesses admit being victims of crime, however the real figure is probably much higher, a private investigator says.

A survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) found 33 per cent of Kiwi businesses surveyed admitted to being victims of crime. That figure is slightly below the global average of 37 per cent and well below Australia (57 per cent), however the low New Zealand number could well be because many business choose not to report crimes.

"There is a lot of unreported crime out there," Daniel Toresen of private investigators Thompson and Toresen said.

"A lot of businesses we do some quite significant fraud [investigations] for - I'm talking up to a million dollars at a time - regularly don't report this to the police or the media. It reflects badly on the shareholders, on the board. It's embarrassing that they let this type of thing happen."

A recent fraud investigation by Thompson and Toresen involving the theft of $380,000 by a book-keeper was dealt with privately by the company. "She paid all of that money back by the time the investigation was finished - mortgaged her house - and was dismissed. No one will find out about that. Christ knows how many more there are. That's just the tip of the iceberg."

Companies would often not report fraud as their priority was to recover stolen money and get rid of the employee, while the police would be mainly focused on securing a conviction, Mr Toresen said.

"That's why people call us. We can act really quickly, get in there, interview them, get some money back and then hand [the investigation] over to police."

PwC forensic services partner Eric Lucas agreed that under-reporting was a probable factor in the low figures here.

"While the survey suggests New Zealand ranks lower for economic crime than many other countries, it must be asked whether our organisations are adequately monitoring and aware of fraud and security breaches or simply not reporting them. For example, global respondents told us around a quarter have been a victim of cybercrime compared to New Zealand's 11 per cent," Mr Lucas said.

According to the survey the "big five" frauds affecting New Zealand's businesses are theft (70 per cent); procurement fraud (19 per cent); bribery and corruption (15 per cent); human resources fraud (15 per cent); and cybercrime (11 per cent).

Companies were surveyed on the prevalence of procurement fraud - billing for more than goods should really cost and then taking a kickback from the supplier - for the first time. The practice appeared to be on the increase, Mr Toresen said. "It's creeping into New Zealand society a bit more, corruption."

Most economic crime is committed by someone inside the company (70 per cent) , while 30 per cent was external, the survey of 82 local and 5000 global businesses found.

Fraud affected both large and small businesses. The larger the business the more scope there was to steal, however greater controls meant it was harder to get away with, Mr Toresen said.

Small business were likely to be harder hit by a fraud. A recent case he investigated involving four employees stealing a food product resulted in the business going into liquidation.

Workplace crime

* A third of Kiwi businesses report being hit by crime.

* Most common crimes are theft (70 per cent); procurement fraud (19 per cent); bribery and corruption (15 per cent); human resources fraud (15 per cent); and cybercrime (11 per cent).

* 70 per cent of crime is committed by someone from within the company.

- NZ Herald

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