Expense fraud can happen at even the best-run organizations, but your company can definitely arm itself with the tools and processes to rein it in.
Businesses lose an estimated $2.8 billion per to expense fraud in the U.S. alone. How does this happen, and what can be done to prevent it?
The Global Business Travel Association recently announced the results of its Business Traveler Sentiment Index Global Report. The report assesses the overall happiness with several aspects of travelers’ overall experience, from making travel arrangements through to getting through airport security and taking various forms of ground and air transport.
Employee expense report fraud is a considerable issue across the world – in fact in a recent survey, it was estimated to cost $2.8 billion a year in the U.S. alone, with more than 1.1 million American employees admitting to submitting deliberately falsified expenses. The impact of expense fraud goes far beyond the financial loss suffered. Organizations’ liabilities can range from audits to loss of investor confidence, and of course for those responsible for expense management and approval, failing to stop fraud can be somewhat career limiting.
We recently surveyed more than 1,000 frequent business travelers, to see just how honest they are when it comes to submitting their expenses. The good news is that 94.7 percent say that their expense reports are done honestly. The bad news is that the other 5.3 percent equates to about 1.1 million business travelers, who combined cost their employers $2.8 billion per year. Those who admit to committing expense fraud do so to the tune of almost $2,500 per year on average.
Although nearly 33 percent of UK workers believe politicians to be the worst offenders for filing false expense claims, the majority of those workers are doing it themselves. Research reported by Personnel Today found 85 percent of UK employees fessed up to submitting at least one deceptive expense claim over the past 12 months.
Savvy cyber-thieves are hitting up unsuspecting businesses by faking emails from company bosses, stealing millions of dollars along the way. The messages, which BBC News reports appear to come from a company higher-up, target the company’s finance staff. They ask staff to rush a payment through to a supplier, a transaction a chief executive can’t handle because he or she is out of the office.
Even though the October 1st deadline has come and gone, the majority of retailers are still lacking the new chip credit card readers that were to have been implemented at the beginning of this month. But that may not be as big an issue as expected according to the NYSE Post - as more than half of all consumers have yet to receive their new cards.
With red-light camera contracts all over Chicago, Redflex Traffic Systems CEO Karen Finley appeared to be doing a great job growing the business. All appearances were pretty much shattered, however, when details came out on just how the business was allegedly able to grow.
More than two dozen Canadian senators may have been caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar, according to CTV News, with spending habits that raised red flags for Auditor General Michael Ferguson. Rather than simply accept their fate, however, the senators may dispute the accusations through Canada’s new arbitration process.
Return fraud and other unscrupulous practices may be a thing of the past if retailers follow the lead of Alibaba. The Chinese e-commerce company is leading the pack by using a modified version of a QR code on individual items, which serves as a kind of non-wireless version of an item-level radio-frequency identification (RFID).
“Fraud” is such an ugly word, which is exactly the reason some managers are wont to ignore it when it crops up in travel expense reports. They may instead refer to the practice as “stretching the truth,” or “padding the expense accounts” and ignore it altogether. They may be hesitant to call attention to the practice when it’s ingrained in company culture and those engaging in it are well-liked colleagues or friends.
Expense fraud in itself is bad enough. It’s even worse when it’s done to a rural Canadian school district with limited funds. And it gets worse still when the perpetrator is a board superintendent of the school district, a person who holds the “highest position of trust.”
A mistress! A UK worker who used his expense-fraud gains to shower his Argentine mistress with presents will now be showering with other inmates as he serves out his two-year jail sentence. Phillip Tamplin, 53, had been an employee of the British telecommunications company of BT Openreach since he was 16. The Telegraph reports over the last two and one-half years of his employment there, he submitted more than 100 false expense reports to the tune of nearly $190,000.
Expense fraud is bad, but it’s not the only way or even the worst way companies can get scammed. The annual Association of Certified Fraud Examiners report revealed nearly 50 percent of small businesses eventually fall prey to some type of fraud. Each instance averages $114,000, and is usually pulled off by a trusted employee.
A little padding of the corporate expense account can add up to a lot of lost cash, as evidenced by a report from Oversight Systems. The report found companies lost nearly $14 million due to fraudulent expenses filed in 2014 – and that was a loss calculated over only a 90-day period. Do the math to estimate losses from expense fraud over the entire year, and annual losses climb to more than $50 million.
There are plenty of news items about corporate fraud involving supplier kickbacks and dishonest expense report schemes. Most of the examples are concerning because of the depravity, but some are rather funny.
A 2014 study by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners found that upper management accounts for close to 30% of reimbursement fraud cases. It doesn’t take a Harvard MBA to know that behaviors (good or bad) that are exhibited by top managers will eventually be modeled by employees. Couple poor behaviors by executives with lax expense reporting procedures and you have a recipe for systemic expense fraud in your organization. Whether you’re currently dealing with this situation or seeking preventative expense controls, you can take steps now that will help crush expense report fraud in 2015.
Many companies have employees who regularly travel for business. Top execs may need to be on-site to manage multiple offices, specialists may need to attend conferences and give workshops, and sales, customer service, and technical support reps may need to visit customers to generate sales and foster business-client relationships.
According to a recent Homeland Security Department report, checking in from your home computer leaves big companies vulnerable to hackers, who scan corporate systems looking to find the remote access software that lets employees look at the system while they are not on the job site.
Electronic invoicing and mobile payment options are among the hottest trends in business today. Although many travel managers are familiar with these payment technologies, they don't see implementing them as a priority. Their concern lies instead with optimizing their company’s expense management system, according to a recent survey by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA). Results of this survey also showed that expense managers were much more interested in recording or imaging receipts and collecting travel data in one single database than adding mobile payment options to their travel management mix.
With employee travel and entertainment (T&E) spending accounting for up to 6% of total corporate costs and continuing to increase, it's wise for companies to monitor T&E spending. Lack of careful T&E oversight can open the door to fraud, policy violations and corporate waste. Consider the below tips to keep your corporate T&E spending in check.
Need socks, groceries and pet food? Sure, that’s fine. Feel the need to buy some new golf clubs or maybe a teepee? Hey, that’s your concern. Want to gamble on the lottery — or a cosmetic surgery procedure? It’s no big deal until you try to slip them past your employer as expense claims.
Welcome to the Chrome River Currents monthly digest! Each month we highlight the latest news and analysis on business travel, expense management and online expense reporting. This month, we’re focusing on helping organizations use cloud-based software in tracking business expenses. We offer tips on using analytics and mobile tools, and introduce our four-part series on reporting travel and entertainment expenses under an IRS accountable plan.
Welcome to the Chrome River Currents monthly digest! Each month we highlight the latest news and analysis on business travel, expense management and online expense reporting. This time, we’re focusing on the benefits of automating business expense reports. We’ll show you how new cloud-based tracking, analytics and reporting tools can help your company simplify travel reimbursement, negotiate discounts and other cost savings, and identify possible fraud.
Providing corporate credit cards to employees has many financial and operational benefits, and it helps streamline travel expense management. Using corporate credit cards tends to reduce expense report fraud, but you’ll still need to keep an eye out for employees trying to beat the system.
In business travel, most expenses are fairly routine matters and handled by the book. Airfare, hotel, rental car, taxi rides and meals. However, what about when an employee expenses, say, a goat? Unquestionably, these animals have been allies to humans for millennia, but it’s hard to envision a goat’s role in the context of, say, an onsite software installation.
One of your employees pads his mileage on reimbursement forms. Another conveniently loses a receipt for a less-expensive meal so she can claim the $25 maximum reimbursement. For most companies, this kind of petty theft is no big deal. If the amounts lost are small, it might seem easier to ignore the problem than to investigate, but expense report fraud can have large indirect consequences.
Most of us already know that the United States Postal Service is in grave financial trouble due to people communicating more through email, and it is no surprise that runaway travel expenses are also contributing to their huge losses. The agency lost an estimated $16 billion last year, and part of that was more than $1 million in over payment of travel expenses. An expense system with automated expense controls, real-time receipt visibility, and built-in expense rules that are automatically enforced could have curtailed the majority of this abuse, helping to cut Postal Service costs.
It seems like there are some people who not only take their expense accounts for granted, but also flagrantly misuse them to the extent that it’s fraud. Read about some eye-popping expense reports that baffle the mind – as in – what were they thinking?
The breaking news that the Labour Member of Parliament for Rotherham, Denis MacShane, is facing a 12-month suspension from the House of Commons for submitting false invoices that were “plainly intended to deceive” highlights the constant diligence required of organisations to monitor and control their expenses and incoming invoices.
This was also the subject of a September survey that found nearly one-third of 1,000 UK employees who took taxis for work admitted that they routinely cheated on such expense claims. The people polled indicated that they added to the taxi bill or expensed fares that were not business related.
"Taxi Receipt" Photo. Ebay.co.uk 10 Jun. 2012. 06 Nov. 2012
The quality of your expense reporting speaks to the type of worker you are. Do evaluations reflect frugal or flighty spending, careful or careless tracking, a dinged or distinguished history? Too many tallies in the wrong category can echo negative opinions about professionalism and work ethic. When it’s read in black and white, what do expense reports say about you?
For followers of my keynote speech at Chrome River’s 2011 Customer Seminar, I continue to find interesting cases of expense fraud. The UK Parliament scandal was widespread, but the amounts were small. Here is a fascinating case within the US government. What makes this so interesting is that it apparently involved collusion between the expense approver and the person submitting the expenses.
Are your employees cheating on their corporate travel expense reports? About 80% claim that they are generally honest with their travel expense reports but some admit to skimming a little of company funds for various reasons. Your employees represent your company on the road. And, their occasional unethical practices should be minimized, if not eliminated.
- What Should Companies Look For in an Expense Management System?
- Life After the Laptop Ban: Could you Survive a Business Trip with Just a Mobile Phone?
- Less Appy, More Happy: How the Mobile Web Can Lead to Easier Expense Management
- How Improving your Travel and Expense Policy Can Help Retain your Best Staff
- Expense Reimbursement, I’d Like You to Meet the Real World…
We love you guys! Everything is going great.
Wow! This Chrome River is great. Word has spread [in our firm] and people that were not invited to be in the pilot group rollout have asked to be included!