Wish you could get advice from a workplace investigations expert? Register for Meric Bloch’s webinar series where he’ll address common questions and concerns from investigators like you.


4 Fraud Schemes the Pandemic Helps to Expose

4 Fraud Schemes the Pandemic Helps to Expose

The slower pace of business during COVID-19 makes some fraud schemes more apparent.

COVID-19 has presented lots of new opportunities for fraud, but the potentially slower pace of business also makes schemes easier to detect.

"When you’re not constantly running around like a headless chicken, you’ve got more time to notice things going on right under your nose," says Heinrich Long, privacy expert at Restore Privacy. "Especially with every business reviewing their finances right now and trying to stay afloat, any finance smudges will be especially apparent and I expect that those who have been involved in sketchy stuff will be receiving some retribution."

Recover more funds and prevent future fraud

Case management software helps you conduct better fraud investigations, track trends and focus your fraud risk management and prevention efforts. Want to know more? Download our free eBook.

Get the eBook

1. Vendor Fraud

Many industries have taken a hit to business since COVID-19 began. To save money, some companies have cut down on unnecessary expenses.

If you aren't ordering as many goods or services as usual but your books show that vendors are being paid the same as before the pandemic, you could be dealing with vendor fraud.

Say you normally order bags of coffee each month for the break room. This and other in-office expenses were quickly cut, as your entire staff is working from home. However, when you check your accounts payable records, payments are still being made to the coffee supplier.

While it could be a mistake, an employee might be logging the coffee expense and writing a company check out to themself in the amount of the expense. Vendor fraud like this can be tough to spot, as it's a regular expense during normal times and probably isn't for a large amount of money.

RELATED: Fraud Trends for 2020: Watch Out for These Emerging Risks

2. Expense Fraud

COVID-19 has changed business expenses. Conferences and seminars have been cancelled or moved online. Because of social distancing protocols, business meals with potential clients are a thing of the past.

It's pretty easy to tell if an employee is committing expense fraud.

Picture this: Todd had registered for a conference across the country before the pandemic hit. He got approval for this expense, including the conference fee, round-trip flights and two nights at a 4-star hotel. The conference was cancelled, but because Todd booked everything on his own, he didn't tell his employer and he was reimbursed for a trip he never took.

When employees are working remotely and/or paying for business expenses to be reimbursed later, it's harder to spot fraud. That's why it's so important to examine every expense report submitted.

Ask for receipts. Follow up with clients, conferences, airlines and hotels to ensure these expenses are legitimate. Trust your employees but don't take their word as the only proof of purchase.

RELATED: How to Conduct a Corporate Investigation During a Pandemic

3. Public Services Fraud

Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), private employers in the U.S. receive tax credits in exchange for providing employees with paid leave for COVID-19.

An accountant or high-level manager might change employees' leave for other reasons (e.g. vacation, regular sick days, personal days) to FFCRA leave in your HR system. The company would then receive a tax break that it isn't entitled to. The fraudster might plan to embezzle the extra cash or give themself a raise with it.

Make sure leave approval and logging goes through multiple people: the employee's manager, HR staff and a senior manager, at least. An HR employee should also review employee leave records quarterly to ensure no strange trends or signs of fraud are present.

"Internal audit departments need to remain vigilant," says Dr. Maria SanchezProfessor of Accounting in the College of Business Administration at Rider University. "If a company does not already have an anonymous whistleblower hotline, then now is the time to implement one."

Download our free Families First Coronavirus Response Act cheat sheet for employers to learn more about the Act's requirements.

4. Intellectual Property (IP) Theft

Protecting your company's intellectual property, trade secrets and other proprietary data is difficult in the best of times. But when employees are working from home, the lack of physical monitoring makes it easier to leak or steal this information.

Use monitoring software and programs that show who has accessed documents or files. Take the time to comb through these records carefully to look for suspicious activity (e.g. accessing data they don't need for their job, VPN use outside of business hours).

"Remind employees in writing that your company’s intellectual property belongs exclusively to your company, no different than the company’s furniture, computers and other equipment," suggests intellectual property attorney Kennington Groff of Lilenfeld PC suggests. In addition, "remind employees in writing that they may not share any company information with anyone outside the company without your permission."

Want to recover the maximum amount of funds and prevent future fraud schemes? You need a strong fraud investigation process in place. Download our free fraud investigation checklist to make sure you're taking all the right steps.