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Theft in the Workplace: Prevention, Detection and Investigation

With the right tools, strategies, policies and communication, you can deter theft and reduce your losses.

Posted by Ann Snook on October 28th, 2019

Each year, employee theft costs US businesses $50 billion, or about seven per cent of their annual revenues. Even more concerning, 75 per cent of employees say they’ve stolen from their employer at least once.

Regardless of your industry, theft in the workplace can affect employee morale and your bottom line. With the right tools and strategies, though, you can prevent, detect and investigate employee theft to reduce your losses.


Watch this webinar from security expert Timothy Dimoff for tips on understanding, preventing and detecting employee theft.


Workplace Theft Prevention


The number-one way to prevent theft in the workplace is to promote a good work environment. Make sure employees feel appreciated, are paid fairly for their work and that they’re treated well. Happy employees who like their jobs and believe they’re compensated appropriately are less likely to steal than those who don’t.

However, being happy with their role won’t always deter a potential thief. Greed, financial need and even the thrill of stealing are top motivators of theft in the workplace. For this reason, reduce opportunities to steal wherever possible. For example, never task one employee with carrying out all steps of a financial transaction (i.e. writing and signing checks). With proper checks and balances, you ensure it’s not easy to steal.

Strict security measures can also reduce your risk of theft and fraud. Lock up cash, medicines and other high-value items you store in your workplace. Restrict access to financial and personal data. Get a security audit of your business operations to uncover weak points.

Finally, implement strong theft and data theft policies for your organization. Communicate these policies—and the consequences of breaking them—to every employee. Apply the policies universally to send the message that theft of any type or size won’t be tolerated in your workplace.


RELATED: How to Write a Workplace Theft Policy


Workplace Theft Detection


An astounding 75 per cent of theft in the workplace goes undetected. Even if you think your organization doesn’t have a theft or fraud problem, you can’t afford to operate without robust detection measures.

First, set up an anonymous tip line. More fraud is detected by tip than any other method. Offer multiple avenues, such as a webform and phone number, for employees to report suspicious activity in the workplace. Advertise the hotline via email and posters.

Remind employees that failure to disclose a coworker’s known theft has consequences. Create a culture of ethics in your workplace, rewarding employees who follow the rules. You may even want to offer a financial incentive for whistleblowers.

While theft detection does happen by accident sometimes, don’t rely on it. Internal controls, such as segregating duties and regular internal audits, can help you spot anomalies before they turn into big losses.

Security expert Timothy Dimoff provides these tips for detecting employee theft: “Checking for frequent cash balance variances, inventory shortages, missing tools and equipment, changes in employee behavior or spending patterns, and complaints from other employees about missing items can produce a great deal of information.”


RELATED: 6 Action Steps to Take When Confronting Employee Theft


Workplace Theft Investigation


When investigating theft in the workplace, according to Dimoff, you have three main goals: figure out who was involved, try to recover the stolen funds or property and prosecute the thief under applicable laws.

In order to meet these goals, start by identifying employees at every level who had the access and opportunity to have committed the theft. Keep details confidential to protect not only the suspects, but also your organization in case of a lawsuit. Document evidence and information you gather at every step of the investigation.

When you’ve compiled strong enough evidence against the thief, decide on discipline, including termination if warranted. To avoid a potential defamation suit, list your reason for termination as a policy violation, not “theft.” Afterwards, amp up security. Have a terminated employee escorted off the premises and deactivate access cards and passwords to reduce your risk of retaliation. If it’s a high-risk termination, consider hiring a security guard.

The final key to a successful employee theft investigation is using case management software. Unlike paper systems or spreadsheets, a case management solution offers:

  • an anonymous tip line or integration with an existing tool
  • all case information (including evidence and related documents) in one place
  • role-based access for security
  • tracked, logical workflow
  • one-click investigation reports
  • reporting tool for risk analysis
  • web-based platform for anywhere, anytime case access


Learn how case management software can help you prevent loss in our free eBook.

Ann Snook
Ann Snook

Marketing Writer

Ann is a marketing writer at i-Sight Software. She writes about issues related to investigations of fraud, employee misconduct, corporate security, Title IX, ethics & compliance and more.

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