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Does Business Insurance Cover Embezzlement?

When business owners rank the risks they face, they rarely put embezzlement close to the top of the list. But just because embezzlement is not one of the most common concerns does not mean it’s not consequential.

According to Entrepreneur, 30 percent of embezzlement crimes end up costing companies upwards of $500,000. And those damages are not limited to the largest companies. Up to 80 percent of all embezzlement happens at small businesses with fewer than 150 employees.

It might be tempting to conclude that while embezzlement happens at a lot of companies, it couldn’t happen at yours, right? After all, you have carefully vetted and selected your staff and cultivated a culture of trust and professionalism. Unfortunately, almost every company that falls victim to embezzlement says the same thing.

Business owners who are either savvy from the start or victims of past financial crimes know they need to be protected against embezzlement. Business insurance extends coverage, but embezzlement protection is not a feature of every policy. Typically, embezzlement is only included as part of a commercial crime/theft coverage package. And this is not a standard feature of every business insurance policy.

Your first step should be to review your coverage documents and determine with certainty whether you have coverage. The second step is to evaluate your coverage limits and determine whether they provide adequate protection based on the current size and strength of your business. The final step is to make a major effort to prevent and protect against any instance of embezzlement. Here are some suggestions:

Look Harder at New Hires

No one is going to advertise that they are eagerly or potentially going to embezzle money. In order for businesses to avoid inviting bad apples into the ranks they must rely on a rigorous pre-screening process for every candidate. This should incorporate a background check that becomes more rigorous for employees at higher levels or with access to sensitive information/transactions. Focusing on security may complicate the recruiting process, but it’s reckless to hire someone who does not inspire complete confidence.

Conduct a Reference Check

It’s fairly easy to weed out candidates with a past history of embezzlement. Much harder is identifying people who could commit the crime but haven’t done it yet.

Reference checks are a useful tool because they let you have an in-depth conversation with someone who knows this person well. Ask open-ended questions about the candidate’s ethics, professionalism, and respect for rules. And don’t be afraid to ask outright if someone was ever suspected of financial improprieties or expected to commit them in the future.

Implement Checks and Balances

How you recruit is important, but how you operate is even more important. Instead of leaving the door open to embezzlement, assign someone to oversee approvals for checks and wire transfers. This person can work in payroll or they could work outside the accounting department. It doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that you have a reliable record of transactions and a designated employee to follow up with if things go sideways.

Finally, implement technology that is able to spot discrepancies and inconsistencies. Companies that are self-aware about their vulnerabilities and proactive about improvements do a better job of preventing embezzlement.

Expand Your Understanding

Misconceptions about embezzlement may dampen your ability to fight it. First, money is not the only target. It’s also possible to embezzle intellectual property that could be immensely valuable, or to embezzle physical property like equipment or cash. Second, the average embezzler is not a young and untested employee. In fact, the average age of embezzlers is 49, and females are more likely to embezzle than males. Don’t let your biases about how embezzlement works lead you to minimize the risk or sabotage your defense.

Be smart and be safe!