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How To Spot Employee Theft and How to Stop It

Updated: Feb 16

Today, we're diving into a critical topic for every business owner and manager: employee theft. While it’s a subject no one likes to think about, the reality is that employee theft can happen in any business, large or small. Understanding the various forms, it can take and knowing the signs to look out for are key to safeguarding your business.

So, let's explore the common ways employees may engage in theft and how you can detect and prevent these activities.

Section 1: Common Methods of Employee Theft

1. Setting Up Fake Vendor Accounts: This is a sophisticated form of theft where an employee creates nonexistent vendors. They issue phony invoices to these fake vendors and then cash the checks meant for them. It's a deceitful cycle that can go undetected without stringent financial checks.

2. Stealing Checks: Here, employees forge signatures on company checks. This form of theft can be particularly damaging, as it directly taps into your business’s financial resources.

3. Stealing from the Register: This method involves employees voiding transactions after accepting cash payments, effectively pocketing the cash while ensuring the register balances at the end of the day.

4. Falsifying Expense Accounts: Employees might submit fake or duplicate expense reports, claiming reimbursement for expenses that were never incurred.

5. Buddy Punching/Time Theft: Time theft is a significant issue. This happens when employees clock in or out for each other, or falsely claim hours they haven't worked.

6. Stealing or Falsifying Inventory: In this scenario, employees either physically steal inventory or set up fake suppliers and record payments for goods never received.

7. Stealing Data: The digital age has made data a valuable asset. Employees may steal customer information, trade secrets, or other sensitive digital assets.

8. Payroll Schemes: Involves creating ghost employees or inflating hours or pay rates, leading to unauthorized payroll disbursements.

9. Expense Reimbursement Schemes: Employees inflate or fabricate expenses, draining company resources under the guise of legitimate business expenditures.

10. Check Tampering and Unauthorized Withdrawals: Employees illicitly write company checks for personal use, a direct theft of company funds.

11. Skimming: A more direct form of theft where employees take a portion of company revenues for personal gain, often seen in cash-based businesses.

12. Direct Theft of Company Property: This is straightforward – employees steal items like office supplies, electronics, or other valuable company property.

13. Fraudulent Financial Reporting: Employees manipulate financial records, either for personal gain or to cover up other thefts.

14. Kickback Schemes: Involves employees receiving personal benefits from vendors in exchange for business favors, a form of corruption that undermines your company's integrity.

Section 2: Spotting the Signs of Employee Theft

Now, let's talk about the warning signs. These can range from subtle behavioral changes to clear financial discrepancies. Keep an eye out for:

  1. Discrepancies in cash amounts or inventory levels

  2. Missing merchandise or supplies, which could indicate physical theft.

  3. Unusual occurrences like vehicles parked close to exits or unlocked exits, possibly facilitating theft.

  4. Behavioral changes in employees, such as working unusual hours, showing poor performance, or being overly defensive.

  5. An employee’s lifestyle that doesn't match their salary could be a sign of unaccounted income.

  6. Frequent, unjustified complaints about employment conditions.

  7. Unexplained close relationships with suppliers or customers, which could hint at kickback schemes.

Section 3: Preventing Employee Theft

Prevention is always better than cure. Here are some measures you can implement:

1. Implement Strong Internal Controls: Have checks and balances in your financial processes. Ensure no single employee has control over all aspects of any financial transaction.

2. Conduct Regular Audits: Regular, surprise audits can deter theft and uncover any discrepancies.

3. Monitor Operations Closely: Keep an eye on inventory, cash flow, and other critical areas of your business.

4, Anonymous Reporting Channels: Provide a safe way for employees to report suspicious activities without fear of reprisal.

5. Rigorous Recruitment Processes: Conduct thorough background checks and reference checks on all new hires.

6. Educate Your Employees: Regularly train your staff on ethical practices and make them aware of the consequences of theft.

7. Legal Consultation: In cases of suspected theft, consult with legal counsel to ensure you handle the situation correctly and lawfully.


Employee theft can be a silent scourge that undermines your business from within. However, with vigilance, understanding, and the right preventative measures, you can significantly reduce the risk and protect your business’s assets and reputation. 

Remember, creating a culture of transparency and integrity goes a long way in discouraging such behaviors. Encourage open communication, foster a positive work environment, and lead by example. When employees feel valued and part of a team, they're less likely to engage in harmful actions against the company.

That wraps up our deep dive into employee theft and how to combat it. If you found this video helpful, please give it a thumbs up and subscribe to our channel for more insightful business tips and strategies. 

Don’t forget to share your thoughts or experiences in the comments below – we’d love to hear how you tackle this challenging issue in your business. Stay vigilant, and see you in our next article!

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