Over the years I've dealt with scores of internal theft cases ranging from retail to the theft of intellectual property. Although each case is different and comes with their own unique set of challenges, the question is more often than not, "What can I do about it?"
I'm not one who likes to answer a question with a question but I usually have to respond with "What do you want to happen?" In other words, what would you prefer the outcome to be or what do you want to happen to the person or people involved? Common responses include; "I just want it to stop", "I want them to be prosecuted" or on rare occasions "I want to sue the bast*#ds".
All cases are circumstantial and there are a huge amount of factors that will affect the way in which we conduct the investigation. For example, how many people are suspected to be involved, what type of theft is it and let’s not forget the question of financial resources. If a client’s budget is relatively low then this will have a huge effect on how we plan and conduct the investigation and/ or implement preventative measures to stop it happening again in the future. The evidence required will also vary subject to your preferred outcome. If we take some of the common responses mentioned earlier as examples and provide some actionable advice for each:
Preferred Outcome - "I just want it to stop"
Best Actions - Implement security countermeasures such as CCTV, anti-theft devices, tracking devices etc. These will increase the chances of identifying who’s to blame giving you the option of confronting or firing them. Once these countermeasures are implemented, they should also act as a deterrent would should stop it from happening again in the future.
Preferred Outcome - "I want them to be prosecuted"
Best Actions - Acquire direct evidence connecting the suspect(s) with the accusation. Witness statements from other employees will not usually suffice however it may provide you with the necessary intelligence allowing you to implement the relevant measures to acquire the evidence, ideally, clear photographic imagery or video footage. The evidence that you provided wide will need to be proportionate, well documented and legally obtained. Failure to do this may result in it being ineligible to used in court and therefore completely useless. Video footage shouldn't be acquired using overt systems. This will simply act as a deterrent. If you want to ascertain video footage in order to prosecute a certain individual, you should utilise covert/ hidden cameras instead. However, there are legal implications that come with this and I would encourage you to research the relevant legislation in the country that you and your business operates in first.
Preferred Outcome - "I want to sue the bast*#ds"
Best Actions - You would only sue someone for either losses or damages. With that in mind, you should firstly consider what the damages/ losses are and by that I mean that you should figure out what financial losses you or your business has suffered as a direct result of that individual’s actions. In the UK, a judge will more often than not request that you prove how and why you have specified the amount that you are suing for. If this relates directly to the fiscal amount that has been stolen from you, whether that be cash or stock/ property, you should endeavour to document this in some form of report that clearly demonstrates that.
Taking someone to court for losses is a whole other board game. It is not a straightforward process. You will need to prepare evidence, create a witness statement which is something that is required by the judge in order to allow them to better understand the situation and hear both sides of the story prior to a hearing. This document should also be disclosed to the defendant (the person or people whom you are pursuing). We often work with clients on a consultation basis advising them the on the best ways to collate evidence in order to for them to take legal action against someone.
Let’s take a look at some case studies that I've been directly involved with:
The Client: A high end bar/ events venue in central London.
The Situation: The client had suffered unexplained financial losses amounting to approximately £13,000 within 8 weeks.
What I Advised: We initially worked with the venue on a consultation basis advising them on the best possible actions. Their goal was to establish who the responsible person was and to fire them. We oversaw the instalment of covert cameras directly above the tills as well as facing the tills. This was done because I knew that we would need a clear shot of the person’s face, not just the top of their head, in order to prove who was responsible. The following week I was involved with researching the footage from the cameras. Despite there only being two evenings worth of footage, it was a lengthy process. Reviewing audio or video footage always is.
The Outcome: The footage uncovered who the culprit was although, it wasn't easy as they were clearly well rehearsed at removing cash from the till covertly. The venue simply told the individual not to come back to work the following evening.
That bar now suffered hardly any losses as a result of theft and consequently are saving themselves just over £6000 per month thanks to our actionable advice.
In 2010 I was tasked with an operation involving a distribution company who had suffered a high volume losses of iPads that we stored in their London based warehouse. Because they were convinced it was staff related, I was asked to go undercover as an employee in an attempt to acquire relevant intelligence relating to the situation. This is commonly referred to as “infiltration”.
The role I had to fulfil was a delivery person driving a van from the warehouse to various offices all over London. The real purpose of me being there was to build relationships with the other employees and then to extract any information that I could from them. I was wearing covert recording equipment at all times but in this particular case it became very apparent very quickly that it was going to take longer than originally expected owing to the fact that I was spending around 95% of my time making deliveries which meant, I was alone. No one else to speak to let alone manipulate information from them. To make a long story short, I became increasingly frustrated and didn't particularly like being a delivery boy so I made arrangements for myself and the person who I believed to be the main suspect at the time to go somewhere together, alone. The whole conversation, of course, was being recorded. I told person X that I was skint and was seriously considering helping myself to a Mac Book or two to sell on. X told me that now was not a good time. When I asked why, I was in for a massive shock.
Anyway, the issue was solved thanks to issue was solved thanks to the undercover/ infiltration operation.
Dealing with internal theft as a business owner or manager is not a nice thing to have to do. It can be awkward, confrontational and sometimes emotional. Before taking action, you should be clear when making the decision on what the best possible outcome would be. For example, to fire the responsible party, to prevent it happening again or a combination of the two. This way you will be better prepared when it comes to taking the next steps. Remember that if you want to take legal action (i.e. sue for losses), then you should ensure that the defendant has the means to pay. As one of my solicitor client puts it “The first rule of litigation is, not to sue someone who doesn't have any money”.
Identifying who the person is will require an investigation. There are many private investigation companies out there but Vanquish® Investigation Services (ThePrivateInvestigators.com) deal exclusively with corporate clients (ranging from small business to international conglomerates) and high net-worth individuals who have fallen victim to fraud.
Preventative measures will require the advice of a security organisation. Vanquish Security & Investigation Consultants do exactly that, consult on security and investigation issues as well as provide high end close protection operatives (bodyguards) to celebrities and high net-worth individuals/ families.
Should you require any advice on this subject, please feel free to contact me directly and I will do my best to advise you on what the next best step is.