Will security cameras covering my front desk stop embezzlement?
I get asked this question a lot when I am speaking to groups of dentists, so I decided to share the answer, and the reasons behind it, with you.
I have seen some consultants advocate cameras to counter embezzlement; their arguments center around deterrence and increased possibility of detecting a thief.
While I think front-desk cameras may be a good idea for other reasons (such as catching couriers who, finding your front desk unattended, take the opportunity to steal something), their impact on embezzlement is minimal.
The first thing I'll mention is that we deal with hundreds of embezzlement matters each year, and I can't remember a thief ever being caught on camera in one of our investigations, despite working in a number of offices where cameras were present.
I think there are two reasons why cameras are ineffective at stopping embezzlement.
1. Monitoring is virtually impossible. I've often said that cameras have value for events when the time of the event can be approximated. If a monitor is stolen from your reception area, it is possible to determine within a short time window when that took place, so it is easy to review video footage.
However, embezzlement can happen at any time, so the amount of video to watch is huge. If your office
is open for 35 hours per week, and you need two cameras to properly
cover the front desk activity, you are capturing 70 hours of video per
week. When are you going to watch it all? Even sped up by a factor of
5, you would need to devote 14 hours per week to watching this video,
which is a commitment that I'm pretty sure most dentists will not make.
2. Thieves Adapt. If you have an undetected embezzlement taking place and you install cameras, a thief will plan how to continue embezzling without being caught on camera. And judging from what we see, they are very likely to succeed.
So what does work in controlling embezzlement? Since the majority of embezzlers display at least two "embezzlement-like" behaviors, the best detection tool available is our Embezzlement Risk Assessment Questionnaire. You can get yours here.
Thanks, as always for reading.
David Harris, MBA, CPA, CMA, CFE, CFF
Chief Executive Officer