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We recently found out that another client of ours has been embezzled. Yes, I said “another.” Employees stealing from practices unfortunately happens way too often.

Though not rare, even just hearing about it is jarring. I find it sticks with me for days, like a black cloud reminding me that people can be awful. Of course, the effect it has on us is trivial compared to the impact it has on the actual victims of this terrible abuse of trust.

The point of this post is not to advise you on how to reduce your risk of embezzlement. (We can do that, so contact us if you want to learn more, or start with our short quiz on the subject. But this post is about the emotional impact of having been robbed and deceived by someone you trusted.)

If you’ve discovered that someone you relied on stole from you, here are some things I would like you to know.

  1. It’s not you, it’s them.Becoming a victim of embezzlement has nothing to do with your intelligence. Read that again: being a victim of embezzlement has nothing to do with your intelligence.

    Too often, victims of embezzlement feel ashamed that it happened to them. But though embezzlers are often clever, the difference between you and them is more about worldview than intellect. In some cases, people who were once honest find ways to rationalize their first theft while working for you. In other cases, embezzlers are repeat offenders who treat their crime as a trade, moving from employer to employer to ply it.

    Either way, it’s clear embezzlers have a completely different sense of what is right and wrong than you do. In all likelihood, you didn’t suspect them because you’d never consider doing something like this yourself.

    It’s wrong to blame the victim of any crime, even when the victim is yourself. The only person to blame is the perpetrator. But you can put your intelligence to work for you by learning how to avoid a recurrence. You’ll need to look at the world in a different way, so that you can set up internal controls that make it harder for would-be embezzlers. But who’s better at learning than a physician?

  2. Don’t let the embezzler destroy your trust.One of my recent experiences with a physician who was a victim of employee theft was not a client, but rather one of my own doctors. This warm, caring, and intelligent physician had been through the financial wringer by a practice manager who created a rat’s nest of faked, erroneous bookkeeping that was all-but-impossible to untangle. This experience traumatized the doctor so much, and she felt so ashamed and sad about what happened, that she found it too difficult to recover. She decided to leave her specialty altogether.

    What a terrible loss for her patients!

    Don’t let a single individual undermine all the good work you do for your patients. Don’t let the embezzler prevent you from pursuing the work you trained so long and hard to be able to do. And don’t let a single person with malignant intentions undermine your trust in the rest of your team.

    Most of the people you employ are trustworthy. Many of them work in healthcare for the noblest of reasons. One of the great benefits of taking a look at your internal controls and bolstering them is that by putting systems in place that create appropriate boundaries, you can trust your employees more freely.

  3. Do what you can to stop repeat offenders.One of the most frustrating things about embezzling is that once you’ve discovered the crime in your own business, you may learn the embezzler stole from other employers, too, and got away with it.

    Sometimes, there may seem to be little you can do legally to address the crime. But before concluding this, be sure to get qualified legal advice. Look for an attorney (or attorneys) with expertise in both the crime of embezzling and labor law, and get advice before taking any action. (One of the frustrating things you’ll need to deal with is understanding how not to violate the *perpetrator’s* rights–yes, unfortunately, you read that right. You’ll also want to be sure you don’t falsely accuse an innocent person, of course. So if you have suspicions, start by getting smart advice.)

    Even if you find that an arrest or prosecution is not feasible, you may be able to help others avoid hiring your embezzler. Before concluding you can’t give an honest reference because it might be legally risky to do so, get actual legal advice about it. Remember that you could also be liable if you don’t honestly respond if someone asks you directly whether you would rehire an employee or would recommend or trust them.

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