You’d probably never know an embezzler if you’d see one, as many of them can be normal, nice-looking people. That is part of the reason why detecting and dealing with these so-called pink-collar crimes are not as easy as you think. To make matters worse, the embezzler can be someone you trust, someone you have built a relationship with, making the matter more intimate and much trickier to handle. Amber Hawley talks about why these pink collar crimes occur and what its effects are with certified fraud examiner, licensed private investigator and social media intelligence analyst, Kelly Paxton. Also known as the “Pink Collar Crime Lady” and the “Fraud Hashtag Queen,” Kelly specializes in investigating women embezzlers and fraud therapy. Coming in from the world of law enforcement, she was used to investigating “bad guys.” Nothing about it could have prepared her for the whole new universe where “honest” people steal.
Pink Collar Crimes With The Fraud Hashtag Queen, Kelly Paxton
I have a special guest with me. I have the lovely Kelly Paxton, who is a Certified Fraud Examiner. She’s here to talk about a different topic. We’ve never had anything like this, which is fun. It is something that impacts businesses and small businesses alike. She’s going to talk about pink collar crimes. Welcome, Kelly.
Thank you for having me, Amber. I appreciate it. I love your show. I love the idea of helping smaller businesses. My thing is to not get money stolen.
It’s already hard in small businesses where we’re hustling and doing it ourselves or even if we have a team, we’re always looking at profit margins, trying to create new business, and try to be thoughtful of how we’re spending. Then there’s something like this that comes along. When you start building out your team and trusting other people, things like this can happen. It’s one of those things not to be freaked out about but also be thoughtful about.
That’s what I’m trying to do is to spread the word. I’m known as the #FraudQueen because that’s how I spread the word. Two of my hash are #TrustIsNotAnInternalControl. The other one is #HonestPeopleSteal. A little on my background, I was in finance and I ended up becoming a special agent for US Customs. I was used to arresting bad guys. I was armed. I got to drive fast cars and not get speeding tickets. I arrested your typical bad guys, drug dealers, money launderers and pedophiles. Life took a turn. My husband got a job in the middle of the country with no border. I took some time off. I got back into the law enforcement field.
We moved back to Oregon. I worked at a local sheriff’s office. I was their fraud analyst because I’m a Certified Fraud Examiner. One day, I’m sitting there and I’m realizing that all my suspects with the exception of one were women. These were nice women like women I’d go out lunching with. I google women embezzlers and the term ‘pink color crime’ came up. I got the domain name, but I want to be clear that it’s not women, it’s the position. That’s another hashtag, #ItsPositionNotGender, but women are in the low-level position. The definition of pink collar crime is low to mid-level employees, primarily women, who steal from the workplace. I get pushback a lot of times from women but I’m like, “The pushback should be the fact that 90% of bookkeepers are women.” That’s the bigger issue.
Those are the people typically in that role and those are people that we inherently trust, especially when it’s somebody who you know, you like them and you get along with them. I love it when you said, “Honest people steal.” It’s like, “That happens.” There are many psychological reasons for what could lead somebody to do that. It’s much easier to say like, “We think it’s always the bad guys. It’s got to be these mastermind criminals who do all these bad things,” and unfortunately, that is not the case.
We don’t relate to Bernie Madoff. Truth be told, people are like, “Those are a bunch of billionaires who got ripped off by him.” We do relate to the soccer team who gets ripped off because then your kid can’t go to that tournament. We relate to the water district that you pay your water bill out. Also, these people live in our community. We don’t live near the Bernie Madoffs of the world. We live near a nice woman or man who works at the water district. We see them and their kids go to school with our kids. I tweet stories about pink collar crime. I have all these hashtags, #StealingFromKids. There was a dad who stole $100,000 from a Little League in the Bay Area. That $100,000, those kids are not going to tournaments. They’re not getting new gear. Can you imagine telling an 8 or a 10 or even a 14-year-old, “That nice person who helps out with the club, they stole a bunch of money and we can’t do stuff.” That’s a hard lesson to learn at a young age and we hope we never have to have them.
You’re immersed in all of this because this is your work. Even as you say it, it reminds me of all these stories I’ve heard over time. It feels like those sports leagues or bookkeepers trusting those people who you would never suspect of something like that. The hard part especially as a small business owner is usually the people on your team, it’s such a small intimate thing. It feels like it’s a double betrayal because there’s already this betrayal of the relationship or how you felt they were with you, but then to have them do something like this that puts your business in jeopardy as well.
Money is replaceable. Maybe you have employee dishonesty insurance, even though it’s usually not a lot but money is replaceable. You can sell more of your time. You can sell more widgets. I joked I’m a fraud therapist because these people have never been through this. They don’t know. They think the cops are going to fix it and make it right in an hour like CSI embezzlement. That’s never going to happen. There’s a woman I know who interviewed a victim about his embezzlement. He said at the end of it he was disappointed in the justice system because the person didn’t get much time. He paid out a lot of money because like, “I’m not free. I do a sniff test and it’s $5,000 to sniff.” You’re losing time.
It isn’t the money. This is a person who’s come into your office, now with COVID maybe not coming into your office, but you’ve worked side by side with them for years. I had a dentist, $1 million stolen over ten years. She went to his children’s graduations from grade school, high school to college. She was part of the family. He was so betrayed and his wife was incredibly betrayed because the dentist said, “I would have given her the money if she needed it.” She didn’t. She had a bad gambling habit. That’s a whole other thing. She was part of the family. You’re the therapist, I can’t even imagine if someone comes in and it’s like, “My best employee that I love stole from me.” It may put you out of business.
When you gave that example of a dentist, I felt my stomach a flip. $1 million is a lot of money, but it is also the emotional impact because not only that betrayal of that relationship, but it makes it harder to trust. Also, to continue to do these things of delegating and being a good business owner, but also having this feeling of you don’t want to then mistrust new people coming in or have that feeling where they feel that you don’t trust them. That’s never going to be a good dynamic. There are these layers to it. I’ve talked to a lot of people and I’ve had it myself where I’ve had employees do things where they’ve stolen other types of things, not like money per se.
Although I will say in the beginning, because we would accept cash, checks and credit cards, now we’re all credit cards because everything is online, but I wasn’t on top of how I tracked the cash and checks. Even then technically, people could cancel appointments and then pretend it never happened. There is a part of me that’s like, “That could have happened.” I have had people do other things like stealing clients. I’ve talked to a lot of people where it’s something like that, where an employee will steal something else besides maybe not the money part that I know of. They’ll steal clients or all of a sudden say like, “I quit ending now.” It turns out they filtered all these clients over to the new business that they started. They even recruit employees. All of these betrayals that we go through and this dishonesty, it’s gut-wrenching as if entrepreneurship wasn’t hard enough. I can’t imagine that layer of what if somebody does it in such a way that financially you can’t stay in business?
You can see it in a lot of different ways, but one of the hardest things is some people will steal taxes, the money that’s supposed to go to the IRS. You would think the IRS would maybe be a little accommodating, no, they’re not. You could say, “My accountant stole all this money. Let’s call it good.” With the IRS, no. There are businesses that go out of business due to the embezzlement. I work out next to a woman and she is a counselor for wealthy people. There are issues for wealthy people and family dynamics and everything. When she found out what I did, she said, “I belong to this little group. We had a floor of an office building and we all paid for a receptionist. I always kept track of my bookkeeping.” She’s uber-wealthy. She was always on her money. She’s like, “We’ve had not once, but twice where the receptionist stole copays. The other therapists didn’t know about it. It never happened to me.” She’s money-oriented. People are like, “How can they steal copays?” I have dentists who didn’t even realize they took cash in their practice.
Being a therapist, if you had somebody handling the money, as my therapists do, they handle it. It is easy. As a business owner, I’m looking at my EHR and I’m seeing the accounting. If they say we got that money, I assume we did. Not because I had anything that I’m aware of, but I ended up putting in policies so that there was more tracking and there was more accountability so at least I had that peace of mind. That’s so gutting. You’re like, “Here you are trying to help people. You’re giving somebody a job and then they still do that.”
The statistics are messy on white-collar crime, financial crimes. They say only 15% of all embezzlements get turned over to law enforcement. A huge part of that is the shame and the humiliation of the business owner. If your car gets broken in two, you’re not going to have any problems telling your friends like, “My car got broken in two.” If you get a large amount of money or any amount of money stolen from you, you’re a little embarrassed. There’s this thing called victim shaming. It’s like, “How could they have let all that money? How did they not know that they were missing it?”
There was a nursery business in Oregon over $4 million. They post the story on Facebook, the news channel and the comments are like, “What is an idiot business owner who didn’t miss $4 million?” There’s a lot of victim shaming. People are embarrassed. I joked that there should be these embezzlement victims anonymous because I’ll go to a party and people will find out what I do. They’re like, “I have a friend who had this problem.” Other people will hear. All of a sudden they’re like, “That happened to me too or that happened to my boss.” It’s the secret society of victims of dishonest employees.
The way you’re describing it like you were saying, there might not be the statistics behind it but it makes it feel way more prevalent than I would have thought it was.
You’re talking about it and people’s ears will perk up. They’ll say, “That happened to where I worked.” It does happen quite a bit. Maybe if someone’s car got ripped off and they hadn’t locked it, they might say, “What were you doing not locking your car?” As a business owner, people will still be like, “How did you not miss it?” You’re like, “I was doing the next best thing.” We hire people we know, like, trust and have skills. We don’t hire someone thinking, “They might be a thief.” We don’t do that. I was dealing with bad people when I was a federal agent. The people that commit embezzlement, according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, only 4% of them have a criminal history. That does not mean they’ve never done it before.
You give me someone’s job history and if they steal within six months of starting a new job, they did it somewhere else. They may not have been caught or they were caught and the business owner is like, “I don’t ever want to see your face again. I never going to say anything bad about you, but I’m never going to say anything good about you.” These people don’t have a criminal history. If you say, “I’ll do a background check.” I’ve done over 1,000 background checks. They don’t have criminal histories. I call them my felon friends or my prison pen pals. I’ve written to women. I’m not going to write to men in prison because that’s a whole other thing.
I had this one woman who she wrote to me, “I had not so much as a parking ticket,” before she stole almost $10 million. She got sick and she was put on some medication and she got depressed and then she started stealing. There are people that haven’t “misbehaved before.” In the fraud world, we have this thing called the fraud triangle. It’s an opportunity, pressure and rationalization. Most fraud examiners will say you can only control for an opportunity. Meaning, remove any chance of someone stealing the money, but you have rationalization. I’m like, “That one is a little squishy.” In that, if you have a crappy tone at the top, your employee is not going to feel bad stealing from you.
If you go to Vail for continuing ed, then you take your whole family and you come back and you hand them $20,000 Black American Express to your bookkeeper who you’re paying $40,000 a year. He or she says to you, “How do you want me to break this out? I know you took the family.” The business owner is like, “It’s none of your business just pay it out of the company accounts. It’s a business expense.” That bookkeeper knows that the business owner is ripping off the government. What step is it going to take for them when their kid is like, “Mom, Dad, I need the last $200 to go on my ski school trip.” That bookkeeper is going to think back to that $20,000 vacation that you wrote off as a business expense. Don’t give them a reason to go there.
I could see that where you feel like you’re not being treated well, then you can justify to yourself like they deserve it or, “I deserve it because I’m being underpaid and undervalued,” which we know is the rationalization piece. I’m guessing that dentist, she probably wouldn’t have attended those graduations if he was such a jerk. I’m guessing it was a different scenario. Who knows? People are complex, but that makes sense that on one hand, you want to be a good leader and model ethical behavior.
I did this presentation. I call it my Masters of the Universe presentation. It’s business owners. This group is males. You have to have a certain amount of sales, income and number of employees. They all consider themselves to be ethical people. I gave him this example. I said, “It’s towards the end of the month. Your biggest client calls you up and says, ‘That contract, I’m not going to sign it until the beginning of next month for whatever reason.’ The business owner is going, ‘If I don’t have that signed contract, I’m going to be out of my loan covenants and I’m going to have to lay off employees. What’s a couple of days?’” All the Masters of the Universe, their ears perk up and they’re thinking, “I’m saving jobs.”
It’s a couple of days, but you do that and you call down to your accounts or your admin and say, “We’re going to backdate that contract.” They’re no dummies and they know what you’re doing. You’re technically falsifying. What does that go later on to that employee where the business owner sees it in their head, they’re saving jobs. This is a technicality. The other thing with COVID going on all fraud examiners and investigators, we’re seeing a tsunami of fraud. In the fraud triangle: opportunity, pressure and rationalization, we’re having financial pressures that no one has ever seen in their lifetime before. The business owner can’t control that.
I would also think the fear even if they might be okay at that moment, there’s the fear of, “What’s going to happen?” If you’re in the financial industry, if we’re assuming this person is a bookkeeper or something where they have that access, they’re probably listening and hearing about predictions of the recession and possibly depression. I would think that fear of things coming in addition to the reality of what’s happening.
There are also industries. I’m going to say dental because I know it so well that people never thought they would be laid off, never in a million years. My hygienist has worked for over 40 years and retired in January 2020. That’s an industry that is stable. If you’re an underwriter for mortgages, you’re going to say, “Dental hygienists for twenty-plus years, they’re not going to lose their job.” We have industries that are upside down. Even doctors, medical professionals, surgeons, because of COVID they couldn’t perform surgery. The industries that were considered to be stable, not anymore. That’s why everything has turned upside down. I don’t know if you use Reddit. I love Reddit. You put in PPP fraud. There are also people that are like, “We saw this big trucking company get $700 million. I want a piece of that.” They’re going to go after the smaller people that have committed fraud because it’s easier.
I heard some stories about people that I know like extended people that their business was already closed but then they still filed for PPP and stuff like that. You’ve got to use the previous year. People do dodgy things. You said something going back off as a business owner, our opportunities are around managing opportunities in which people can do these things and there are no checks and balances. There’s the justification or rationalization piece, which I do get. You wanted to be doing that ethical behavior. I love your example. The business owner rationalizing, “I’m prioritizing jobs.” It’s the same dynamic. Not that anybody deserves to be stolen from, but it is one of those things to be thinking about. That’s another layer of things.
The third one was opportunity pressure in rationalization. We’re having pressures as we’ve never ever had and we don’t know what’s coming. You can have a spouse that has had a great job and they got laid off. I’ve seen people that you would never think would get laid off or take huge pay cuts and they’re having to do it. They were plugging along. All of a sudden this happened, there are people who said, “A pandemic could come.” You didn’t have a bank account that was like, “When pandemic hits.”
The opposite, the data and statistics say that the average person and we’re talking all across, I don’t care if you’re making $150,000 or $40,000 or $15,000. The average person cannot sustain an unexpected $600 cost. It would impact them because of how we manage our money, budget and things. That pressure thing is something that is such a huge piece of our society because most people live paycheck to paycheck. They don’t have emergency funds. We live the “American lifestyle,” which is bigger, better, charge it. I do think that’s in and of itself, from a therapist, point of view, who I love working with people around that money stuff. I understand the stress of that and how easy somebody could fall into that place of pressure. It almost seems like we need a reeducation around that piece.
One of my other hashtags is, two of them, it’s #NeedNotGreed or #GreedNotNeed. The first time someone steals, I’ve done this work with a forensic psychologist. When she does the full meal deal for court or whatever, the deep dive, one of the first questions where she does ask is, “Tell me about the first time you stole.” I’ve done this and it’s ten minutes. It was a Friday afternoon, a check showed up. We were migrating systems. For some reason, it didn’t show up in either system. I walked to the bank. If I say to that person, “Tell me about December 2017.” They’ll go. “I don’t know what I stole.” The first time is when I do my presentations in person, I have that K+D carved into a tree. It’s carved into their head. After they get over that anxiety of it, it becomes a blur to them. That first time they crossed the line, it is huge. It is like, “Did you ever steal candy as a child?” I never did. I did take up a stuffed bear from a resort we used to go to. I felt guilty. I brought it back a week later and put it back on the display.
This is probably why you went into the field you went into. I will tell you I did because my mom did not let me have sugared gum. Like you were saying, I understand why. Psychologically, it makes a lot of sense. We become desensitized to something as we go on or deal with it more. I remember the store and I stole a pack of Juicy Fruit. We were home later that night. I’m not going to mention the store. I was five years old. I was doing something. I had it in my pocket or something. I’m sitting on the ground. It fell out. My mom is like, “Where did you get that?” She doesn’t buy me sugared gum. She was upset. She made me return it. It was the most humiliating thing ever. I can see where if you don’t get caught. I’m not saying like you said, “A lot of people do steal candy as kids, people do that thing.” I do think there’s something when you’re caught. It’s that, “That is not worth it.”
Another thing to mention in these whole COVID times is that in the recession of 2008, 2009, more men got laid off than women because it was construction, housing and mortgages. The statistics are showing that more women are taking the brunt of this financial crisis. Given that your show has more of a female thing, they say that 60% of the layoffs, furloughs, things like that are hitting women. According to Pew Research, 40% of women are primary breadwinners. What does that do to a family? That’s where I go to the honest people steal. These aren’t bad people. They aren’t the bad guys that I arrested, armed with a gun and my bulletproof vest and everything like that. These are people that look like you and me. When I do a presentation in person, I joke I could put a pink collar criminal in the audience and people would love them. They would never know. I want to do this and bring one but it’s logistically impossible. They are regular looking people. They don’t have a Scarlet E on them. Part of the reason they do it is because they’re liked.
Psychologically, that makes sense because it gives them this place of safety and security. I feel like they can manipulate people. When you’re well-liked, it’s much easier. As you talked about this, it made me think about, I see this more with women business owners than the men business owners I network with. I have been guilty when we first start hiring people, we try to hire either a friend or a family member because it feels safe and it feels like, “I can trust that person.” It’s one of those things too, where I imagine if we’re in a scenario, we’re going to say like, “That’s my cousin, that’s my good friend.” We might not be as diligent about double-checking them. I will admit I’ve done that before. I’ve hired somebody. I was like, “That’s my friend, Monique. I trust her with my children’s lives. I would never think about that.” When I started, I didn’t have those checks and balances in my business because I was like, “I have these people I know.”
I can show you stories all day long of family members who steal from family members. There’s a woman in either Vail or Aspen. Her sister was a doctor and she was the office manager. She stole a high six figures from her sister. A lot of people are like, “My niece works for me or my nephew works for me.” I can show you, family members, all day long who have stolen. I get that. People are like, “I know them. I know they went to school. I know they’re a good kid. They show up at family gatherings and things like that.” You don’t know what is going on behind closed doors.
As a therapist, I will tell you that is 100% true because this is the thing where think about your family members or friends that you’re close to and all of a sudden, they tell you something shocking because it’s reached that boiling point. It doesn’t mean these are bad people and you should be distrustful. It means you set up your systems to have those checks and balances. All of a sudden somebody is like, “We’re getting a divorce.” You’re like, “What?” Even if they’re close to you and some people even feel betrayed by this where, “I didn’t know you were struggling with this for so long. Why didn’t you tell me?” They feel betrayed as a friend. It’s shameful or hard or there are these stresses that we don’t know about. I can’t tell you how many couples I see where like one person has a major addiction and no one else in the family knows. If it’s gambling addiction or even drug addiction, that puts you in a place where we’re not being thoughtful about money, hence the pressure.
To be honest, people don’t talk about money. Your girlfriends get together and they’ll talk about sex. Will they talk about money? No. It’s that place you don’t go to.
When I go back to this piece of culturally as a society about how many Americans are in that place where they couldn’t even withstand a $600 unexpected expense, which could easily be your car or something. It would impact their lives. It would throw a wrench in things. COVID is huge. If you go back to that part of it, we don’t talk about money. I’ve said that as a therapist. I have people who will come in and tell me about every sexual position, every sex thing by the first possibly second session. The money, they get vague in there. Sometimes I’m like, “We need details here. You’re telling me something, but I don’t know what we’re dealing with.” I’m somebody who talks about all of that stuff, because I do think it is important. It’s not that you don’t have to. People want to be private, they can but to normalize talking about this stuff because that’s the thing. People feel so much shame. It’s like, “So and so lost their job three months ago. We’re struggling financially.” Nobody talks about that.
That’s the thing, male/female, there’s a little bit of a difference and there are some criminologists that have done this. Men have more of an unshareable need. Women, we gather on. I talked about money. Would I give my bank account balance to my friend? No. If a man gets ripped off, he’s not going to go out on the golf course and say, “I got ripped off by my cute office manager.” My dad was ripped off by his administrative assistant and he goes, “I knew she was smart, but I didn’t realize she was smarter than me.” I’m like, “Bingo. Just because you’re the business owner and maybe you have an IQ of 140, I don’t know if that’s high because you’re up here on the org chart and Sally’s down here on the org chart. That doesn’t mean that Sally is not as smart as you.”
The thing is Sally or Susie or Sam, they know every dime that goes in and out of the business. They know it because they’re the ones who are getting it and paying it. You as the business owner, you’re like, “I sold one million widgets and my profit is $10 a widget. I should have $10 million in the bank.” That’s what business owners will see. They won’t look to see if $10 million is in the bank because they’re calculating it in their head. They’ve got bigger things to do than those stupid little minor things. It’s like, “I can show you an astronaut, nuclear physicist, rocket scientists, all of the same person who was ripped off $750,000.” I would say his IQ is at the top and the person that ripped him off, not so smart. She’s in jail now, so she’s really not that smart. It doesn’t matter how smart you are. When I went to the Masters of the Universe presentation, I was like, “You are smart. You have made money. It doesn’t matter how smart you are. It’s a matter of access and opportunity.”
I‘ve always said money is, first of all, an emotional issue. The other piece of that is, as a business owner and I would say some of us, l fell in the place of burnout and distraction whereas other people are removed from that day-to-day because they’re out there selling or being the face. Even for businesses like mine, even a dentist, they’re busy doing the work that they have to trust that their front desk, their billing, and all of those people are doing their jobs. You can even be smart and paying attention, but it’s easy. I’m trusting reports that come to me or I’m trusting all of that stuff. I probably could do a lot more. It’s easy to fall into that. I love that you said it has nothing to do with intelligence. It has to do with opportunity. What would you say to somebody who is a small business owner? What would be your suggestions then based on everything that you’re seeing that the average person could do? I do a background check for my employees, but now I’m hearing that it’s worthless.
These are not expensive things to do. As a matter of fact, most of them are free. Number one, do you mail your bank statements home or to a PO box that only you can control?
Do people still get bank statements sent to them? That’s what I was thinking is when you said that most people steal taxes, I had this weird thing when I changed payroll services. For some reason, my old payroll service filed something for that said I had zero payrolls for the quarter. I don’t know why. The IRS contacted me and said, “We have $40,000 for you as a refund.” I was like, “What? No way.” It turns out it was because there was a mismatch and then the new payroll did it. I’m trusting that payroll service to be sending my tax payments.
Who approves your payroll? Do you approve your payroll?
That’s another one is the person who inputs the payroll shouldn’t be the person who approves the payroll. Another hashtag, #ItsNotRocketScience. The money is in the bank account and it goes to the suspect. It doesn’t go from the bank account to Panama, to Lichtenstein, to cryptocurrency. This is not master criminals. Mailing your bank statement home because I can do a bank statement and I can make you look like you have $10 million when you’ve got $1,000. We’ve got technology. You need to control that bank statement or you need to go online. I have a client, she went online because she was remote. She’s like, “$2,500, I see that. I know I paid that to ABC.”
One day, by accident, she clicks View Image the $2,500 that she thought was to ABC but was made out to the bookkeeper. She’s like, “My God.” I call that the fat finger keeper because she accidentally clicked View Image. In her mind, she’s like, “I knew I paid $2,500 to a check. I signed it.” The person went in and undid it and made it payable to them instead of ABC. Looking at every check, the image, that’s another thing. If a business owner says, “I only look at checks over $2,500.” Mix it up, say, “I’m going to look at a couple of checks under $1,000.” Keep your employees on their toes. Surprise them. They might go, “They only look at checks over $2,500 or $5,000. I’m going to write checks for $2,400.” That’s what they will do and $2,400 times 1,000 is a lot of money. If you only look at P&Ls for the quarter, look at the P&L for the month, keep them on their toes. They don’t know what you’re thinking. This is another one. With COVID, call them up and say, “There was this payment made on July 4th. Can you send me that invoice for it?” They think, “They’re paying attention.”
There are a lot of things about artificial intelligence. I was having a conversation with a fraud examiner. I said, “We can talk about artificial intelligence all day long, but if a business owner doesn’t even open their bank statement, no amount of AI in the world will stop fraud.” The number one way fraud is found is via tips, not audits, not the bank, it’s a tip. A vendor that calls up and says, “You haven’t paid me for three months.” You’re like, “No, I paid ABC. I wrote that check for $2,500.” They’re like, “We never got it.” A patient calls up and says, “I got my statement. I paid cash for that emergency visit. It’s not showing.” I love auditors and I love accountants, but they don’t look for fraud. You have to think like a criminal. Think like, “If I want to steal money, how would I do it in your business?” That doesn’t cost anything. It’s being creative.
That’s a smart question to ask yourself because then it says, “You figure it out.” You’re like, “What do I have to put in place to make sure that person feels that there are a check and balance that’s happening?” I like that. It’s getting creative with that. You don’t have to be in that place where you are acting like you can’t trust your employees. That’s also not going to be a good scenario.
My whole thing is I’m known as the pink collar crime lady. Before COVID, I train fraud examiners, auditors and CPAs. I want to get the message out to business owners because those are the ones who are losing the money or their businesses are closing down. My thing is to help keep your employees honest with the tone at the top and removing out opportunities. We don’t need front door locks except for the serial embezzlers and the serial burglars, but 90% of the people are not going to walk up to doors and say, “The door is unlocked.”
We want to keep people honest because it’s gut-wrenching. What if you have a nice woman and she’s got a young child, who’s baby sick? She’s stolen from you. You’re going to feel bad when you have to get rid of her and God forbid they go to jail. There’s a lot more than the money. It’s yourself. It’s knowing that the family will maybe be broken up. The statistic is 60% of women in prison have children under the age of eighteen. Think of that guilt you’re going to have. They stole from you. You’re angry. Are you going to say her kid or his kid is going to be sent to foster or whatever?
Especially going back to the thing of a lot of people does hire friends and family and understanding that it is not the safety net we think it is. If you look at it by having this stuff in place, you’re preventing the ripping apart of families, even your own family if that were to be the case. It’s being thoughtful to protect everybody in the family dynamic.
That’s what we want. You’re in business to make money. You don’t start a business if you don’t love it. When you get ripped off in that business, it changes. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen grown men cry. I’ve seen businesses go bankrupt because of it. Don’t allow it to happen and put guardrails in place so your employees don’t have the ability and don’t want to steal from you.
I appreciate it. I was excited when you reached out because I thought this is such a different topic that’s never talked about. The interesting thing is on this show, the money episodes are the most popular. It is a big deal. There are many layers of money. The emotional stuff, also not having the education because most of us are not trained or receive education around budgeting or how we spend. We’re winging it and then there’s all the mindset stuff. There are logistical stress pieces and all of that stuff. There are many layers of money. You get to this place where you’re like, “I’m crushing it. I have this great team. I’m a great leader. We’re going along here,” and something like this happens too.
I have a friend whose husband met me and he’s uber-successful like multimillionaire and bootstrapped it. When he met me, he looks at me and he was like, “I’ll never have to hire you. I hire good people. I trust them and no one would dare steal from me.” Eighteen months later, guess who calls me?
I have those moments as a therapist, when somebody says something bold like that where you’re like, “Okay then.” You’re like, “Here’s my card.”
It’s funny because now he talks about it to his close friends. He’s like, “Kelly came in. She knew exactly what was up.” It was his most trusted lieutenant. It wasn’t a woman. It was a trusted male who had a gambling issue. There are patterns. You see patterns in your therapy and everything like that. He’s one of my biggest proponents because he’s like, “It happened to me.” He was certain it wouldn’t happen to him because he’s like, “I’m successful. Look what I built from the ground up. I’m a tough guy and no one would steal from me.” I’m like, “It happened.”
I could see both sides of that one like, “I’m such a tough guy, intimidating, no one would dare.” Being that I’m networked with many therapists who are business owners, I could also see on the flip side, and I said this too when I was stolen from but in a different way, but still it impacted me financially. It was the same thing. Financially, I still was impacted. I was like, “I am good to my employees. I take care of them. I go above and beyond. I do so much and I’m thoughtful, open and have conversations, support them and ask them what they’re looking for.” Every time I’ve had something happen in that regard, I’m like, “How could they do that to me?” It’s that same thing of like, “I feel I’m a little bit safer because I’m such a good person to the people who work with me.”
That’s that pressure part of the triangle that you can’t control because you can pay your administrative assistant $1 million a year, which we would say might be a bit crazy. If she or he has a $2 million a year lifestyle, they will steal for it.
I see doctors, lawyers, engineers who make tons of money and are still paycheck to paycheck and always stressed about money. It helps. If you’re vastly underpaying people, it’s not helpful. At a certain point, there’s still that. Thank you. This was eye-opening. I remember when I saw it, I was like, “This is going to be good.” It’s interesting because sometimes too a lot of the women business owners I know, they feel like, “I’m small” or for some reason, it feels like, “That wouldn’t happen to me because I’m not at that place or that level yet.” I do see that even looking back to when I was beginning the things that I did and it wouldn’t be in the millions, but it could add up over time throughout the year and be significant. If people want to find out more especially if something like this ever happened to them, but even if they want to follow you and get more tips, where would they go?
I’m on LinkedIn, Kelly Paxton. I’m on Twitter, @PDXCFE. I tweet stories about fraud and ethics all the time. I’ve got PinkCollarCrime.com. There are a lot of resources. There’s a free download, The A to Z of Embezzlement, which is much fun. I love that. Hit me up on my website. I’m always willing to talk to people and help them out and spread the word that #HonestPeopleSteal.
Thank you, Kelly. I’ll be downloading and reading that document even from a fascination point of view.
Thank you, Amber, so much.
ABOUT KELLY PAXTON
Kelly Paxton is a Certified Fraud Examiner, licensed private investigator and Social Media Intelligence Analyst. She started her career at the Chicago Board of Trade.
While working at a financial services firm, a client was arrested on wire fraud charges. This ended up leading Kelly to a new, much more exciting career as a special agent for US Customs. Kelly specialized in white collar crime, narcotics and undercover operations.
Kelly also was a contract investigator for the federal government doing background investigations. She has performed hundreds of top secret clearance background investigations for the federal government.
From 2007-2009 Kelly was the fraud analyst at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office Fraud and Identity Theft Enforcement team. Kelly was responsible for preparing cases for prosecution.
What started as a research project for Kelly, investigating women embezzlers, has now become a website, domain name and very relevant and popular speaking topic.