Diary of a Bad, Bad Bookkeeper: Deletions and Voids

Betty Bookkeeper Headshot

Dear Diary,

Let me just premise this entry by saying — crap crap crap crap crap.

I got a phone call from the accountant today.  It’s tax time, and the accountant wants to meet with me to go over the books.  Since I’ve never worked with this accountant before, I have no idea how closely they are going to want to look at the books.  I can’t help but fear that the accountant is going to figure out what I’ve been doing if he looks too closely at the books.  So I was in full blown panic mode all day.Betty Bookkeeper Headshot

So after thinking about it, I did what I could today to clean up the books.

I started by voiding out some of the checks and deposits that I had made, hoping that would be enough.  But then, when I realized that the checks were recording in the check register as “voided checks”, I had to rethink that strategy.

My solution:  I began deleting the checks and deposits instead.  That way, they disappear completely from all registers.

But then another problem popped up.  By deleting the checks and deposits, the bank balance began to change.  So, I went back and made sure to delete just enough to keep the balance close to what the original balance was.  Hopefully, it will be enough to fool the accountant.

Hopefully the accountant is a fool…

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How to Spot This Problem:

superhero_edited_no_maskWhether you have a good bookkeeper or a bad bookkeeper, deletions and voids are always a part of bookkeeping.  Mistakes happen and bookkeepers have to find and correct those mistakes to make sure their books balance.  One of the biggest benefits and downfalls of various bookkeeping programs like QuickBooks (especially QuickBooks) is that many of the programs make it really, really, really easy to do voids and deletions.  In fact, just doing a “Ctrl + D” while in any facet of QuickBooks will instantly delete that item.

Having said that…let me point out that bad bookkeepers will do an excessive amount of deletions, especially after reconciling the bank accounts.  Finding those deletions and voids are an excellent way to know if there is a problem with your bookkeeper.

While I am not familiar with EVERY bookkeeping program, I do know QuickBooks.  And if you have QuickBooks, it is very, very easy to find those deletions and voids.

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QUICK NOTE:  Now if you do suspect your bookkeeper of embezzling, the easiest thing to do would be to take a previous backup and “Restore It” to your QuickBooks program.  By doing this, you wipe out any and all changes that might have been made.  This is NOT a good idea if you want to know what your bookkeeper might have changed.  Instead, make a backup copy of the current program before restoring anything else, that way you can always go back and look more closely at any changes that have been made.

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Now, if you do have QuickBooks, finding these deletions are super easy.  All you have to do is go to Banking – Reconcile.  By doing so, you will then see a screen like this one with a “Locate Discrepancies” button:

By clicking on “Locate Discrepancies”, you can see ALL CHANGES THAT HAVE BEEN MADE SINCE THE LAST BANK RECONCILIATION.  If the account has never been reconciled, then nothing will appear here, which indicates a whole other set of problems.  If the account has been reconciled, you can find a list of every change that has been made and what the change was SINCE THE LAST RECONCILIATION.

After you have your list, simply “Undo (the) Last Reconciliation” to see what deletions were made in the reconciliation period before that.  You can keep doing this all the way to the very first reconciliation, and thus get a a fantastic picture of what has been deleted, voided and changed without your knowledge and after the reconciliation.  Remember… excessive deletions, voids and changes can mean that there is a problem with the bookkeeper…not necessarily that they are embezzlers so much as that they make a lot of mistakes.  But again, keep in mind that all bookkeeping has a certain amount of small mistakes that are caught every month when the reconciliations are done.

Diary of a Bad, Bad Bookkeeper (Day 112) – Theft by Signature Stamp

Betty Bookkeeper Headshot

Dear Diary,

Today the boss went on vacation and guess what he gave me…the Signature Stamp.  I couldn’t believe it when he handed it to me.  I think my smile was from ear-to-ear.  Doesn’t he realize how stupid it is to give me the signature stamp?

“Are you sure you want to give this to me?” I asked all innocent like.  In the back of my mind, I was already calculating how much money I might be able to get now that I had this new stamp.

“Of course.  I trust you,” he told me with an amused little smirk.

That smirk told me everything I needed to know.  My question had just convinced him that I was the sweet innocent young lady he had come to know so well.  Because – fool that he was – he sincerely believed that everyone was as open and honest as he was.

I almost felt bad about stealing from him.  Almost.  But then I would remember that I was making less money than everyone else in his company…everyone except the receptionist.

“I don’t know.  That’s a lot of responsibility,” I commented in the best hemming-and-hawing voice I could manage.  “I really don’t want to let you down.”

“It’ll be fine,” he assured me with a light pat on my shoulder.

Then he strolled out of my office.  An hour later, he left the office for good.  He was off to the Caribbean for the next two weeks.

I waited an hour after he left just to make sure he wasn’t coming back.

And then…

Over the next week…

  • I signed some IRS paperwork with that signature stamp.  Whether or not the IRS paperwork is accurate…?  Who cares.  At least it’s filed.
  • I opened a new cell phone account with his signature stamp…got the “Unlimited Text and Talk” package…for my whole family.  My daughter may only be 8, but she loves her pretty new pink cell phone.  And of course, I love my new iPhone.
  • I also got a new Business Gas Card Account.
  • I downloaded a new bank account application from online, signed it with his signature stamp and faxed the paperwork back .  Got instant approval.
  • I sent out several applications to local vendors to get lines of credit.  They all got approved.  I now own a chainsaw from the local hardware store (because I can), an electric lawnmower from Lowes, solar panels for the garden from the local garden supply store, and $300 window blinds from Home Depot.
  • I ordered a bunch of magazine subscriptions in his name and sent them to my house.  (I really love Cosmo.)
  • I walked into Office Depot and paid for a whole bunch of office supplies with a blank company check and his signature…including a new printer for my kids and a portable scanner for… I guess for the “heck of it.”
  • I went to the bank with a check made out to Cash.  (That was an easy $500.)
  • I paid my new car’s DMV bills with his check…and got my husband’s car smogged.
  • I signed a few petitions in his name.  He’s now a Democrat that actively supports breast cancer funding.
  • I also got a PO Box in his name at the local Mailboxes Etc. office.  All that new paperwork will never even come to the office.
  • …And I did a whole bunch of other stuff, although I can’t remember them at the moment.

You know what the best thing is, Diary?  When he comes back, he’ll have no idea what I’ve done.  Most of the paperwork will go to the new PO Box I opened in his name.  And even if he comes back and asks to see the bank statement for the first time ever, he still won’t know what I’ve done.  I can explain away the DMV and car-related bills as “work needed on one of the company vehicles,” the Office Depot check as “supplies we needed” and the Cash check as “Petty Cash” issues that came up.  All the rest…well… there’s just no way he can find out about that stuff.   At least none that I can see.

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How to CATCH this Kind of Theft:

You can’t.

You can’t catch this kind of theft because you’ve given them a free pass to steal from you.  And since your bookkeeper has access to all of your most personal information – social security numbers, DOBs, Tax ID Numbers – you’ve just made it super easy for them to take anything they want in your name.   That means – YOU are responsible LEGALLY for EVERYTHING they’ve done.  The IRS says you owe money, and they have your legal signature on file…then you have to pay it or try to fight it.  It’s your signature. And if you lose, you have to pay penalties and interest on top of the paperwork they’ve filed.

Okay – you CAN catch this kind of theft, but you’ll need a professionals help after the fact to find out what that bad bookkeeper did.  Now you can PREVENT this kind of theft by NOT giving your signature stamp to anyone who has access to your checks, credit cards, or any kind of personal information.  Maybe that person is your office manager or receptionist.  Maybe you can give it to your accountant and make your bookkeeper go to them to get your signature.  Either way, by adding a second person to the mix whenever you go on vacation, thus giving the second person you’re signature stamp, you are taking steps to actively prevent embezzlement while you’re away.

AND REMEMBER – IF YOU EVEN SUSPECT BOOKKEEPING FRAUD, ASK YOUR ACCOUNTANT FOR HELP.  You’re not crazy.

Diary of a Bad, Bad Bookkeeper: Why the Accountant Did NOT Catch Me

Dear Diary,

Let me just say – WhewWhat a relief.  Tax time is over and I got off scott-free.

You see, I was very concerned that when I handed over the business books to the accountant this year, I would be busted – caught – nailed to the wall.  I was sure I’d be in Shawshank before long, and I was almost tempted to clean up my act – almost.  I was sure I was cooked when the accountant called me a couple days ago and asked for the bookkeeping program’s “Accountant backup.”  How could the accountant NOT see at an instant that I’ve been embezzling from the company for months now, especially when they have completely access to everything I’ve done?

But I got lucky.

Turns out, the accountant only wanted the backup of the program so that he could enter the usual accountant adjustments like depreciating the assets, updating interest balances, and adjusting the Cost of Goods Sold account.  And thankfully, most of that information was updated from the reports that I created for the accountant’s perusal.

Still, it was a long couple of days as I waited for the Accountant’s copy to be returned.

And then the wait was over.  The accountant copy was back and the accountant had praised me to the boss.  He went so far as to say that I “kept a clean set of books.”

The boss was so happy, he gave me a raise.

I never thought I’d say it – but I’m glad the accountant looked at the books.  I can’t wait until next year.  I’m thinking, maybe I’ll create a second set of books… just in case the accountant ever decides to look closer.

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Why the Accountant Did NOT Catch the Embezzlement

E.T. Barton

This is a concern I hear from a lot of business owners that were embezzled from.  Even more often, I hear business owners that have NOT been embezzled from telling me that they are NOT worried about embezzlement because “they have an accountant.”  Both types of business owners usually believe that when they hand over their books at the end of the year, the accountant is automatically going to look deeply between the lines and spot anything suspicious.

FINDING EMBEZZLEMENT IS NOT THE ACCOUNTANT’S JOB… not unless they’re asked.

During tax time, accountant’s are bombarded with books from various businesses.  They have a very limited amount of time to do everything from sending out tax forms to making adjustments to various accounts.  In other words – tax time is an accountant’s “busy season.”  They often have a preset list of actions to do with any business’s books.

Another Example of Missed Embezzlement

Let me state this another way.  Recently, I have been working with a non-profit branch of a company that reports their profits and losses to their “parent” company.  Since the company is a non-profit branch (or chapter) and NOT a business that is run in the usual ways, this branch reports does NOT report directly to the IRS or an accountant.  Instead, they are sent a questionnaire from the parent company that they have to fill out and send back to the parent company.  They are not asked for any backup, which makes it even easier to steal from the branch.

Recently, when I reported to the parent company that I saw signs of embezzlement in this particular branch, the parent company said they would look into the financials.  When they looked over the reports that the embezzler made up for the chapter, they reported no signs of embezzlement.  They openly admitted that they had to have a closer look at the records and the bank statements in order to verify if their was embezzlement or not.  And since the branch (chapter) is not required in the non-profit policies and procedures, the branch could very well go under if a closer look at the books is not performed immediately.

How to Catch this Kind of Embezzlement

The only way for an accountant to catch this type of embezzlement is to have the business owner actually ASK the accountant to look for embezzlement.  If the accountant is not asked, they will not look closer.  They will go through their preset list of actions and look no further.  The other way is to have someone else – preferably another bookkeeper – look more closely at the reports and compare them to the bank statements.

Diary of a Bad, Bad Bookkeeper: (Day 72) Bank Balance? What Bank Balance?

Dear Diary,

Today, was a funny day.  The boss came into my office, and he had this look on his face.  It was a look like, I’m gonna get answers – no matter what.

Pasting an innocent expression on my face, I quickly hid the Mafia Wars game on my computer screen and turned my full attention to him.  “What’s up, Boss?” I asked.

“Hey, Betty.  I was just wondering – how much money do we have in the checking account right now?”

Oh Crap, I thought.  He’s not catching on to me, is he? “Why do you ask?”

“Well, I was checking out the iPads online, and I was thinking I wanted to get one of the ones with 3G—”

You and Me both!

“—But I don’t want to have to finance it.  I figured maybe we could pay cash for it.  So, I was just wondering what our bank balance was.”

Heck if I know.

Okay, maybe I do know, but I can’t tell him the real balance. “I’ll have to get back to you on that one,” I told him.

He looked around at the large piles of paperwork on my desk, his face twisting with irritation.  “You can’t just pull up some report and tell me?”  It was obvious he didn’t like my carefully gathered piles of paperwork, but I had to look busy.

“It’s not that easy,” I lied.  “I have so much work, it’s going to take me a while to get you an accurate balance.”

“I can wait,” he said, leaning against the table in my office.

It was then, I knew… I would have to pull out the big guns to get him to drop the subject.

Grabbing my stomach, I grunted and shifted in my seat.

“You okay?” he asked.

I waved a hand nonchalantly.  “Oh, sure.  I’m fine.  It’s just… I’m cramping.  I’m PMS’ing right now, and my stomach is really hurting.  I want to get you that balance, but I’m in so much pain.”

He stiffened, as if I’d slapped him, and quickly came to his feet.  Then, his face turned red so fast, I thought steam would shoot out of his ears.

“You’re hurting that much?” he asked, inching toward the door.

I whimpered and nodded.  I wanted to drive it home with a  few tears – just to see if I could get sweat to break out on his balding forehead – but I’ve never been good at making myself cry.  So instead, I did the whole wobbly chin thing.

“You know what – you’re busy,” he told me, from the hallway now.  “I can get it another time.  Just let me know the balance when you can.”  And with that, he turned on one heel and practically sprinted away.

I was hard-pressed not to start laughing out loud.  But I realized a hard truth.  Men will always run when it comes to PMS and tears.

I will definitely remember that next time.

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What Any Business Owner Has the Right to Expect From Their Bookkeeper:

I know a lot of bookkeepers may get mad at me for saying this, but in my opinion, when a business owner asks “What is my bank balance?” the bookkeeper should be able to answer fairly quickly.  A good bookkeeper will be doing the bank reconciliations regularly – as in, within a week of receiving the bank statements.  And even if they don’t have an exact balance because there are checks and debits outstanding, they should still be able to estimate fairly accurately what the current balance is.  If they can’t tell you the balance – or estimate it – or if they say it will take a couple days to do the bank reconciliation, take this as a warning sign.  The Bank Register is one of the most important things a bookkeeper manages, and they should be on top of it.  Personally, it has never taken me longer than an hour to do a bank reconciliation, and that’s with entering checks.  Obviously, give them time to calculate it, but it’s reasonable to expect the balance by the end of the day.

Diary of a Bad, Bad Bookkeeper (Day 127) – The Payroll Tax Scam

Dear Diary,

Today, I was bored at work.  Really bored.  I mean – surf-the-internet-looking-for-designer-handbags bored.  (And I don’t even like designer handbags…although I wouldn’t mind a Brighton.)

Anyway…it was Payroll Day, which usually I’m happy about.  When payroll comes around, I take my sweet time entering all the timecards and wages.  I tell the boss it’s an all-day project, but in actuality, I’m done before lunchtime.  I usually bring the checks into his office around 4PM, thus I get the rest of the afternoon to screw around online.

So there I was, surfing Bag, Borrow or Steal, when the receptionist walked in.  I quickly switched the windows on my computer to show the payroll.  Ironically, it was my own check.

“When do you think the payroll checks will be ready?” the receptionist asked me.

“Why do you wanna know?” I asked in my most annoyed voice.

She inched toward the door, clearly uncomfortable by my unwelcoming persona.  “It’s just, I have to leave at lunchtime, and I’m going on vacation for the weekend.  I was kinda hoping to get that check before I left.”

“Oh.  Well then, I’ll put a rush on your paycheck,” I told her.

Her little ears actually turned pink with pleasure as she thanked me effusively and scooched out of my office.

That was when I turned my attention back to the monitor and realized something.  I had inadvertently changed my Federal tax deduction amount from $200 to $0.  I don’t think I’d ever realized before that it was so easy to change the payroll taxes before cutting a check.

It was my Ah-Ha moment – like Oprah always talks about.  I realized in that moment, I could zero out my taxes to get more money with every paycheck, but then still pay the regular tax amount to the IRS each and every payday.  Then, at the end of the year, I could file my taxes and get a BIG-FAT refund.  Even better, I could make my boss overpay the taxes on everyone every week and file the paperwork at the end of the year declaring that all of those excessive taxes were deducted from my paychecks alone, and then get an even larger refund.  If I could manage to make the weekly payroll amounts the same every payday, the boss wouldn’t think to look twice at the money being deducted from the account.

The question now is:  how much can I get away with paying before the boss notices a difference?
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To Stop this Kind of Embezzlement:

This is one of the sneakiest types of embezzlement, especially because it’s common for an employer to pay a lot of money in payroll taxes.  Also, it’s common for bookkeepers to adjust individual government taxes for each pay period because usually, it’s only the individual employee who would have to face the consequences – that of dealing with the IRS at the end of the year and trying to get a refund or make up the difference.  The biggest embezzlement possibility happens when the final paperwork is filed at the end of the year – the paperwork that details out who paid what in employee/employer taxes.  It is on that paperwork where an embezzler can declare that they overpaid in their taxes and thus deserved to get ALL of that money back.

Therefore, to catch and prevent this kind of embezzlement, you need to:

1)      Look closely at the individual taxes of the person who creates the paychecks.  (This should be on an attached paystub.)  Compare it to someone who makes approximately the same amount during that period.  Look to see if the tax amounts are very different or only slightly skewed.  A big difference will either mean that the two individuals claim different deductions during the year, or that the tax numbers were overridden.

2)      Periodically, add up the individual taxes for all of the employees being paid.  Once you have a total tally, compare it to the payment that was made to the government.  (You should see this on the bank statement or credit card statement that was used to make the taxes.)  If the totals are not the same, then you definitely have a problem.  That problem could be embezzlement, or it could just be that your bookkeeper is dyslexic.

3)      Finally, have someone other than the person entering the payroll fill out the final payroll tax paperwork at the end of the year.  Even though it will cost you more to pay an accountant to do this, it could potentially save you thousands in overpaid taxes that an embezzler will claim as a refund.  All you have to do is send a copy of your bookkeeping file to your accountant, and then your accountant can take a closer look at anything that doesn’t look right.

If you have any other suggestions on how to stop this type of embezzlement, please share it.  The only way to stop embezzlers from destroying the companies they work with, is through educating each other about how they’re getting away with it.

Diary of a Bad, Bad Bookkeeper: Men Suck!

Betty Bookkeeper Headshot

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Dear Diary,

Today was another, “Not so great day”…but this time it was one for the books.

Today, when I went to work, I wasn’t feeling so hot.  In fact, I ended up puking into my office trash can just as the boss walked in.

Betty Bookkeeper Headshot“Hey,” he says to me, looking concerned.  “You’re sick?  You shouldn’t be here if you’re sick.  Go home!”

“She was sick yesterday too,” the traitor receptionist chimed in from behind him.  “She’s been sick for a while.”

“Have you been to a doctor?” the boss asked me.

“No.  I don’t need to go to the doctor, okay!”  I snapped.  “I’m fine.”

“You’re three shades of green,” he countered.  “You should definitely go home.  You may have the flu.  Or even worse, food poisoning.  In fact, I insist you go home until you get better.”

The receptionist gave me a triumphant smile from over his shoulder.  The witch never liked me.

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“I won’t get better for another eight months, alright!” I bit out, my eyes narrowing at her.

The receptionist’s eyes widened.  She understood right away.

My boss didn’t get it, of course.  He never does.  “Why do you say that?  What happens in eight months?”

“That’s when she has a baby,” the receptionist chimed in.

The boss’s eyes widened, his expression immediately going to my still-flat belly.  “You’re pregnant?”

“Yes, I am,” I growled.  And I don’t know who the father is, I silently added.  It was either my husband (who would be over the moon if he thought I was pregnant), or Ernie (the employee who had blackmailed me into looking the other way while he stole from the company…let’s just say that things have progressed between us).  If it’s Ernie’s baby…well, he’d probably be thrilled too.

Men Suck!

“That’s fantastic!” the boss said.

You suck too!

His expression changed as he looked at me though.  I could see the exact moment when he realized this was going to affect my place in the company sometime in the near future.

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Heading him off, I said, “But you don’t need to worry about me missing any work.  I’m not much of a stay-at-home mom.  I won’t need more than a few days off from work when the time comes.”

His face twisted.  “Are you kidding?  That’s a very important time in a child’s life.  It’s when they bond with their child.  You’ll want more than a few days off of work.”

“You forget…I have two children already.  There’s no way on Earth I want to spend any more time with a child.  Trust me.  I’ll be back for work fairly quickly.”

“Oh don’t be foolish,” the receptionist chimed in.  “You’ll definitely want time off.  And I know just the place to call to get a temp in here.”

Did I mention I hate the receptionist?

“That sounds like a good idea,” the boss said, smiling at her like she was brilliant.  “Why don’t you call them and see how much they cost.”  Turning back to me, he says, “And you don’t worry about anything, Betty.  When the time comes, you’re job will be here.  We love having you here.  You take all the time you need to bond with your baby.  In the meantime, can I get you something?  Are you hungry?”

I could feel my teeth grinding.  “I’m fine.”

“Well then, I guess I’ll let you get back to work.  You take it easy.  And don’t worry about the trash.  I’ll send Ernie in to empty that for you.”

Then the boss left, shuffling the receptionist off with him.

So now I’m freaking out.  Time off?   I can’t take time off.  What if someone catches onto what I’m doing?  What if the next bookkeeper is better than me?  What am I going to do?

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A Warning Sign

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While this article is a bit more of a dramatization then I usually go for, there is a point here.  The point is, this is a warning sign:

Whenever a bookkeeper doesn’t want to take a vacation, maternity leave, or even call in sick…it could be a warning sign.

You see…good bookkeepers aren’t worried about people going through their offices, whether other staff or other bookkeepers.  Good bookkeepers make themselves replaceable at all times (in my opinion).  The best bookkeepers have nothing to hide or fear.

Embezzling bookkeepers, on the other hand, fear anyone going through their paperwork, their computer files, and sometimes even their filing cabinets.  They fear being caught all the time.  Taking time off for maternity leave or going on vacation is often when they get caught.  Instead, they spend as much time in the office as they can, protecting the terrible things they’ve done, as well as their secrets.

How to Know For Sure

As always, if you are concerned that your bookkeeper is embezzling from you, hire someone to look more closely at your books.  Accountants do not do this unless asked.  Virtual Bookkeepers or Independent Bookkeepers are an excellent source for looking for fraudulent activity.

Start by getting a backup of your bookkeeping program when your bookkeeper is not around, and send it to the hired auditor.  Also get copies of your bank statements.  These two things will help them get started looking for embezzlement.  From there, they will either ask for copies of suspicious checks, credit card statements, receipts…and any number of things.

The key is…if you suspect, don’t site blindly by.  Take this as a warning sign and ask someone for help.  It’s better to spend a few hundred dollars hiring an auditor then to lose thousands and thousands to an embezzler.