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The SBC Small Business Newsletter

presented by the Peak Small Business Center



March 1, 2003

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Staff Article

by: Cary Christian

Most people are painfully aware that the likelihood of falling victim to fraud is much greater now than ever before. In large part, the Internet has become a major tool for those who seek to commit fraud. But the vast majority of business fraud still occurs offline and is carried out by employees of the defrauded business.

As a small business owner you may not worry much about internal fraud. Generally, small businesses are not as susceptible to fraud as large businesses are because the owners are better able to monitor and control the business without delegating sensitive responsibilities. But that does not mean that fraud cannot and does not occur. It does. And as your business grows, the opportunities for fraud will increase dramatically. In fact, the single greatest factor in someone deciding to commit business fraud is ORGANIZATIONAL OPPORTUNITY. If your business provides the opportunity, someday someone will take advantage of it.

For example, if the same person in your organization handles the billing, the posting of cash receipts, write-offs, and makes all bank deposits, what's to prevent them from someday making off with some of your hard earned cash and using their position to cover it up? You've given them the opportunity. If they ever find themselves strapped for cash, even the most moral employee might be tempted.

It is far easier to prevent fraud than it is to detect fraud after it has been committed. Establishing an effective fraud prevention program requires thought and sustained effort, but the steps to implementation are relatively simple. Let's look at a few things you can do.

1. Always enforce vacation time. Most employees who commit fraud put themselves in a position where they must remain on the job continuously to cover up fraudulent activities. Just knowing they must take vacation every year is a deterrent because it increases the risk of getting caught.

2. Properly assign authority and responsibility for business functions. Like the example above, do not give a single employee control over all the functions required to cover up fraudulent activities.

3. Utilize job rotation. If an employee must periodically rotate out to another job function, he or she will realize the risk of discovery is much higher. Like enforced vacations, this can be a powerful deterrent.

4. Utilize surprise audits. Even if you do not have internal auditors, have your accountants come in periodically and audit specific functions of your business where fraud opportunities are most likely to occur. The purpose of these surprise audits is not necessarily to uncover fraud, but to let employees know that it is likely to be uncovered if committed.

5. Effectively communicate your company's policies on fraud. Make sure every employee is aware of what activities constitute fraud, what the punishments will be and the tools you are using to combat fraud. Let them know that enforced vacation time, job rotation, etc. are designed to deter fraud. When employees know you are proactively seeking to detect fraud, the communication itself becomes a deterrent. Increase the perception that fraud will be detected. Also, be aware that it can sometimes be difficult to fire an employee, even when you have uncovered fraudulent activities, if you have not appropriately communicated your policies and what constitutes unacceptable behavior.

6. Establish economic incentives for voluntary compliance with your fraud prevention program. Make it worthwhile for your employees to join the fight. Set up formal procedures for employees to use to report fraud. Set up a reward structure.

7. Minimize employee pressures by instituting employee assistance programs. Many times fraud is committed by employees who are undergoing severe hardships and have nowhere to turn for help. If you cannot afford a formal employee assistance program, at least have an open door policy where employees feel they can come to management for help when they really need it.

8. You must be willing to punish fraud when it is found, no matter how small. Of course, the punishment should fit the crime. Remember that somebody fudging their expense report might seem to be a minor issue, but it might be fudging an expense report today and absconding with thousands of dollars in skimmed receivables tomorrow. Once an employee learns small frauds are possible, larger ones are just over the horizon. You can use suspensions, demotions, salary cuts, probation, dismissals and referral for prosecution for differing levels of seriousness of the violation. If you are not willing to punish when fraud is found, your fraud prevention program will be useless.

Remember also that you must ensure your employees do not commit fraud in any way for the BENEFIT of your company. For example, your controller decides to commit tax fraud so the company can keep more of its cash. Your company is responsible for every act of its employees, whether it is aware of those acts or not and regardless of whether the company participates in the activity. And that means YOU as the small business owner are directly in the line of fire. So make sure your fraud prevention program covers outward-looking activities as well as internal activities.

Copyright (c) 2003

Guest Article


By Merle

Who says life is fair? Just as in the "real world," there are those online who just seem to have it all together. Their sites look good, they have brisk traffic, and their customer service is top notch. You can spot a site like this instantly when you stumble across it, as you stand in awe and admiration of one of the Internet" Haves."

So what qualities does a site need to cross over to the "Haves" elite group? There are a few standard components they all share, so pay close attention, and I'll clue you in on their little trade secrets.

1) Good Design and Layout: OK, this may seem like a no-brainer but if you browse around the Net for any length of time, it's obviously not. Many people buy a copy of Front Page and voila -- envision themselves web designers. Many of these sites look like they were put together by a 5-year-old having a bad crayon day. If you don't know enough to put together a decent looking site, please hire someone to do it for you. Nothing will turn your customers off faster then a bad looking site.

Remember to leave plenty of white space, and don't place white type against a black background, please. Don't use more than two or three colors for the entire site, use plenty of catchy titles and headers and keep your paragraphs short, as people read differently online than off. Most just scan pages instead of reading fine detail. For help with your site, check out Web Monkey.....

2) Good Navigation: You might not think this is too difficult, especially if your website is small. But it can become a real problem as your site continues to grow.

If you use Javascript for your top menu, make sure to include a text link menu at the bottom of each page. This makes it easier for the search engines to index your pages and for your visitors
who may not want to scroll back to the top of the page just to make a new selection.

Make sure you put a title or some other form of indicator on each page or within the menu itself, so your guests know where they are at all times within your site. Keep your menu consistent across all pages of your site (in other words, don't get them lost). You may even wish to include a search function to allow your visitors to find exactly what they are looking for quickly. A good free one is... 

3) Opt-In List: I'm going to say this one time, so listen carefully. If you're going to be doing business online you MUST HAVE a way of collecting your visitors' email addresses and build your own opt-in list. Usually this is done in the form of offering an ezine. An ezine is an electronic newsletter dealing with the topic of your website. For example, someone who sells pet products might start an ezine on pet care tips and tricks.

If an ezine is too much of an undertaking for you, just start a list to notify your guests of updates, sales or specials. Most visitors will not buy from you the very first time they visit your site. You must have a system in place to collect their emails and contact them down the road for a future sale. An ezine helps you to "build relationships" which will lead to increased sales.

4) Update It: If you have graphics, links and forms on your website, make sure they work. Nothing looks more unprofessional then a site loaded with dead links and broken graphics. Keep your site fresh and updated on a regular basis. To check your site for broken links try

5) Contact Info: This should be simple enough but many times is overlooked. Nothing makes you appear as if you've got something to hide than not including some form of contact information on your site. Try to avoid PO Boxes, as many times they may make people suspicious. Try to offer more then one avenue of
communication like an email, phone or fax number. Answer all of your email within 24 to 48 hours or you'll lose customers.

6) Fast Loading: Whatever you do, don't load your site with heavy bloated graphics that take forever to download. Also, take it easy with Flash and animation. Don't make your guests seasick with too many things that shake and move; it's cheesy and makes you look unprofessional. There are many services to help you compress your graphics, like  or

7) Who Are You?: One of the biggest mistakes I see site owners making online is not telling your guests who you are and what you do right up front. Web surfers are in a hurry with many places to go and things to see. Tell them in your opening site
paragraph what you're all about. They'll appreciate the info and won't scratch their heads wondering what on earth you do. Tell them and tell them fast.

So there you have it. How many of these faux pas are you guilty of? These are basic principles for any successful website. By implementing these qualities into your own site, you too can join the "Haves" of the Internet Community and leave the "Have Nots" behind. And that's one move certainly worth making.


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