I hate this scenario. And I find myself here at least several times a year. It’s a new client, sometimes in tears, sometimes with steam coming out of her ears, recounting a story about how her trusted bookkeeper stole thousands of dollars. It’s a tricky place to be, of course, as I am often being interviewed as the replacement. It’s my job to educate the client on how to prevent this awful experience from occurring again while simultaneously gaining her trust after it’s just been so horribly broken.
Unfortunately, bookkeeping is an unregulated industry. Unlike CPAs (or Certified Public Accountants), who must pass and stay certified by their local state licensing agencies, bookkeepers are a little rogue. Additionally, if you think you can call your local police station and have someone arrested for a crime like this, think again. “White collar crime,” in which bookkeepers or assistants steal from you using various mechanisms (which I discuss in this piece) are very hard to prove and police don’t respond (at least in my experience) particularly rigorously.
So, let’s talk prevention.
Step One: Screen
This is your most important step and you must fastidiously screen your potential bookkeeping candidates, or anyone else, who is going to be handling your money or who has access to your accounts (like personal assistants).
If you are hiring a bookkeeper, the best thing to do is to reach out to others in your industry to get a referral. Bear in mind bookkeepers often specialize in industry-specific accounting so it’s in your interest to find someone familiar with the ins and outs of your type of business.
When getting referrals, make sure that the candidate being referred has worked with said employer for at least a year or longer. Financial deception can go on for very long periods of time without the business owner becoming aware there is a problem. Be sure to do a thorough background check on the person you are hiring. You can order one for about $30 from backgroundchecks.com.