How Bribery Works: How to Understand It and Prevent It

$1 trillion in bribes are offered each year

The World Bank estimates that over $1 trillion in bribes are offered each year. Today we look at how bribery works and how you can prevent it.

The Theft

The FBI performed a sting operation involving two mid-Georgia city council members. The Bureau’s court complaint alleged that two city council members contacted a city vendor requesting a bribe. The vendor, according to the complaint, had previously provided services to the city. But when the contract came up for renewal, the city officials sought monetary encouragement (also known as cash) to continue the arrangement.

how bribery works

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The vendor’s president, once aware of the proposed bribe, contacted the FBI, which in turn conducted the sting. On the arranged date, the company CFO delivered $20,000 in cash to the city council members. The conversation was recorded as the payment was made. The arrests followed soon thereafter.

The bribe was unsuccessful in this case, but, all too often, the bad guys receive the cash, and the organization suffers. How?

Vendors usually don’t absorb the cost of the bribe. They pass the expense along to the organization in the form of increased invoice billings, or the vendor will, in some cases, provide substandard products or services. Either way, the organization suffers, and the villain walks away with cash or a free vacation or a free car or…well, you get the picture.

The Weakness

The root of bribery lies in unethical leadership. Organizations should vet each key employee before hiring, making sure the person has historically acted in an upright manner. (In the case above, the citizens must vote for ethical leaders.)

The city had no fraud hotline. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners biennial survey has repeatedly shown that corruption is often unearthed by tips–often through a fraud hotline. What is a fraud hotline? It is any means that an organization provides its employees to report a potential theft. (See below.) Bribery can occur even when organizations have the best of controls, but hotlines are a key defense.

The Fix

Organizations can increase communications about potential theft by:

  • Providing a 24/7 phone number–it can be a 1-800 number (employees call and report any information anonymously)
  • Provide employees with an email address where they can report suspected fraud
  • Ask employees to report red flags (signs of fraud) to a designated person in your organization

To mitigate corruption, implement these controls (there are others, but these will help):

  • Require sealed bids that are opened in the presence of multiple people (mainly for larger purchases)
  • Implement a whistleblower program (include vendors)
  • Require announced periodic vendor audits
  • Implement a conflict of interest policy
  • Implement a bribery prevention policy (include gifts)
  • For significant construction contracts, monitor all phases of the project, including solicitation of bids, awarding of the bid, development of the contract, on-site construction, and related billing, and contract change orders (don’t trust the builder to do this for you).