I remember my childhood librarian, Ms. Adams. She was a lady of rectitude, dignity and uprightness. Never one to harm or take from her patrons—or from the library. Theft by her?—unthinkable. That image colors, in a positive way, my view of librarians.
Recently, I spoke to about 50 librarians about fraud prevention and was shocked by their stories of thefts from libraries. It appears library fraud is alive and well in the United States. No place is immune. The following is a story of one such librarian, Bob Jones (I have altered the name).
How did he steal?
Mr. Jones, former public library director, apparently had the ability to approve purchases by issuing requisitions and purchase orders. The library paper work would reflect the purchase of dictionaries, for example, but the actual transaction was for exotic goods such as an elephant tusk sculpture.
Jones also purchased items that appeared to be for the library such as computer software, but he would–after receiving the goods–sell them on EBay. Then, with the cash, he would purchase items for his home and personal use.
Lastly, in some instances, he requested reimbursements for items he never received. Those reimbursement checks were cashed and placed in his personal bank account.
How Jones Used the Funds
Mr. Jones used the stolen funds to purchase items including:
- A model of the Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise
- A replica Tommy Sub-machine gun
- A vacuum
- A Leica camera
- Star Wars collectibles
- Rolex watch
- An ice cream making machine
- An elephant tusk sculpture
- Other home decor items
His total theft is estimated at $236,000.
The weakness entailed no one comparing the purchase orders with the payments made and to cleared checks. It also appears that Mr. Jones could issue purchase orders and sign checks.
To prevent this type of theft, the person authorizing payment (e.g., issuing purchase orders) should not also be able to make the payment. Supporting documentation (e.g., purchase requisition, purchase order, bids) should be provided to a second person that reviews it and issues the check.
Limit the number of check signers to those persons who do not have the ability to issue purchase orders. For instance, board members could sign the checks, while operating personnel could request the purchase.
When possible, have a central receiving department. Goods received should be recorded upon receipt. Such a procedure makes it more difficult for someone to buy goods and then sell them on sites such as EBay.
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