Bosses failing to tackle soaring levels of fraud

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Fraud cases involving workers ripping off their employers have rocketed 81 per cent since 2003 and now total £78m, a fifth of all reported fraud in the UK this year.

According to accountants BDO Stoy Hayward's annual FraudTrack research, published today, a total of 182 crimes, worth £399m, were uncovered in the first 10 months of the year. Some areas, such as tax fraud against HM Revenue & Customs, have seen a decrease on the previous year.

However, the level of employee fraud has continued to climb - last year, it represented just 12 per cent of cases.

Andrew Durant, a partner at BDO Stoy Hayward, who investigates suspected fraud for companies, blamed bosses for failing to tackle the problem.

"I don't think companies are taking it that seriously," he said. "The eye has been taken off the ball and there's a lack of active controls. At the recruitment stage, you need to make sure you check people out - have they got the education they say they have, are they who they say they are? Identity theft is so common."

Mr Durant added that companies should encourage a culture of whistle-blowing, where honest employees who suspect colleagues of wrongdoing can alert someone in charge. "In my experience, someone always knows," he said.

The majority of fraudulent workers tend to be men in their mid-40s. Incidents of woman stealing from their employers - such as Joyti De-Laurey, who illicitly pocketed £4.5m from her bosses at Goldman Sachs - are rarer.

Up until recently, most frauds were perpetrated out of desperation, such as a need to clear gambling debts or pay for expensive divorces. But Mr Durant said: "In 2004 we analysed the cases and 60 per cent were down to pure greed. People wanted the Ferrari, the house in the South of France, three holidays a year - basically, what the Joneses next door have. And that's been repeated again this year."

Overall, the total value of fraud tracked by the BDO Stoy Hayward survey was down on last year, from £642m, although Mr Durant said 2004 had been an exceptional year. In addition, the total number of frauds was higher in 2005.

Mr Durant also pointed out that FraudTrack only looks at reported cases which accounted for around a tenth of all fraud being carried out. "It's like an iceberg."

FraudTrack covers five different types of fraud, including employee, tax and third party, ie crimes perpetrated by people outside the company. Mr Durant said organised crime was increasingly becoming involved with corporate fraud, citing an example of one gang that took over a temping agency so it could place people in key positions within businesses.