News From The Wealthy Dentist #43: May 2, 2007
by Jim Du Molin
How Can You Avoid Embezzlement?
I’m still sorting through the overwhelming (and fascinating!) response to our dental embezzlement survey that revealed 59% of you have discovered theft in your practices. (And the remaining 41% could well have been
embezzled and never realized it!) It’s a major problem for anyone who goes into business for themselves.
When it happened to me, like so many of you, it was not just a betrayal by a business associate but by someone I’d considered a real friend. When I first discovered what had happened, of course I was furious with the associate, But
over time, I’ve come to accept more of the responsibility myself. It wasn’t my fault, to be sure, but I do blame myself for trusting the wrong person.
A few stories did make me wonder about the difference between embezzlement and petty theft. I mean, a hygienist who steals toilet paper, an office manager who uses your stamps, $12 missing from the register? I even looked up embezzle online. I think these might fall into the category of larceny instead. But that’s neither here nor there — what I’m really interested in are the big-money stories.
And I certainly got some of those! A Georgia dentist busted an employee for theft, then learned she did the very
same thing at her next job.
“My newly-hired office manager took my office
deposits in a locked bank bag to the bank. Away from the office and in secret,
she unlocked the
bag and removed cash. In addition, she
took patients’ checks; with her ink-stamp, she repeatedly stamped over
my endorsement, showing her name as the endorser. The bank teller gave her cash for my checks
— 186 times from the
same teller. In addition, when I built up a large
amount of money in my checking account, I wrote a check to my money market
account. She removed those checks from the deposit bag and took them to a small bank outside of my city.
The bank president allowed her to deposit those checks into her
account by simply endorsing the back of my check. In addition, she had taken customer
checks from the CPA firm where she also worked. She deposited them to my account and then took a
corresponding amount out of my pension fund account. I successfully went
after her, and she received 13 months in prison. She got out of prison and
was hired by the state of Georgia to work in a cafeteria, again handling money.
There she allegedly embezzled $1.5M. She was caught and
received 5 years imprisonment.”
Wow! Perhaps someone should tell the state of Georgia to check prospective employees’ criminal records… I mean, if I can do it, you’d think Georgia could too, right?
A California dentist warned doctors to keep a close eye on their bottom line.
“I once had to fire a front office employee for ‘creatively scheduling’
overtime for herself as well as participating in other suspicious activities
that unfortunately added up to a lot of lost revenue for my practice. While
my accountant and I couldn’t turn up any actual proof of embezzlement, it
still wouldn’t surprise me. The biggest mistake I made was not knowing my
front office business as well as an employee. Now I keep
much tighter control up front even though it means more work for me.
I shudder when I hear other dentists tell me that they have no idea what
their front office staff does but they trust them enough to let them work
unsupervised. It is never wise to know less about the financial end of the
business than your employees!!!“
A Minnesota dentist described being betrayed by a trusted employee.
“My best front desk employee in my 25 years of
practice (also a trusted friend)
was the person with her fingers in the till. One simple discovery of
dishonesty was the tip-off. Honesty is the only trait I look
for when I
hire new employees; the rest is trainable.”
There are some recurring themes to these stories. I’ve culled through dozens of dentists’ comments to this survey, as well as the vast collection of dental management knowledge in my own head (it’s a library in there, only not so well organized!) to come up with some guidelines for minimizing the risk of embezzlement at your practice.
- Check references! Don’t limit
yourself to the contacts provided by the prospective employee, especially if
they’ve excluded any recent employers.
- Know what to ask. Legal worries
may keep past employers
from telling you everything, so your questions should be somewhat indirect. My
favorite: “Would you hire this person again?”
- Do background checks on employees who handle money. The time
to know about someone’s theft conviction is before you hire them— that’s what background checks are for.
- Check regularly for theft. You should have internal
systems in place that will catch embezzlement early on. If you don’t, you
could be losing money to theft right now and not even know it. It is
essential that you regularly monitor your finances.
- Don’t confuse business and friendship.
It’s great to be friends or family with your business associates and
employees, but don’t confuse that with your financial relationship. Don’t
trust anyone blindly, especially not when it comes to business!
- Don’t hesitate to prosecute.
Stealing is not okay; throw the book at them! It sends a clear message to
all employees, and it helps future employers know who not to hire.
- If you’ve been embezzled, try to recover
your money. Especially if it’s a large amount of money, you’re
unlikely to recover it all from the thief. If your insurance won’t cover the
loss, you may be able to recover your money elsewhere: for example, from the
bank that cashed the fraudulent checks.
- Get insurance! The Washington
state dentists whose receptionist stole $1.9 million didn’t have insurance
to cover that loss. They’ve stayed in business, but it’s set back their
retirement plans by ten years.
- Stay in charge of your own finances.
Listen, I’ve heard it a hundred times! If the mail boy understands the
computer system better than anyone else in the office – if you don’t know
what your CPA is doing – if you never check the books your office manager
keeps – if your employees understand your finances better than you do – you have a problem!
Jim Du Molin
Survey: Mercury Amalgam
In this poll, we asked dentists: Does your practice place amalgam fillings?
It’s getting hot in here! In a heated debate over the safety or dangers of mercury, dentists were passionately split over the issue of amalgam. Fifty-two percent of dentists in our poll responded, “No, we are no longer using mercury amalgam.”
The other 48% replied, “Yes, we are still placing amalgam fillings.”
Dentists are so interested in this issue that a record number of dentists responded to this survey. With the ADA supporting amalgam’s safety, health and consumer groups touting its toxicity, and the FDA still refusing to make an official ruling, it’s hard to know whom to believe.
Nonetheless, next week I’ll be weighing in with my opinions on the matter. If there’s anything you’d like to tell me, please post your thoughts on my blog!
Here are just a few of the comments our dentists had to share:
- “Amalgams are great. They just look so bad that nobody wants them.”
- “Have there been any studies on resins leaking into the bloodstream?”
- “I don’t place amalgam fillings due to the exposure of mercury for my staff and myself.”
- “It is still the only filling material that will hold up in damp, wet, nasty conditions.”
- “I want real concrete evidence from reliable sources that this is really a problem.”
- “There are high levels of mercury in my system (based on testing with my doctor).”
- “Advertising that you are ‘mercury free’ is borderline unethical in most states.”
- “150 years of safe use. 30+ years of scientific studies trying to show it a danger and failing to do so.”
- “Amalgam is inexpensive, easy to place, and reliable.”
- “I practice in an affluent town. Amalgam fillings would not be acceptable to my patients.”
- “I use it mainly on kids’ primary teeth as a cost alternative.”
- “Amalgam is my friend, Larger composites after 3-5 years usually look worn and leaky.”
- “Amalgam is OK; composite is just better in the hands of a skilled and experienced dentist.”
- “I stopped using amalgam in 1984. The 3M composites I placed then are still serving my patients today.”
Tooth Infection Leaves Canadian Man Blind, Family Devastated
The issue of access to dental care for the poor was recently catapulted into the spotlight after the death of 12-year-old Deamonte Driver, a homeless Maryland boy whose untreated tooth infection spread to his brain. But the problem is hardly limited to homeless American teenagers. Here’s yet another story of the horrible toll untreated toothaches can take on poor families.
Moses Han is Korean-born Canadian who worked 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, at his convenience store as the sole breadwinner for his family of five. When he visited a dental clinic in October, the dentist told Han it would
cost $1300 to repair his back left molar – money Han didn’t have. His face soon swelled dramatically. At that point, dentists, antibiotics and hospitalization weren’t enough to quell the infection, which eventually cost Han his sight.
Canada’s medicare system does not include dental care, leaving many poor to fend for themselves. Those on social assistance or with disabilities may qualify for basic coverage, but not preventative treatment. In Han’s town of Oakville, Ontario, there is no assistance for the working poor.
When Han visited the dentist in October, the doctor told him it would cost $1300 for a root canal and crown. Han was reportedly embarrassed to tell the dentist he could not afford this treatment. Instead, he returned to the dentist three days later to drain his dead tooth and get a prescription for antibiotics. When the swelling returned two weeks later, the
dentist recommended Han go to the hospital. He spent three weeks at Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital before the swelling subsided enough for an oral surgeon to remove the infected tooth in December. A month later, Han noticed a
blind spot in his right eye. Despite treatment, his vision rapidly deteriorated, and he was left completely blind.
During Han’s hospitalization, he and his wife were forced to sell their store. Neighbors are planning a fundraising benefit for the family. Han’s medical bills have cost the system hundreds of thousands of dollars. And it’s all for the lack of $1300 to fix a rotting tooth. It seems to me that Han’s tooth isn’t the only thing that’s rotten about this story.
New Zealand Dentist’s Patient Records Stolen from His Car
A New Zealand dentist is offering a $1000 reward for the return of his stolen laptop and patient records.
Dr. Saud Ibrahim’s car was one of four broken into during a recent high school championship game. After prying the car door open, the thief took the doctor’s laptop and backup disks. The computer and disks contained patient records and personal data on all patients of the Chartwell Dental Centre. Dr. Ibrahim’s biggest problem
is that the clinic does not have backup records for about 1,000 of these patients, leaving the doctor “starting from zero” with those records.
The stolen data is password-protected. The doctor does not seem concerned about the possible leakage of confidential patient information, saying that the information would be meaningless to the thief. Police, initially “too busy” to investigate the theft, have begun looking into it.
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