The Pandemic’s Impact on Occupational Fraud
Recent research has shown that fraud committed by employees or occupational fraud is the most common form of fraud and is likely the costliest financial crime globally. According to the latest findings of the Occupational Fraud 2022: A Report to the Nations (“the 2022 Report”)1, the global loss to occupational fraud was estimated to be more than US$4.7 trillion or HK$36.9 trillion per year.
Occupational fraud is defined as any fraud committed at work. It is the use of one’s occupation for personal enrichment through the deliberate misuse or misapplication of the organization’s resources or assets.
In the last two years, the pandemic has caused many changes in the business environment and has impacted on the situation of occupational fraud. “In the current situation, companies are looking for cost-saving by cutting jobs or reducing wages”, said Barry Tong, President of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, Hong Kong Chapter (“ACFE HK”). “As history tells us, this may create motivation for employees to commit fraud especially when they are working remotely. For examples, theft of company’s sensitive data with unsupervised and enhanced access to company’s information, or falsifying records by logging more hours than actually spent working.” In fact, half of all fraud cases in the 2022 Report were affected by the pandemic in some way and organisational staffing changes, which amounted to 42%, were the most common pandemic-related factor that had contributed to occupational fraud.
Fraud is typically triggered by the fraud triangle, which includes the financial pressure, a rationalisation for the act, and the opportunity to commit fraud. The best way to avoid occupational fraud to a company is to create anti-fraud controls and train employees how to use them. The 2022 Report has highlighted that a robust anti-fraud programme is critical to a company in preventing the loss resulting from potential occupational fraud. “Not until you have put in place and executed an effective fraud prevention programme, you do not know where the vulnerabilities to fraud in your company are” said Albert Ho, the Chairman of ACFE HK Research Committee and the Director of ACFE HK. “A robust fraud prevention programme in fact also increases the confidence of investors, stakeholders, partners and auditors in your company”. The 2022 Report revealed that the overall usage of anti-fraud methods had been increasing over the past 10 years, particularly the adoption of hotlines, fraud trainings, anti-fraud policies and fraud risk assessments.
To deter or reduce occupational fraud, intervention of law enforcement is also crucial. However, only 58% of cases were referred to law enforcement for further action according to the 2022 Report. The number has been slowly declining over the past years and the top reasons cited for not reporting were “internal discipline sufficient” and “fear of bad publicity”. For most of the cases detected, employers responded by terminating the employment with the perpetrators. “Occupational fraud is, in many ways, equivalent to theft, and there must be a strong deterrent. Employers are encouraged to report such fraudulent conduct to law enforcement as appropriate”. Barry Tong says.
報告 （《2022 報告》）的調查結果，全球職業詐騙所造成的損失估計每年超過 4.7 萬億美元或 36.9 萬億港元。
過去兩年，因為疫情，營商環境發生許多變化，對職業詐騙的情況也帶來了影響。 「在目前情況下，不少公司正希望透過裁員或減薪方法來節省成本。」特許詐騙審查師學會香港分會（“ACFE HK”）會長湯飈說。「但歷史告訴我們，這可能誘發員工進行詐騙的動機，尤其是當他們可以遙距工作。例如，在不受監督及獲取公司資訊權限得到提升的情況下，竊取公司的敏感數據，又或偽造在職工時的記錄等。」事實上，《2022 報告》中的所有詐騙個案中，半數都某程度上受到疫情的影響，而佔約42%因員工變動所導致的職業詐騙個案，疫情更是最普遍原因。
詐騙的產生通常是由財務壓力、 自我行為合理化 ，以及可進行詐騙的機會 三要素組成 (或稱為詐騙三角理論)。避免公司內部出現職業詐騙的最佳方法，是建立反詐騙機制，並培訓員工如何執行。《2022 報告》中，強調一個健全的反詐騙培訓計劃，是防止潛在職業詐騙造成損失的重要關鍵。特許詐騙審查師學會香港分會董事兼研究委員會主席何仕景表示：「只有積極地執行具有成效的詐騙預防計劃，才可發現企業制度上的缺陷和詐騙漏洞在哪裏。」他又說，「一個行之有效的詐騙預防計劃，實際上更可增加投資者、持份者、合作夥伴和審計師對企業的信心。」《2022 報告》還指出，在過去十年，反詐騙方案的總體使用量一直在增加，特別是熱線電話、詐騙認知的培訓、反詐騙策略及詐騙風險評估。
為了防止或減低職業詐騙，執法部門的介入也至關重要。然而，根據《2022 報告》，只有 58% 的個案被轉介執法部門作跟進。近數年這個數字更一直在緩慢下跌，企業採取這做法的原因包括「認為內部紀律足夠」及「擔心會為聲譽帶來負面影響」。對於大部份遭揭發的詐騙個案，僱主一般只是終止涉事員工的僱佣合約作為解決辦法。「職業詐騙在很多方面來說，就相等於盜竊，所以應對這類詐騙行為的措施需要有阻嚇力。 我們鼓勵僱主應盡量把合適的個案向執法部門舉報。」湯飈說。
1 Occupational Fraud 2022: A Report to the Nations is based on the results of the ACFE 2021 Global Fraud Survey, an online survey of Certified Fraud Examiners conducted from July 2021 to September 2021.