Lapping schemes are one of the most common ways crooked employees skim money from their employers. In these schemes, a perpetrator uses receipts from one account to cover theft from another. Here’s what lapping looks like and how you can help prevent it.
Lapping scams usually start small, with an employee pocketing a payment from ABC company and using a payment from XYZ company to hide the loss. As time goes on, however, the amounts get larger and the employee is forced to maintain detailed records to track the movement of money.
This house of cards usually tumbles when the employee makes an error. One commonly cited example is the man who stole $150,000 by programming an elaborate computer scam based on 29-day cycles. It collapsed because he forgot that February normally has only 28 days.
As with any fraud, there are usually warning signs that can alert you before a minor lapping scheme grows to epic proportions. These include excessive billing errors, accounts receivable writeoffs, decreasing accounts receivable payments and accounts receivable details that don’t agree with the general ledger.
Customer complaints are another red flag and always merit investigation and follow-up. Also look closely if you see delays in posting customer payments.
Often, lapping signals that a business has inadequate internal controls. The man who stole $150,000, for example, was his company’s chief programmer and had unlimited access to customer accounts. To ensure lapping doesn’t tempt greedy or desperate employees, take a few simple preventive measures.
Have someone review and compare every check that’s deposited to the receivables ledger. This takes a little time but can offer a big payoff. Better yet, require that two people review the records. To be truly effective, the review should include the actual checks, not just ledgers. Because employees who are lapping may set up their own accounts in the company’s bank, it’s important for reviewers to have a list of valid accounts by bank name and number for authentication.
Another easy protection is to closely monitor aging accounts. If you routinely send overdue notices to customers, pay attention to the responses. When customers say they’ve already paid an invoice, for example, follow up.
As with most occupational fraud schemes, internal controls are essential to help prevent lapping. If you suspect fraud is occurring in your organization or need to strengthen your controls, contact Ashley Sparks, CPA, CFE at firstname.lastname@example.org .