Talk to a fraud examiner and he or she will launch into a lecture about the “Fraud Triangle”. Briefly, this explanation (well-accepted since it was published in 1949) says that fraud involves three key elements:
- Financial Need: This could be a spouse with cancer and no money for the expensive drugs. Or a lost job and hungry kids. Or just plain living outside of one’s means – credit card companies aren’t as rough as Guido and the boys, but it is still a lot of pressure. Come to think of it, it might BE Guido and the boys. Sometimes this is stated as ‘unshareable financial need’ such as a pastor with a gambling addiction, a deacon who is secretly into drugs, or an elder with an expensive girlfriend on the side.
- Opportunity: This is where the individual sees a way to take the money and cover it up. He or she thinks nobody will ever know. It looks like the perfect crime. Though they don’t think of it as a crime…
- Rationalization: This is the process one goes through to re-label fraud or embezzlement. Instead of it being a crime, it is really OK for one to take the money. “They don’t pay me enough,” laments a pastor, “so using the church credit card for personal items is just balancing the books so I receive what I’m really due.”
The first, Financial Need, is outside of the control of the church. It might be wise to preach on financial responsibility, give classes in budgeting, and show some of Dave Ramsey’s DVDs. But beyond that, a person’s spending decisions are not something we can monitor or affect.
The last one, Rationalization, is also outside of of our reach. Sermons, pastoral counseling and being a friend to talk to are about as far as one can go here: we’re not inside the person’s head. And we all know from personal experience how creative we can be to justify our actions.
But we CAN control the Opportunity. By assessing your church’s internal controls and following the to-do lists we provide, you can build walls between a possible embezzler and the cash. This will reduce the person’s temptation, and provide a barrier even if he or she tries to steal from the church. LOTS better to build it out! Sure, we’re asking for some of the church’s limited money in exchange for our expertise. But you buy insurance, too: consider this the same way: money very well spent.