By Bryant Truitt, MBA, CCS, CFE and Barbara Freet, PHR, of Human Resource Advisors
This is the fourth installment of our six-part series on Spotting a Weasel – the Personality of a Dental Embezzler. In today’s article we focus on ways that the dental weasel infiltrates the practice to become an indispensable team member, including handling much of the dentist’s personal business, in an effort to set the groundwork for embezzlement schemes.
Knows the Personality of the Doctor(s) – Big Time!
There is no doubt that the dental weasel is smart. He/she is excellent at observation, carefully absorbing the personality traits of the dentist to become an expert in how to manipulate the dentist to give him/her more and more autonomy and authority to handle the business aspects of the practice. Dental weasels learn the strengths, weaknesses, idiosyncrasies and, oftentimes, secrets that allow them to control the dentist.
The weasel knows the three most important drivers of the dentist:
- Their first love is family – and they consider their dental team part of their family.
- They emphasize a high level of patient care – Dentists are highly sensitive to patient issues, especially relieving them of discomfort and providing them with a higher degree of self-confidence through a beautiful, healthy smile.
- Love of dentistry – Dentists prefer to stay in the operatory taking care of patients and practicing their expertise
The majority of dentists either 1) have limited knowledge of the front desk, or 2) are relieved to find an office administrator who is expert in the front office to relinquish that part of the business to. As the dental weasel earns more and more of the dentist’s trust, he/she will begin to manipulate the dentist to transition the monitoring of financial reports and practice management software to him/her.
Under the guise of relieving the dentist of stress so he can focus on what he loves to do, the dental weasel:
- Eliminates the dentist’s ‘need’ to attend software training
- Eliminates the number and types of reports that the doctor ‘has to’ review
- Eliminates internal controls in the practice management and accounting software
By the time this happens, one or more scams are already in place.
Does all Hiring and Firing and Wage Increases
Dental weasels will never hire anyone who they perceive is stronger and more knowledgeable than they are, nor will they hire someone they can’t control. They look for team members who
can be molded to be totally dependent on the dental weasel and cover their improprieties. As the hiring ‘manager’ in the practice, a level of authority is conveyed to the office administrator further setting him/her up as the go-to person in the practice.
The dental weasel will often bring family members and friends into the practice to help establish or cover up scams. All hiring of family members, including extended family and friends, must be done with extreme caution. Frequently the dental weasel will inflate the qualifications of family or friends to make them appear to be the most qualified of the applicants. It is imperative that the dentist, not the office manager or practice administrator, check references on all applicants to confirm their qualifications. That means calling the doctor in previous practices even if the doctor is not on the list of references provided by the applicant. There are no laws requiring permission to call past employers. I would not call current employers without permission, however.
Hiring, termination and other HR decisions MUST be the sole responsibility of the owner doctor with appropriate advice from HR & legal professionals. They should follow a well-defined process including starting with written interview questions, utilizing a complete job description, having the applicant fill out an application and then making the offer using a written offer letter. After hire, all paperwork such as tax forms, an I-9, your employee handbook, and other state-specific required forms should be routinely given and documented, etc. This will show the dental weasel that you are organized and know and will follow legal hiring requirements.
Wants to Do the Personal Business of the Doctor
To further their total control over the dentist, dental weasels take on personal errands for the doctor gradually becoming as indispensable personally as they are in the practice. There are a number of very lucrative reasons for this.
- They want to know where the dentist’s personal accounts (banking, estate planning, credit cards, etc.) are to gain access to additional avenues to work their scams.
- Knowledge of the doctor’s personal business can give the dental weasel leverage in case he/she is caught in a compromising position.
- Our case files include dental weasels who have exploited a variety of improprieties to cover up his/her schemes including personal secrets of the dentist (e.g., mistresses, substance abuse, gambling, misappropriation of funds, etc.)
- Eventually the weasel convinces the doctor that he/she needs remote access to do personal business from home so the other team members are shielded from this knowledge. As we pointed out in Part III of this series, remote access is another way a dental weasel gains access to the practice to embezzle and/or do other weasel “business”!
A Real Weasel from our Files
We had a case in California where the doctor’s wife passed away and the trust fund she established was to educate their daughter. The doctor had no business expertise. The tenured/trusted office manager was given check signing authority to pay the daughter’s education and certain personal expenses. The OM paid the education expenses as directed but consistently included her personal credit card statements and wrote checks to herself. We were engaged to complete our popular “boots on the ground” practice review, discovered the six-figure loss, and other schemes.
If you’re concerned you may have a weasel in your practice, we encourage you to call us for a free, no obligation 30 minute consultation at 210.241.6329.
Educating dentists on identifying embezzlers or fraudsters hiding out in their practices is our expertise. Contact us to speak at your next dental meeting or study club by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or calling us at 210.241.6329.
We want to thank Barbara Freet, PHR, President of Human Resource Advisors for her wise counsel on the Human Resources aspects of today’s blog post.