Spotting a Weasel: The Personality of a Dental Embezzler – Part I

weaselWelcome to our requested six-part series on 18 RED Flags that can help raise your awareness of a potential fraudster or embezzler in your dental practice. In each of these articles, we will do a deep dive on three specific characteristics giving you knowledge to identify potential gaps in your practice where a perpetrator could be weakening the foundation of your business.

These perpetrators are very much like “weasels.” They are stealthy, smart and very good at hiding their schemes. It takes a seasoned fraud investigator specializing in dentistry to uncover damage they’re doing to your business. However, being armed with these and other red flags can help you build good procedures and systems to assist in preventing the embezzler from getting a new home in your practice.

Model Team Member – Tenured & Trusted

One of the hardest things for a practice owner to handle is when a tenured and trusted team member is embezzling from his/her practice. Yet, very often we find that the perpetrator is the most seasoned and trusted person in the practice. Many of these people come to the practice experienced on the front desk and, over time, take on more and more responsibility eventually moving into the role of office administrator.

The team member handles everything on the business side of the practice which frees the doctor to do what he or she loves most – treating patients. The doctor begins to rely more and more on the administrator as she shields the doctor from the day to day ups and downs of the front office. The weasel’s expertise and efficiency creates a false sense of security, loyalty, trust, and team camaraderie.

Oftentimes, these weasels are what we call ‘practice skippers’ who move from practice to practice perfecting their schemes.  When things start to get ‘hot’ at one practice, they’ll use their network of contacts to find another with a similar structure where they can continue their hidden tricks undermining your standard of patient care and, ultimately, the practice you love.

Empire Building & Indispensable

As this model team member takes on more and more responsibility, he becomes the “gatekeeper” for everyone and everything in the practice. The trust he has built with the doctor means he is counted on to take care of all of the front office business decisions. The weasel becomes indispensable – his goal is achieved – he is the dominant team member with the doctor(s) and the practice.

He creates an atmosphere where all information and team members must go through him to get to the doctor. He controls all of the information, reports and communication between the front office and the doctor. In fact, the weasel is building an empire where the control of the practice is ceded from the doctor to him.

Wants Total Authority & Responsibility

In fact, the weasel gains total authority and responsibility allowing her to control the rest of the team. She controls what they know and don’t know regardless of whether they are clinical or front desk. She has the authority to approve virtually everything and is the one to take all issues to the doctor, including end of day and monthly reports, practice numbers, etc.

She often writes her own job description and the description of other team members. If not the sole hiring and terminating authority, she is likely involved in all human resource decisions. In her eyes the practice will fail without her, and she has convinced the doctor of this as well.

From Our Files – A Real Dental Weasel

In a very recent case, the weasel is a 20-year team member who was completely respected and trusted by the doctors. They never saw any practice statistics or reports. She controlled all of the information they received. They felt completely safe and trusted her with all facets of their business.

Her downfall was the discovery by two other team members that she was manipulating the practice management software and bank deposit slips so that she could walk out with all of the cash payments. These team members became concerned that they would be accused of wrongdoing and raised the red flag.

We determined this weasel embezzled over $200,000 in just 3 years and 6 months before she was caught.  More importantly, this was only one of 13 different schemes she was working in the practice to feed her “hidden financial need”.  Please stay vigilant – make sure you are requesting, getting, reviewing, and asking questions about your daily, monthly and annual reports – YOUR retirement depends on it – don’t let a weasel feed on your retirement!

Before closing, it is critical that we clearly state that team members may or may not exhibit one or more of these characteristics and may or may not be a criminal. However, the information provided should make you beware of seemingly model team member(s) who exhibit several of these characteristics (and those we will talk about in upcoming articles in this series). What is indisputable is that, in most cases, a practice perpetrator is someone you or your team are least likely to suspect.

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 bryant@brytanassociates.com or calling us at 210.241.6329.