This is the final installment of our six-part series on Spotting a Weasel – the Personality of a Dental Embezzler. For purposes of this series we’ve described each RED FLAG individually, but in reality they are all inter-related. When embezzlement is happening typically more than one RED FLAG is present. This is especially true of the last three we’ll look at in this article. These three are all-inclusive and really tie all of the 18 RED FLAGS together.
Look for additional RED FLAGS in 2017. In the meantime, be on guard at all times. We recommend that you “Trust but Verify.” And, contact us with any questionable situations that you would like outside eyes to help you evaluate.
Eagerly Takes Authority and Responsibility
Dental embezzlers endear themselves to the doctor by making themselves seem indispensable. They do this by taking on more and more authority and responsibility to relieve the doctor or other staff members of perceived drama and stress. They accomplish this in a narrative and stealthy way based on their ability to know the personality of the team and doctor.
As they provide more and more insulation for the doctor, they then have the ability to influence the doctor’s decision-making on almost, if not all, levels in the practice. The doctor is left with the feeling that he/she could not run the practice without the dental weasel, leaving the weasel free to run his/her embezzlement schemes.
As the doctor’s confidence in the dental weasel grows, he stops checking in regularly assuming that things are being done properly. He abdicates his responsibility for reviewing reports and practice metrics to the dental weasel handing over more authority and responsibility in the process.
The dental weasel will do everything possible not to surrender areas of responsibility to other team members or the doctor.
As a case in point, we worked with a practice where the doctor hadn’t been looking at practice reports or bank statements for over 5 years. These reports, along with the practice policies and procedures, were being controlled by the office manager. As the dental weasel’s areas of responsibility and authority grew, they moved in a direction that wasn’t complimentary with the doctor’s financial goals or standard and patient care goals.
Wants Control of Adjustments, Discounts, Write-offs, and Refunds
The single largest way doctors can go bankrupt and/or are unable to retire is through unauthorized discounts, adjustments, write-offs and refunds! Through a series of complex manipulations, embezzlers can use these unauthorized transactions to take money out of the practice and put it in their pocket.
They can also use this practice to endear themselves to patients by giving them discounts, adjusting account balances and write-off fees that are not approved by the doctor. They may even suspend payments for a patient altogether and /or make special payment arrangements.
If the embezzler is in a clinical position they spend an inordinate amount of time with patients discussing the patients’ personal problems. They may affect payment obligations by walking the patient past the busy front desk, or insisting on checking the patient out themselves to “help” the overworked front desk team members. Clinical team members may even intentionally give away services to certain patients in order to further ingratiate themselves.
Discontinues Internal Controls and Policies & Procedures
The very first thing the embezzler will try to do is discontinue Internal Controls and Policies & Procedures as these are a major threat to the dental weasel’s ability to work schemes in the practice. The #1 Internal Control they want to eliminate is a patient sign-in sheet or electronic equivalent.
The dental weasel will also control the reports from the practice management and accounting software by altering the information the doctor(s) receives on a regular basis. The weasel delays and/or eliminates critical reports, including Day Sheets; Adjustments, Discount and Write-off reports; Bank Reports including statements, A/R; Insurance Aging; Credit Balances; etc.
More than 20 years of investigating fraud, embezzlement, waste and abuse in dentistry and non-profits has clearly established “Trust but Verify” techniques. Internal Controls and Policies & Procedures matter – No Debate! The case outlined above, along with every investigation this year, reinforces the fact they save money, time, stress, and provide better standard and patient care. The total amount our clients lost this year approaches one million dollars. Over the 20-year period, annual loss per engagement is growing due to the increase in the number and complexity of schemes being worked by dental weasels.
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 Karol Peters and Ron Siemering, associates at Brytan & Associates, for their input on today’s article.