Fraudster, beware. (And just plain old innocent e-mailers, you beware, too.)
Back in the day, I did manage a modest but non-trivial budget, so I suppose if I’d been cagey enough I could have set up some bogus outside contractor and funneled some money to myself way. But my budget, while a lot for a small company, didn’t include a lot of money to burn. And, hey, I managed that budget down to the dollar, so I would absolutely noticed if anyone – including myself - were embezzling from it. (Hey, I don’t remember hiring Maureen Rogers to do any work for us…)
At one far larger company I worked for, a marketing manager had done something along those lines. I think it she “hired” her husband (who had a different last name) to do something or other – make that nothing or other - that didn’t get done. I don’t remember the exact details, but she was rousted out of the office one morning and everything was ultra hush-hush. At that time, I was running a pretty good-sized product marketing group and, beyond salary and travel, we had no budget. Marcom had the $$$ so we had to play nice. And the $$$ that Marcom had was large enough that a bit of embezzling might have gone unnoticed for a while. (How LARGE was the budget at this company? Well, let’s just say they spent $40 million on a product launch for a product that nobody actually ended up buying. Ah, what was $40 million in the dot.com era?)
But, hey, who wants to embezzle, anyway?
Well, apparently plenty of people – at least plenty enough that there are now a number of applications on the market that help ferret out wrong-doers by
spying on analyzing their e-mail exchanges.
According to a recent article in The Economist, linguistic software is the way to go. (I would have thought forensic accounting was the way to go, but, according to The Economist, “this is like looking for a contact lens in a snowdrift.” Really? Really???? Wouldn’t looking closely at the transactions of those who could have their hand in the till work – maybe even just checking out payments made to an account that wasn’t, say, IBM or National Grid? But I guess that wouldn’t help nab inside traders and the like.)
Rip-offs tend to occur in what gumshoes call the “fraud triangle”: where incentive, rationalization and opportunity meet. To spot staff with the incentive to steal (over and above the obvious fact that money is quite useful), anti-fraud software scans e-mails for evidence of money troubles. Phrases like “under the gun” and “make sales quota” can indicate that an employee is desperate for a bit extra. (Note: I Americani
szed the spelling in the extracts from The Economist.)
Hmmmm. I would think that phrases like “under the gun” and “make sales quota” would be found in, say 75-80% of all end of quarter e-mails from sales folks. Plus sales people don’t tend to have ready access to the till, do they? Sure, they can pad the old expense account. And cadge a few bucks from the coffee fund. But if they were faking sales orders, wouldn’t that show up when shipping went to ship and accounting went to collect. Maybe this sales one is a bad example. A more likely scenario might be someone in accounting who sends a note to his buddy that includes the words “trifecta”, “desperate”, and “baby needs a new pair of shoes.” Or “Porsche” and “Rolex” – words that, frankly, you’d hope would show up in the missives of a coin-op sales force. But what do I know about anti-fraud software.
Spotting rationalization is harder. One technique is to identify those who seem unhappy about their jobs, since some may rationalize wrongdoing by telling themselves that their employer is an evil corporation that deserves to be ripped off.
Spotting people who seem unhappy about their jobs? Time to purge “suck” and “clueless” from the old e-mail vocabulary.
Ernst & Young (E&Y), a consultancy, offers software that purports to show an employee’s emotional state over time: spikes in trend-lines reading “confused”, “secretive” or “angry” help investigators know whose e-mail to check, and when.
Checking on the emotional state of employees via software. That’s just ducky.
But most companies aren’t just looking for pissed off employees. (And, frankly, who needs software for that?)
Financial firms are apparently big users of anti-fraud linguistic software to search for insider trading and Nick Leeson-style shenanigans.
Anyway, checking up on what your employees are saying isn’t all that new.
The last company I worked full time for monitored IM for something or another. Which is how they caught one employee calling the COO a useless jerk. Which he wasn’t really. He was an exceedingly decent man, caught up – as we all were – in a company that was pretty much useless and relentlessly jerky.
But it was kind of creepy when learned through the non-IM, non-e-mail grapevine – a guy in IT told us – that the company was spying on our IMs. This company was an agglomeration of a lot of small companies, all in different locations. My closest work buds were in NY and Texas, and we lived (and swapped rumors and bitched mightily and sometimes actually did work) on IM.
Of course, someone who’s engaged in fraud or otherwise doing bad stuff deserves to have their e-mail analyzed. But what about the 99.9999% who aren’t doing anything untoward?
Methinks that if you haven’t already it’s time to stop using your work e-mail account for anything that’s even vaguely personal. Gmail, only please. Unless they start intercepting and analyzing all transmissions over their network you should be okay. But if your particular evil empire does go that far, you can always grab your personal smartphone and head out of the building with the smokers and vent out there.
Wait until mind-reading software hits the market.
Forget fraud. No one will be employable.
Labels: interesting business