fraud

Signs of inventory fraud

Is your inventory being stolen by dishonest employees or customers? Inventory is a prime target for fraud schemes, second only to cash. And it doesn’t always involve the physical theft of items. Here are some early warning signs that your inventory has been targeted.

Know your risk profile

Some companies are more at risk for inventory fraud than others. Obviously, service companies with minimal inventory on hand bear little risk of inventory embezzlement; instead, it’s more common among retailers, manufacturers and contractors. In general, higher-value inventory items, such as electronics or jewelry, tend to be more attractive to thieves.

Sometimes, however, the inventory account is just a convenient place to hide financial misstatement ploys, such as skimming or bogus sales. Thousands of journal entries are typically made to the inventory account, and it’s closed out to cost of sales each year. So, thieves with access to the accounting systems may bury their scams in the inventory account. Then, victim-organizations may write off discrepancies between the computerized perpetual inventory records and physical inventory counts as external pilferage, obsolescence or errors — when, in fact, it’s due to intentional manipulation of the accounting systems.

Monitor inventory metrics

If your year-end inventory counts aren’t adding up, don’t just write off the discrepancy as a cost of doing business; investigate why. You can shed light on the situation by computing various inventory ratios, including:

  • Days in inventory (average inventory divided by annual cost of sales times 365 days),
  • Gross margin (sales minus cost of sales) as a percentage of sales,
  • Inventory as a percentage of total assets,
  • Returns as a percentage of annual sales, and
  • Shipping costs as a percentage of sales.

These metrics should be consistent over time and comparable to industry benchmarks. Sudden changes require immediate action.

Catch fraud early

The median duration — from inception to detection of a fraud scam — is 18 months, according to the 2016 Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. Many victims are unaware that inventory balances are inaccurate until they’ve accrued substantial losses. Diligent managers know the signs of inventory fraud and can identify anomalies early. Contact us for help investigating a suspected inventory scam.

© 2016

Related-party transactions: Think like an auditor

Issues between related parties played a prominent role in the scandals that surfaced more than a decade ago at Enron, Tyco International and Refco. Similar problems have arisen in more recent financial reporting fraud cases, prompting the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) to unanimously approve a tougher audit standard on related-party transactions and financial relationships. To prevent your company from issuing financial statements with undisclosed or misleading information about these relationships, think like an auditor.

It’s all relative

Under PCAOB Auditing Standard No. 18 (AS 18), Related Parties, Amendments to Certain PCAOB Auditing Standards Regarding Significant Unusual Transactions, and Other Amendments to PCAOB Auditing Standards, related parties include the company’s directors, executives and their family members.

Ultimately, companies are responsible for the preparation of their financial statements, including the identification of these related parties. However, auditors are on the lookout for undisclosed related parties and unusual transactions.

Where to look

Certain types of questionable transactions also might signal that a company is engaged in related-party transactions. Examples include contracts for below-market goods or services, bill-and-hold arrangements, uncollateralized loans and subsequent repurchase of goods sold.

Where can you find evidence of undisclosed related parties? Auditors are trained to consider these types of source materials:

  • Proxy statements,
  • Disclosures contained on the company’s website,
  • Confirmation responses, correspondence and invoices from the company’s attorneys,
  • Tax filings,
  • Life insurance policies purchased by the company,
  • Contracts or other agreements, and
  • Corporate organization charts.

Auditors also scrutinize compensation arrangements and other financial relationships with executives that may create incentives to engage in fraud to meet financial targets.

Leave no stone unturned

AS 18 requires public company auditors to obtain a more in-depth understanding of every related-party financial relationship and transaction, including its nature, terms and business purpose (or lack thereof). Moreover, it requires auditors to communicate with the audit committee throughout the audit process about related-party transactions — not just at the end of the engagement.

Related parties present risks to all kinds of entities, not just public companies. Smaller companies and start-ups also tend to engage in numerous related-party transactions, such as rental and compensation arrangements. These arrangements increase the risks of fraud and legal violations, warranting increased attention for companies of all sizes.

© 2016