I doubt that Oscar Wilde had church fraud in mind when he penned these words, but they do describe the nature of many embezzlers. Occasionally, the irresistible temptation to treat themselves to luxury items overrides a thief’s need to keep hidden. Ultimately, this inability to resist temptation brings unwanted attention to the culprits in the form of things like fancy cars and exotic travel. For example, several years ago a treasurer of a church organization was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling more than two million dollars. Infuriated by what the judge termed a “spurious psychiatric defense”, the judge went on to describe the treasurer as a “common thief” who looted church funds “to live the life style of someone she was not”.
Employees suddenly and unexpectedly living beyond their means can be significant red flag. In fact, according to one report, this situation is the most prominent red flag, present in more than 43% of reported cases.
However, we do need to be careful with this red flag. An employee suddenly living above his means is not proof that fraud has taken place. Some people do have rich relatives who leave them money. (Just not in my family…)