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Dental office embezzlement: No one is immune

March 29, 2023
Do NOT develop a false sense of security, and DO develop systems that will keep your practice safe from embezzlement. To help protect your practice, we offer perspectives and advice from victims—and from embezzlers.
Meg Kaiser, Associate Editor

It’s a scary topic that’s been discussed for years. Dentists have been told what they can do to prevent embezzlement from happening in their offices. Of course, many believe they’ve taken the proper steps, have the right staff in place, and that embezzlement will never happen to them. This is a false sense of security, and dentists continue to become victims of their employees, and others, who yank away a good chunk of their hard-earned income.

The hurt, betrayal, and loss of money is devastating. Dentists need to educate themselves and then actually pay attention to and implement the suggestions experts share to help them to avoid this life-altering event that has numerous consequences. 

Read on to find out how embezzlement might rear its ugly head in your practice, what embezzlers are thinking when they steal, some of the red flags, a few examples of what happened to some doctors, and much more in these articles designed to help you avoid the crushing blow of embezzlement. 

"The best office manager"

Here’s a dentist’s personal story about the “best office manager” she’d ever had. But when some of the other employees pointed out the office manager’s ongoing odd behavior, which the dentist had tended to shrug off, the dentist dug a little deeper. What she found profoundly surprised and disappointed her. What ended up giving the dentist a false sense of security was the fact that she reviewed her collections and bank deposit reports each day, and that her accountant never mentioned any inconsistencies in her finances. It didn’t save her from embezzlement. Could this be you?

A false sense of security among dentists 

Reconnecting with an old friend paid off

If this dentist had not reconnected with an old friend at a dental conference, he would never have invited him to his lake house. When the dentist introduced his friend to his next-door neighbor at the lake, the friend was surprised to see it was his front office manager, who saw her neighbor’s guest and quickly avoided any conversation. Did she and her mechanic husband make enough money to afford their high-end lake house? Turns out, they did not. 

True dental fraud: The lake house

"Like family"

What began as an innocent meeting to develop an employee manual led to this expert asking permission to investigate the doctor’s finances. It revealed what she feared: the front office person who was “like family,” mother of the doctor’s godchild, a 15-year employee, and who attended the same church as the doctor, had used that trust to embezzle from him for years. Find out why the expert thought it was important to investigate, and how she uncovered what was really going on. 

How embezzlement hid behind an employee manual

Even your fellow doctors do it

What a low blow to find out your partner is stealing from you, a person who shares your education and code of ethics. Embezzlement expert David Harris explains why a doctor would decide to steal from their partner. He shares some examples he’s encountered as an embezzlement expert, and he concludes with advice that some dentists may find hard to live by: trust systems, not people.

Doctors do it, too

Red flags, or red herrings?

What do living beyond one’s means, experiencing financial pressure, and control issues have in common? They’re all red flags that could indicate an employee with any of these issues might be stealing your money.  Or are the signs simply red herrings? It’s good to be aware, but also to obtain more information before confirming your suspicions. Find out more about the common red flags, and then, don’t ignore them, especially if any are happening in your practice. 

Dental practice fraud: Beyond the red flags

Just what are they thinking?

It started with a theft her senior year in high school, which she felt guilty about, but also perfectly entitled to. She rationalized the behavior and liked that she came out ahead on the deal. Her first theft from the dental practice where she worked years later benefitted all the employees. This is how the thief rationalized and justified stealing from the dentist, and then kept it going. Here’s a look into what this embezzler, and many like her, are thinking when they carry out their crimes. 

An interview with a dental practice embezzler

Why wouldn't a doctor prosecute?

Prosecution makes it difficult (or impossible) for a fraudster to continue stealing from another dental practice. Yet practice owners often choose not to go down the road to prosecute. Why wouldn’t they want to protect their fellow dentists? Well, it’s not that cut and dried; it’s complicated. Here are the top reasons dentists say they don’t prosecute those who steal from them. 

When dental fraud is not prosecuted 

Ideas to keep you from being embezzled

So, how do you protect yourself from being embezzled, something all dentists hear about and believe can never happen to them? While many dentists think they have set up safeguards, those “safeguards” are often ineffective. Two embezzlement prevention experts explain some relatively simple and cost-effective steps dentists can take to truly prevent their livelihood from becoming the victim of embezzlement.

Practical approaches for embezzlement protection