7 of the most common expense scams (and how to stop them)

Most employees are inherently honest. They realize that the risk of imperiling their career over a couple of hundred more dollars in their pocket isn’t worth it. However, a small section (about 5%, studies show) of your employees don’t agree. They maybe feel entitled, aggrieved, or simply think they can get away with swindling the company by turning in false expense reports.

If your organization is still using spreadsheets and hard-copy receipts to submit and process expenses, finding fraudulent expenses can be almost impossible. It often requires the finance team to spend hours reviewing each expense report to cross-check each transaction.

Organizations who deploy expense automation solutions can easily stop fraud in its tracks, by using smart technology to prevent false expenses from being submitted, and providing intelligent solutions for spotting potential fraud.

Here is a selection of the most common ways that employees try to commit expense fraud, and how they can easily be prevented with an expense management solution.

1. The Mileage Mischief Scam

Few expense approvers want to go the length of verifying that a personal vehicle mileage submission is correct. An extra 58c/mile may not seem much, but it can easily add up to hundreds of dollars for road warriors who inflate the amount of miles they drive.

How to stop it: An expense automation system can be integrated with Google Maps, so employees simply need to enter their start and finish addresses. It then calculates the distance to automatically create an expense line item. In addition, an image of the map (and the route) is included with the expense item. This level of automation makes it difficult to try and “pad” the mileage claim without the map clearly showing the deviation.

2. The Mini-Bar “Mistake” Scam

Unless you have the money (but not the brains) of Warren Buffett, buying drinks from the hotel mini bar is rarely a good choice. For that reason, many companies prevent hotel mini-bar purchases from being reimbursed. That’s why many people try to sneak it by their finance teams by simply submitting an unitemized hotel bill.

How to stop it: Mandate that all hotel folios are fully itemized when being submitted. This was previously a huge headache, which involved breaking out a calculator and typing in multiple line items for each hotel folio. That’s no longer the case. Employees can now be prompted to itemize hotel bills, and can do so with a single click. The expense solution can automatically read and parse data from HTML or PDF hotel folios, and create individual line items for easy approval (or in this case, denial).      

3. The Duplicate Receipt Dodge Scam

The employee submits their meal receipt the week they buy the meal. Then, two months later… oops they “forgot to submit it on time” so resubmit the same receipt. Finance will never notice, right? Wrong.

How to stop it: Don’t rely on sharp-eyed and elephant-memoried finance staff to remember that they have already approved that expense. An expense management solution can automatically detect if a receipt has already been submitted for reimbursement, and flag to the employee that they’ve already done so. If the dastardly diner still tries to press “submit,” it will simply block the user from doing so.

4. The Restaurant Tip Snip Scam

Just because the submitted restaurant receipt has a handwritten 20% tip on it doesn’t mean that the employee actually left that. They could have left 10% or even nothing, and the approver would never know. Over the course of a year, this could quite easily add up to hundreds of dollars if left unchecked.

How to stop it: Automatically match credit card transactions with receipts submitted in the system. Therefore, if the receipt shows a 20% tip but the credit card shows less, this can be automatically flagged to approvers.

5. The Sneaky Ticket Cancelation Scam

Many companies allow their employees to buy refundable, changeable, full-fare air tickets, in order to maximize flexibility. Travelers have been known to take advantage of this by purchasing both cheaper, restricted tickets and high-priced unrestricted tickets for the same flight. They then submit the expense for the high-priced ticket, get it refunded, and travel on the cheaper ticket. For a cross-country flight this can be a $1,000 or more difference.

How to stop it: Mandate that air tickets are purchased using corporate credit cards. Not only can this provide valuable rebates for the organization, but it also makes it impossible for employees to benefit personally from canceling an expensive ticket.

6. The Meal for Two Switcheroo Scam

One of your managers and their team member go out for dinner, while on a business trip. This ends up being somewhat more... liquid than your policy allows. To try and cover their tracks, the manager just says “you submit this, I’ll approve it, and nobody will ever know.”

How to stop it: Expense solutions can integrate with HR systems so that managerial hierarchies can be configured into the system, and also mandate that the cost of any meal be allocated between diners. As a result, organizations can implement a “boss’ rule,” whereby the most senior person at a meal is required to submit the expense, in order to eliminate possible approval collusion. If a junior employee tries to submit the expense and allocate part of it to a manager, this will automatically be flagged.

7. The Tell-tale Threshold Trick Scam

Many organizations don’t require a receipt to accompany an expense under a certain threshold – often $25 or $50. Sneaky employees can try to exploit this loophole by submitting receipt-less expenses for just under the limit, claiming that they lost the receipt.

How to stop it: Leading expense automation solutions contain sophisticated analytics capabilities. These allow finance teams to drill down into expense items and easily spot patterns and anomalies in visual dashboards. Finance teams can use these tools to spot trends such as receipt-less expense submissions, and then investigate these with the individuals.

Related: The Cost-Control Benefits of Analytics in Expense Management

So, while your employees may think they are smarter than their approvers, they certainly aren’t smarter than a sophisticated expense management system. To learn more about how to take back control of your travel costs, schedule a demo with Chrome River today.

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