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Betrayal: When a Friend Becomes a Fraudster

Mary Breslin, CFE
President Verracy

We often talk about fraudsters being the most trusted and loyal employees, and when I teach about fraud, I have lengthy conversations with the participants about ways to identify these individuals. They often have responsibility, access and authority above and beyond their actual role or job description. We also discuss the chicken or the egg scenario — did they become fraudsters because they were the most trusted and loyal employee, or did they become the most trusted and loyal employee because they were fraudsters and it helped provide them cover?

We spend a lot of time discussing the psychology and motivations of the fraudsters, but we spend less time discussing how it makes the person who trusted the fraudster feel. Do they feel angry? Embarrassed? Guilty? Complicit? Personally hurt? Or all the above? I can’t speak for everyone, but even with my long career of fighting fraud, it has also happened to me. Here is my story and how it made me feel.

Years ago, I was an accounting manager at ConocoPhillips. I had a great team and we weathered the Conoco and Phillips merger together. We worked an extraordinary number of hours and experienced a ton of stress. For many other teams, it caused friction and tension amongst the team members, but for my team, it acted as a catalyst to come together and grow closer. Many of us became friends.

I had one woman who worked for me who stood out — let’s call her Anna. Anna was always willing to take on more responsibility and more work. She was the type of employee who took a personal interest in others. She remembered everyone’s birthday and what was going on in everyone’s lives. She appeared magically with coffee just when you needed it most. Technically, Anna was not an employee of ConocoPhillips. She was a contractor. In fact, 40 percent of my staff, like many departments, were contractors.