You may not know this, but taking money from your church is rather easy. Churches are unique in that the money received is not in exchange for a product or service, so there is no inventory to indicate a theft has occurred. Unlike a retail store that recognizes theft when they do inventory and takes corrective action, churches receive money in their offering and often don’t count it for a few days.
Taking money from your church only requires you have the opportunity, which is really easy to get. Churches are very trusting. If you are willing to take on the complicated task of handling some area of the finances or being Treasurer, you are almost guaranteed access to various opportunities to take money. And churches rarely have any internal controls in place that would make you feel like you might even be caught. Most church fraud takes place over time, often five or more years. As long as you are patient and only take a little bit at a time.
What you want to look for to find the vulnerable church is a lack of internal controls, a willingness to hand over all of the finances without any background checks, and if you can find a church that doesn’t look for someone else to check your work or do bank reconciliations, you can slowly take thousands of dollars. Those who have been caught tend to take hundreds of thousands. Who knows how much those who haven’t been caught take.
So just how can you take money from a church? There are some very creative ways to do it that don’t take much effort at all. Let me give you some examples:
Credit or Debit Cards. If you can gain access to a church credit or debit card, it is very easy to just add some personal charges here and there. Maybe pay some of your own bills with it. Most churches aren’t having the credit card receipts reviewed, so as long as you are careful about assigning account numbers to everything, you should be okay. Debit cards are even better. Then you can just withdraw a little here and there. If you can get yourself in a position of working with the accounting system, you can just make up transactions to cover your tracks. Online shopping with the credit or debit card is an amazing opportunity. You can buy almost anything at Amazon and record it as office supplies or Christian Education supplies.
Online Banking offers even more options. You can transfer funds to a friend or personal account. You can add your utility bills to the ones paid by the church. You might even be able to pay yourself. Just be sure no one else is looking at the activity in the bank account. And don’t forget those investment and savings accounts. No one ever looks at those. Some aren’t even reconciled for years.
Even having access to the checkbook makes it possible. You can always record something different in the check register. Again, churches rarely have someone else review the bank statements. Just record something that looks like it could be accurate.
Paying fake employees is another great opportunity. Of course, here you need access to the payroll system. Most churches use a payroll company so if you can be the person who communicates with them, just add your friends and family as part-time employees. No one else is looking at the payroll journals anyway. When someone asks why you are over budget in payroll, you can just tell them its a mistake and you will look into it. They usually never follow up. If they do, just tell them there was a special event or something that caused some staff to work extra hours. They usually don’t look into it because they trust you.
If your church rents out its facility, you have some wonderful opportunities to steal. First, if you can be the only person interacting with the tenants, you can just obtain a Fictitious Business Name with the same initials as the church and deposit those checks into your own account. No one is looking at how many people to whom you rent the facility. You can just take some of the smaller ones along the way.
As you can see, it is pretty easy to take money from a church. Do people get caught? Sure they do, but only about 20% ever get caught. Just know that the ones who get caught usually only are caught when someone starts looking or if they implement policies and procedures that segregate duties and take away your ability to do everything. Here is what to look for:
Segregation of Duties. If they start talking about segregating Authorization, Custody, Record keeping, and Bank Reconciliation, it’s time to find a new church. When a church implements segregation of duties, it becomes almost inevitable you will be caught, and usually very quickly.
Credit/Debit Card Policies. These really take the fun out of shopping online. These policies list exactly what the card can and cannot be used for and identify people who will check each card. They require all of the receipts submitted in a timely manner and an explanation of all charges.
Audits. Internal audits or a Financial Policies & Procedures Audit is sure to raise questions and concerns about the various activities. These usually result in policy and procedure changes that require multiple eyes on every activity, making it difficult to take the money.
Background Checks. These checks always dig up the things we’ve done in the past. So, if you have been caught before, you likely won’t pass their background check.
Online Banking Policies. These identify who can be paid online, limits to the amounts that can be paid, and require a second person to review the online activity and bank statements. Once this is in place, it will be hard to pay your own bills with the church bank account.
Two Signatures On Checks. If they start requiring a second signature on checks, you may have a harder time writing checks for personal items or checks to friends. This will depend on whether they actually have someone look to ensure all checks have two signatures.
If you would like to have Church Training Center provide your church a Financial Policies & Procedures Audit to ensure you are securing your congregation’s resources, contact us to schedule today. (626) 657-0146 or Keith@ChurchTrainingCenter.com