Beware Even More, Practice Owners…

By Lolly Wigall

I am pretty sure eBay has a policy against selling stolen goods.  A friend of mine saw a patient who reportedly had purchased “slightly used” hearing aids on eBay.

ebayHe asked if they could be programmed for his hearing loss since he got such a great deal on them.  When my friend started to program the aids, he noticed they had never been programmed before.  The aids were new. The audiologist immediately called the manufacturer with the patient still there and read the serial numbers to the customer service representative.

The aids had been stolen from the factory by an employee and the case against the employee was pending. The manufacturer could not warranty the aids due to the pending case.

The patient was horrified that he had purchased stolen goods.  But, this is the chance you take when you purchase from unknown sellers.

Buyer Beware

If any person comes into my office with aids that I did not sell, I record in the patient’s chart the make, model, serial numbers and any other pertinent information.  I call the manufacturer while the person is still there and give the manufacturer the important data.  I want to know the date of sale, the repair warranty, repair history and the loss and damage warranty.

I want to verify that the aids were sold to the person sitting in front of me.

If the person tells me the aids were given to them by a friend, I want to know the friend’s name prior to calling the manufacturer. I want as much information up front from the patient before I make the call.

Sometimes I have been able to say, the aids are in warranty and we can get them repaired at no charge.  Sometimes I am able to say, these were reported lost and they can never go into the manufacturer for repair.  This is exactly what happened recently.

A person came in and told me her daughter had given her the aids when she got new ones. What she didn’t know was that the aids were reported lost by the daughter and the manufacturer replaced them. She was just excited that her daughter had helped her hear better!

Being Your Own Investigator

My suggestion to practice owners is to go on eBay.  Look for parts from manufacturers you carry in your practice. Check the location of the parts (eBay lists the location of the item).  If it is in your city or where any of your employees live, I would highly suggest you have a friend order the part.  Once you purchase the items, you can see the owner of the eBay account.  You may see the name of someone you know who is selling the item on eBay.

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Thieves can be creative. Image courtesy Flickr, Chief Trent

I have been surprised at the number of hearing aids that are for sale on eBay.  An employee may not be shipping a returned hearing aid back to the manufacturer.  They may be taking them home and selling them.  This would mean the practice owner is not getting the hearing aid credited. And, to make matters even worse, the owner may be returning the money to the customer.  A double financial loss!  If you see aids being sold from your area, I would have a friend order the pair.

Once the aids arrive, you can check the serial numbers.  Call the manufacturer and ask the name on the aid and the account that purchased them.

They may not be coming from your practice, but you could end up helping another practice stop a potential embezzlement.

Most practice owners are so busy running their business; they have little time to check all these smaller details.

Checking to make sure all the returned aids are credited can be a tedious task.  But, it might be a good idea to package them yourself and drop them in the overnight box.  This way you know the aids are being returned to the manufacturer for credit.  You can stop any potential embezzlement situation by doing that one extra step.

Not Alone

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How we imagine a thief looks like–in reality, a thief could look exactly like your smiling employee at the desk. Courtesy Wikipedia

I belong to a professional women’s organization. The group gets together periodically to share great food, good laughs, and horror stories. Several of us have had embezzlement situations over the years.  It seems that people find new ways to steal from their employers.

One employee with an eBay account was selling batteries online.  The batteries did not have a private label on them so they were indistinguishable from anyone else’s batteries. The batteries were being sold at less than what the owner was paying for them.  It was a “great deal for the consumer.”  And, of course, shipping was free.

The owner of the practice only figured out that something was amiss when her postage bill skyrocketed.  She questioned the employee and was told that she had been mailing out batteries to patients.  An inventory system was then put in place.  Batteries were now private labeled which means the name of the practice was put on each battery package.

The batteries purchased suddenly dropped.  The postage meter bill dropped.  Charges were filed against the employee, the business manager, for stealing.  The employee was fired.

I have owned my practice for over twenty five years.  I know that certain employees have taken advantage of me. They have called in sick when they went to play golf on a beautiful day.  I have had employees steal money from my cash drawer. I have had employees buy lunch from money in the cash drawer. I have had employees use the company credit card to purchase plane tickets for their personal vacation.  I have had employees pad their time card to get paid overtime. I have had employees come in late and not deduct the time from their time card, or make up the time.

I have had employees fill up their spouse’s car with gas when they only had authorization for their car they used for home visits–over $2500 in one year.  I have had employees steal pens, paper, and other office supplies. I have had employees use professional time for their personal use such as Facebook, eBay, texting, personal phone calls, etc.

Pitfalls of Owning a Business

This latest adventure of finding items for sale on eBay has given me pause.  Being a business owner means I have to take the time to check over bills, check each employee’s time card, monitor the postage machine, set up inventory systems, and check eBay occasionally.

The good news is I still get to see patients and help them hear better.  I still get to have fun every day.  And, I still have to trust my employee; but I keep adding to the checks and balances to reduce the opportunity for my employees to steal from me and the business.