Office manager admits $100K theft

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A Bay of Plenty office manager is now awaiting sentencing after she admitted stealing more than $100,000 from her employer over the period of 16 months.

Joanna Francis Cooney began defrauding Physical Education New Zealand (PENZ) in October 2015 – just five months after she first joined the Mount Maunganui firm.

Earlier this week, Tauranga District Court heard how Cooney systematically changed the bank account details for invoice payments so funds were directed to her young daughter’s account.

Between October 20, 2015 and February 2 2017, an incredible $102,198 was deposited into Cooney's daughter's bank account which represented 166 illegal deposits.

Cooney admitted two charges of accessing a computer system for dishonest purposes and was remanded on bail pending sentencing on November 16.

Dan Zitting, a former auditor with Ernst and Young, says it’s not uncommon for employers to underestimate the risk of fraud.

“Most companies have some idea that fraud is a potential but most don’t realise how severe it can be,” says Zitting, who now works for a leading software firm.

“Depending on which industry body you read, anywhere from five to ten per cent of all revenue may be lost to fraud or to waste and abuse scenarios that border on fraud.”

According to Zitting, traditional anti-fraud measures are an important line of defence but still don’t guarantee organisational safety.

“Setting the tone from the top – whether it’s your code of conduct or certain policies – is a good first deterrent and putting thorough financial controls in place is another,” he told HRD.

From separating responsibilities in at-risk areas to restricting access to accounting systems, there are plenty of measures which can help prevent fraud – but they’re by no means bulletproof, says Zitting.

“Those kinds of steps are easier than you would think to subvert,” he tells HRD. “You really need that third tier of data analysis – that’s the most powerful one in being able to detect and remediate issues.”

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