Billions Lost from Workplace in Employee Theft

Those paper clips, sticky notes and pens and pencils you swipe from the office do add up.

In fact, according to a new report, Florida businesses are losing an estimated $27.4 billion a year to this and other forms of workplace crime.

That was the news released Tuesday by state Attorney General Charlie Crist, who along with other crime-prevention advocates launched a statewide initiative to educate employers about workplace crime, its costs and its prevention.

The initiative, jump-started with a study commissioned by security experts Sonitrol Corp., is called "Safe at Work." It includes Crist's office, the Florida Crime Prevention Association and the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association.

"Whether it's a business unaware of an internal fraud problem or an employee afraid to walk to her car every night, crime takes a serious toll on Florida's workplaces," Crist said.

Florida employers spend more on crime than the combined expenses for office space and commercial rentals, which total about $21 billion, according to the study.

This year alone, business losses to crime averaged about $1,828, compared with $780 for households.

"Fortunately, much of this crime is preventable," Crist said. "This initiative and this report make it clear that businesses need more information about their security risks and how to reduce them."

By logging onto the Safe at Work Web site, (http://www.safeatworkfl.org) www.safeatworkfl.org, businesses can get tools and tips from crime-prevention experts on how to spot potential workplace violence issues, how to hire honest employees and how to determine a business's external crime risk.

The site also offers safeguards, such as checks and balances and tightened hiring practices to guard against internal theft.

Gates That Open (GTO) is a local business that's being proactive against theft. The company, which manufactures electronic gate openers, recently put systems in place to help keep its plant secure.

The company installed card readers, cameras and magnetic door locks.

"We looked at the well-being of our employees," said Brian DeSotell, chief financial officer. "And we looked at the events that were occurring across the country. And with the number of jobs we created, it has become increasingly difficult to know everyone by face."

Its latest precaution was a fingerprint reader, "something we'd been using in lieu of a time clock," said DeSotell.

Sonitrol commissioned Florida State University Professor Tim Lynch, director of the Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis, to write the crime report.

"With Florida growing at such a fast rate, we were noticing there were business owners, particularly small-business owners, who didn't know how to protect their businesses," said Bruce Winner, business and education manager for Sonitrol.

Lynch used national estimates to extrapolate the data for Florida. There is no current price tag on how much crime costs Tallahassee businesses.

"We're hoping to go beyond this (current study)," Lynch said.

Business crime makes up about 70 percent of total crime costs in the United States. In 2004, it cost employers an estimated $490 billion; residential-crime costs were estimated at $209 billion.

According to Lynch's research, if Florida businesses cut their crime costs in half, it would boost business economic activity by $26 billion. Just a 10-percent drop could help small businesses provide health insurance for more than a half-million more employees.

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