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April 2015

Insider Fraud: How to Create an Anti-Fraud Culture in Your Telecom Organization

Insider Fraud: How to Create an Anti-Fraud Culture in Your Telecom Organization

Insider fraud is as old as man himself.  After all, stealing that apple from the Forbidden Garden was an insider’s job.  Eve came up with the plan and Adam happily joined in: together they conspired to con the Big Boss.  The rest is history :- )

Thirteen years after the WorldCom scandal, experts generally agree that insider fraud remains a massive problem in telecom, though no one, not even the CFCA has published an estimate of how big the problem is.

And that news can be rather disturbing to revenue assurance and fraud managers who have successfully stopped external fraudsters and claimed the credit for it.  Another uncomfortable fact is that insider fraud is much harder to detect than external frauds such as IRSF or International Bypass.

So where to begin?  Well perhaps the best place to start is to speak with a true expert, such as Mark Yelland, a man who regularly consults with and trains the staff at telecom operators on the matter of insider fraud.

The interview below is the first of two Black Swan interviews with Mark on the subject.  In the article below, he gives tips on how telecoms can begin to build the right methodologies and company culture to combat insider fraud.  In the second article (to be published in a few weeks) he delves into the tactics of the fraudsters: how they avoid detection, and the telltale mistakes that often lead to their discovery.

Dan Baker: What’s your take on human nature, Mark?  Have we made any progress on insider fraud since Adam and Eve?

Mark Yelland: Well, I’m not sure we have!  People remain rather self-serving and cunning.  They have their own vested interests at heart.  I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who said, “Oh, I am being paid too much.” On the contrary, people say all the time, “I could do with some extra money.”

Just a couple weeks ago, we have the example on the British Television where Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw were selling access to the government and politicians.  And yet they make 67,000 pounds a year in salary in a country where the average working wage is 24,000 pounds.  So, they were well over the average working wage, but still felt compelled to make money by selling access.

Now, of course, we in the telecom industry have big issues of our own .  One of the more interesting examples of a fraud culture I’ve heard about was the case of some switch engineers who committed fraud and said, “Yes, my manager knows I do this.  He would like to pay us more but because the company doesn’t have the budget to pay us what we’re worth, he lets us do this as a way of compensating for our lower wages.”

Now, whether the manager did or didn’t actually approve this fraud doesn’t really matter.  The point is: how do you fight that as a culture?  Because if that’s what all the people around him believe, how does he know it’s not okay?  He can justify to himself that what he is doing is perfectly acceptable.

That says you really need to be careful in your HR and hire the right people who are honest and respect their employer.

I actually think it goes deeper than that, Dan.  If you look at the various national cultures around the world, there are some where doing favors for people and being rewarded is a way of life.  This is prevalent in places like the Middle East, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan, for example.

Places like the U.S. and the U.K. have tried to address this with their new rules on financial conduct not accepting bribes.  Even still, business people need to be careful because you may end up not succeeding in certain countries because that is the way business is done in, say, the Middle East: they do business with people who they know because you build relationships with them.  You scratch my back, and I scratch yours.

The Middle East does business with people it has done business with before.  So, it doesn’t matter whether your money is good or bad, if they know you and trust you, that is all that matters.  You might get a little thank you.  It is the culture.  I suppose that is one of our main concerns about internal fraud, is it fraud or is it the culture?  You can tackle fraud, but you cannot tackle the culture.

What can be done if the culture encourages fraud?

Well, whether the culture is specific to a country or to a business, you have to make sure that you operate inside the restrictions of that culture.  There is no right or wrong culture, but still, you cannot turn a blind eye to fraud.

And fraud these days is not just happening in sales, of course.  Fraud happens in all departments, we have seen people in the billing department selling billing records to private investigators because they were investigating potential divorce cases.  We have seen senior management claiming expenses for things that they shouldn’t have been claiming.  We had instances where someone got imprisoned because they were collecting credit card information and passing it on to relatives for them to exploit.

These people did their time in prison, and in many cases, they come back, take a similar type of job at another company and commit the exact same fraud again.  And the reason they were put in that position a second time indicates a lack of proper HR screening and not doing thorough background checks.

I see, to win in combating insider fraud, you need to be very methodical in your procedures.  Now, when you go in and consult with a client about internal fraud, what’s the first thing you look at?

It’s ironic, I suppose, but the first thing I look at are the people in the fraud department who are responsible are fighting the fraud.

I can’t emphasize enough: you cannot break the law yourself.  It doesn’t matter what the other guy does, someone in the fraud department cannot embarrass the company by doing something illegal himself.

And that means: don’t fudge your expenses, don’t take a company pen home with you.  People think these things are inconsequential, but when people see you have a criminal capability, they figure you can be exploited.

“Why did you take the pad of paper?  Well, it just lying around and I needed some paper, so I took it.” Once you start explaining that as your motivation, you are compromised.  The easiest thing for the fraudster to say is that you are a criminal too, and in that way divert all your attention away from themselves so that you become the subject of investigation for some alleged comment that was made.  You have to be squeaky clean and it maybe difficult and it may be painful, but you have to do it, otherwise, if you are compromised, your whole work is threatened.

You see it in cases in the States.  There have been cases involving people on death row where the investigating officer has been found to have fabricated evidence or withheld evidence, so all his cases need to be reviewed.

It doesn‘t matter: if his reputation has been sullied, all his other decisions are now being questioned.  It’s much better not to put yourself in a position where you are at risk.  That’s my philosophy.

OK, once you’re satisfied that the right people are fighting fraud, what’s next?  What procedures do you usually put in place in a service provider organization?

I tend to start on the HR procedures needed for dealing with someone who has committed fraud.  Every organization needs to decide how they are going to handle these cases and what the outcome is going to be.  What you don’t want is an ad-hoc process whereby someone from HR walks down the hallway, has a conversation, and as a result of that, there is a disciplinary action.

You’ve got to make sure that everything is above board, legitimate, and cannot be challenged.  Employees need a clear understanding of what behavior is acceptable and what is not — and what the penalty is for deviation from that behavior.

The next thing is to set up a network so it’s easy for people to report suspicious behavior without compromising themselves.  In the classic whistleblower scenario, you’re sending an email.  The problem is that when you send an email, everyone knows who sent it.  Picking up the phone and dialing to a free phone number is reasonably okay, but then people have to act on it.

My concern is having the right person in the place to deal with the fraud first.  So, if you haven’t got the right person in place and if you sack someone for an offence and you don’t take action for the same offence by someone else, you are on dangerous ground to fight a claim for unfair dismissal.  What you don’t want to do is set yourself up to be sued by someone who has committed a fraud.

So there’s quite a bit of planning and setup before you can establish a solid an anti-fraud culture and program.

Yes, and unfortunately, a lot of organizations only take their anti-fraud measures halfway.  They’ve got the processes and procedures in place for instant dismissal for certain types of offences.  What they haven’t thought deeply about is the evidence they need to collect to be able to show that the fraud was committed.

How should you hold this evidence?  And how do you make sure that the evidence doesn’t get lost, destroyed — or whatever — should the case eventually go to court?

Have you got people who are trained to interview properly?  And what are the proper ways of getting people to talk about what they are doing?  In some respects, finding the fraudster is the easy part: the hard part is making sure you can do something with the evidence.

Knowing what steps to take and when is key.  If you waste time or bungle the interviews, you maybe give the fraudster enough time to destroy the evidence or to resign from the company.

So the hard part is the preparation — make sure things are in place.  And the other thing you don’t do is change your tactics based on who you are interviewing.  So, if you boot out a low-level maintenance engineer, he should get the exact same treatment as if it’s the head of operations.  If they both commit a fraud, they should both be treated with the same level of respect and given the same opportunities.

Sounds like senior management needs to have an active role in the anti-fraud program.

Absolutely, and one of the reasons their support is vital is that the senior execs are responsible for how the business is perceived in the local community.  If the community sees the company as treating its employees poorly, that has serious business consequence, such as the inability to hire quality people.

But much of what senior management needs to shepherd is ensuring the right people and processes are in place in fraud management.  And that includes knowing where you would store the information, who you would notify, how you notify them.  And also understanding the outcomes you want to achieve: have you decided to get rid of the guy, discipline him, or take him to court?

If you take him to court, it becomes public knowledge, so you have reputation issues.  If you sack him, are you guilty of an unfair dismissal by taking away his pension rights?  Lots of employee rights issues to nail down.

Mark, your insights are wonderful and highly interesting.  What are your final thoughts about growing an anti-fraud culture?

Dan, educating employees about the seriousness of fraud issues is certainly key.  You have got to get people to understand what is at stake.  And what’s at stake is the ethics of the company.

Now to show that you mean business, you must plan your anti-fraud strategy upfront — and in great detail.  You can’t make these decisions on a day-by-day basis.

And when you plan properly, it allows you to win on the fairness issue.  People need to see that your anti-fraud program is being applied consistently and fairly.  People need to know: it doesn’t matter how high up in the organization you are, you still get treated the same if you are a fraudster.  It gives confidence to the whistleblower and others whose support you need.

When the policy is ingrained in the culture, then people start respecting what people in the fraud and security department do.  But if the guy at the top gets away with fraud, and the guy at the bottom doesn’t, what does it say about you?

Copyright 2015 Black Swan Telecom Journal


About the Expert

Mark Yelland

Mark Yelland

Mark Yelland has been working in the revenue assurance and fraud space for over 20 years.  For the last five, he has run a small consultancy firm, RAAIIM, targeting the smaller and newer operators, helping them get started or improve their revenue leakage and risk management.  Showing them what can be achieved with minimal spend — getting more out of their existing systems, or developing tools using open-source products.

Like all engineers, he enjoys solving problems of all types, trying to find elegant, cost effective and simple solutions to big problems.  His engineering training comes from the degree course at Cambridge University and his business skills come from the Open University MBA.   Contact Mark via

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