Have a Ghost Employee? Who Ya Gonna Call?

Do you know your employees? All of them? Depending on the size of your business, you may know all, some or very few of your employees. If you don’t know them all, then this represents an opportunity for a fraudster to create a false employee, otherwise known as a ghost employee.

With payroll as a large expense, control is a concern of many business owners, large or small. If payroll expense seems higher than expected or you notice a name on your payroll that you don’t recognize, then you may have a ghost employee – a name that has been added to your payroll but doesn’t work for you.

What is a Ghost Employee?

Employees in the payroll department usually facilitate ghost schemes. The more employees and internal controls involved in the payroll process, the harder the employee has to work at the scheme, but if they are determined, they will figure out a way. For any scheme to work, the ghost employees must be added to the payroll system, given employee numbers, and wage information. Then, each payroll, hours are entered for the ghost employee and a paycheck is issued. If checks are distributed, the employee needs to figure out how to have the check released without having to show ID, such as having the check mailed to the address on file, which is typically controlled by the perpetrating employee. It is usually easier to use direct deposit, where they have the check deposited into their own account.

Clues You Have a Ghost Employee

  • No personnel file for the employee
  • No one knows the employee
  • Social security number was false or that of a deceased person
  • Employee number is out of sequence with legitimate employee numbers
  • No withholding for taxes or Social Security
  • Payroll summaries do not match funds issued
  • Multiple direct deposits to the same bank account under different employee names

Who Ya Gonna Call?

How can you prevent or detect ghost employees? What do you do if you suspect you may have a fake employee on your books? One way is to hold a surprise audit for the payroll system – that can be actually walking the office and hand delivering each check stub

  • Segregation of duties – payroll preparation, disbursement and distribution functions are separate.
  • Look for checks without tax or Social Security deductions.
  • Use direct deposit. This eliminates paper checks, but does not prevent misdirection of funds into unauthorized accounts.
  • Check payroll records for duplicate names, addresses, Social Security numbers and bank accounts.
  • Pay attention to your payroll expense budget variations. Higher than expected payroll costs could indicate ghost employees.

If you would like more information on tracking down a ghost employee, or implementing internal controls to help prevent fraud, please contact Mike Rosten, CPA, CFE for a free consultation.

Source: https://www.journalofaccountancy.com/issues/2002/dec/keepghostsoffthepayroll.html