Workplace Theft is on the Rise

By: Lauren Mineau

Have you ever slipped a roll of tape into your purse from the office supply closet? How about grabbing some Post-it notes from your desk to make a grocery list?

It turns out that is becoming more common. Office theft, specifically of noncash items, has grown according to a recent report from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, a forensic accounting firm. The noncash theft of items like pens, staplers and notebooks accounted for 21% of corporate-theft losses in 2018, a sizeable increase from 10.6% in 2002.

The report, which first appeared in The Atlantic, suggested that 52% of employees admitted that they stole from work in a different survey in 2013.

Mark R. Doyle, the president of the loss-prevention consultancy Jack L. Hayes International, told The Atlantic that the uptick may be due to the changing nature of the modern workplace. As more and more employees opt to work at home, they are in need of supplies.

While this may seem minor, small thefts can sometimes escalate into larger-scale violations. David Welsh, a business professor at Arizona State University, noted in a 2014 research paper that small thefts, like bringing a pen home, tend to escalate into larger violations through a social-cognitive mechanism known as moral disengagement. In the paper, Welsh and colleagues wrote that this mechanism typically transpires through a thought process like: “If I take this pen home, but use it to jot down notes on a conference call while working remote, it's ok.” This justification takes the guilt away but leaves the situation open for escalation.

As an example of small thefts escalating into larger violations, Ronald Bally was arrested in April 2018 for stealing Halloween masks from the SpookShop in Bellingham, Washington, where he once worked. The shop owner began to notice missing inventory after attempting to fill an order for a Muppets mask for a customer. The inventory system showed the mask was in stock, but it wasn’t in the store. It was, however, listed on eBay by a seller that was later discovered to be Bally. At one point, the account had 16,341 various items listed for sale, most of which were stolen from the costume shop. After a police investigation, the total missing inventory was about $170,000, which left the shop in danger of declaring bankruptcy.