CDA Presents: The Fundamentals of Dealing with Embezzlement

May 4, 2017
Greg Kelly

About 60% of dental practices in the nation suffer from embezzlement. Embezzling thieves come in two varieties — the opportunistic and the brazen. It’s the brazen thief who does the most damage. The best way to stop embezzlement is for the dentist to pay attention. The owner of Susan Gunn Solutions helps dentists better understand and protect their practices. Gunn will speak at the California Dental Association CDA Presents The Art and Science of Dentistry meeting in San Francisco, Ca. from August 24-26 on procedures to stop embezzlement.

Based on her research and experience, Susan Gunn says “about 60% of dental practices suffer from some form of embezzlement and the problem is growing by the year.”

Gunn, “a professional practice’s Financial Organization Expert,” is the owner of Susan Gunn Solutions based in Arlington, TX. She will be speaking at the California Dental Association’s CDA Presents The Art and Science of Dentistry meeting to be held in San Francisco, California from August 24-26. The topic is implementing procedures to stop embezzlement.

With a background in criminology and business law, Gunn started out helping dentists organize their office’s financial data with QuickBooks. “One of the practices I had trained got embezzled,” Gunn explained. “It was from the nicest, sweetest dentist you could imagine. The thief took him for almost $300,000. The doctor didn’t deserve that and it really got me furious. That’s what compelled me to get my Certified Fraud Examiner’s accreditation and go into this business.”

From that bad experience Gunn says she has developed a “we’re in this together” approach with the doctors. “I do whatever I can to help them.” A popular author and speaker, Gunn’s mission is to help dentists better understand and protect their practice.

Gunn explained that a 30-year dental practice owner has a 100% chance of embezzlement. “That’s just logic,” she says. “My greater concern is doctor’s reluctance to do anything about the problem. It’s alarming.” During her career working with dental practices Gunn says she has seen everything from $647 up to $1.1 million taken from a practice through embezzlement.

“There are two types of embezzling thieves,” says Gunn. “You have the opportunistic one, who looks for an opportunity and seizes it. And that might happened a few times.” Then there’s the brazen thief. “They plan and strategize about their stealing,” Gunn says. “They figure out a way to take a lot more.”

The key to thwarting embezzlement is for the dentist to pay attention. “They are the business owner,” says Gunn. “I know they only want to do clinical. I can sympathize with them. Wouldn’t it be great if we solely got to do what made us good at business? But the reality is that we have to do lots of other things to be successful in business. The challenge with most dentists is they just want to do clinical. That doesn’t work.”

It’s the brazen thief that causes the most damage, says Gunn. “They don’t care about the practice, the doctor, the patients or anything else for that matter,” she says. “And while there isn’t a solution to prevent this, there are ways to catch it sooner. It all begins with properly overseeing the business — or you’ll never catch it.”

Sadly, Gunn says, the embezzler is “always, always someone they trust. These are the people who the dentist will initially say ‘no, they’re not stealing from me. They would never do that.’”

Typically, the brazen frauds are workers who have been employed for at least five years — most of them longer than that — says Gunn, and all the while they’ve been taking. “I teach the practice ways to get it stopped after the second or third month,” says Gunn. “And what I teach takes 2 or 3 hours a week at the very most.”

She did offer up one embezzlement thwarting tidbit for dentists: “Pay attention to your end of day activities.” Gunn says embezzlement can come from anyone in the practice. “It can be a hygienist, an assistant, the front desk manager, or a front desk assistant,” she says. “It can even be a spouse. It might also be the practice bookkeeper or CPA. I’ve seen it all — anyone can steal from you at any time of the day.”

The crucial pattern here, according to Gunn, is they always do it when no else is watching. “They’ll be there by themselves,” she says. “They’ll be there at night or on weekends. They’ll tell you they have to work late because there’s too much to do.”

As to the general absence of concern by dentists about embezzlement, Gunn says she speaks at dental schools and finds that many of the students lack perspective. “I tell the students that probably everyone in the room has had something stolen from them,” Gunn says. “That’s the angle I use to help them understand that this is a reality that becomes greater when they enter the business world.”

For more information, visit Susan Gunn Solutions.