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Crime in Business

By Hugo Gemsback

ONE of the great nuisances, with which American business has to contend today, is theft of all sorts, committed either by employees or outsiders. It is an unfortunate fact, but true, that only an exceedingly small percentage of business houses in the United States escape this scourge. For one thing. the American business man is trustful and rarely suspects his own employees, and he is always much surprised when thefts and pilfering appear. Such things as stamps, small merchandise, etc., are continuously being taken; and it is often most difficult to put a stop to this.

The situation is particularly acute with some smaller houses which, naturally, have not the means to employ a regular detective force; as, for instance, do the large department stores and other establishments, whose detective force often reaches the dignity of a good-sized organization.

In the smaller offices and stores there is always a great deal of temptation; and the firm is a constant loser, very frequently, simply because it is too trusting.

Cases where girls have taken small amounts of money, and even lifted the entire pay envelopes of fellow-employees, are every day occurrences; and pilfering small amounts of merchandise, which can be concealed on the person, is a common practice that seems difficult to stop.

Of course, only a small fraction of employees are dishonest enough to do this sort of thing; but there are always to be found a few who will.

It is here that the average business man can do a little detective work himself, if he is so minded; and he can, usually, come pretty close to running down the petty thief, if he knows that this sort of thing is going on.

Naturally, no two cases will be alike, and each requires special thought. But, again, the business man should start at the beginning; and that is, by trying so far as humanly possible, to do away with whatever temptation is put in the employee's way.

The larger companies, for instance, do not buy loose stamps, their use of metering instruments and precancelled stamps cuts down losses, often to an astonishing degree. In other places, where small pieces of merchandise can easily be carried out, perpetual-inventory systems will help a great deal; particularly if the employees know that some one in authority takes stock, at irregular intervals, to check up. All of these methods are strong deterrents against petty thefts. But even with them, the evil is not always eradicated entirely.

If an employer has any suspicion that a good deal of stealing and pilfering goes on, it is often advisable to install a dictograph where a member of the firm can listen in to conversations in washrooms, shipping rooms, assembling rooms, and points where employees are known to congregate. The average business man will be surprised and astonished how much information he can obtain, in this manner, that he would not dream of otherwise. One of the greatest nuisances, perhaps, in the average American office is that outsiders and relatives can send letters to individuals of the staff. This easily makes for some losses; because disloyal employees have been known to carry on business in competition with the firms, through having letters from the firm's own customers come in addressed to individuals.

The larger organizations do not tolerate mail addressed to individuals, and usually open up such mail, regardless of the address. This stops a great many leaks, which otherwise would be a detriment to the business.

One firm in the east, which did a large mail-order business, knew that it was losing a considerable amount of money through the activity of a few employees, who could never be caught. The president of the firm proceeded to fingerprint all employees, without their knowing that a record was made of their fingerprints. This was done by showing each employee a letter, and asking whether he or she knew anything about it. The person in question, naturally, would take the letter in his hand for a few seconds; which was sufficient to ensure a perfect imprint on the back of the letter, as it had been prepared for the purpose. These fingerprints were then indexed by the president himself.

Then the president proceeded to send some cash orders, with which brand-new bills were enclosed, as if given to the firm in payment for merchandise. These bills, too, had been prepared. Inasmuch as the letters had been mailed from the suburbs, it was easy to know when they would arrive in the office. By asking a few of the suspects to change a ten-dollar bill, the bills were easily identified, first by number, then by fingerprint; and, in each instance, only two different fingerprints appeared on the bills. It was found from this that the mail openers worked in unison with the shipping departments; that they extracted the money from the mail, and surreptitiously sent the order to the shipping department, which filled the order. -Thus the firm was out the money. It took only a few hours to make the guilty ones confess; and, after changing the system, the firm had no further losses.

Similar cases will come up from time to time; and it behooves every business man to keep his eyes wide open in order to stop losses. A little scientific detective work will pay good dividends.