Interview with David Harris | Dental Marketing Guy Show

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David Harris

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Justin: welcome to the Dental Marketing Guy Show, I’m Justin the dental marketing guy, and today I have a very important guest, you’re going to want to hear what he has to  say, because he has helped practices like yours, dealing with embezzlement, you may have an issue, and not even know it. There could be a thief in your dental practice. David Harris has been interviewed on the subject of embezzlement by every leading dental publication; he is also a prolific writer, an author of a dozen or more articles annually that appear in major publications. David has lectured at several US and Canadian universities, in matters having to do with business, law and dentistry, and man, it is such a huge honor to introduce you, David, how are you?

David: I’m great Justin, and you?

Justin: I’m doing great, I’m really wanting to delve into this, I know you’ve got some great information, but I was hoping you could, maybe before we get into some actionable tips, I was hoping you could maybe tell me the story of how you became – is it dental

David: yeah, that’s the website,

Justin: yeah, maybe you could tell our viewers, just a story of how you came to come into that sphere of things, and how you help dentists?

David: I guess I’d like to say that I had a master plan that I saw an opportunity and I went for it, but the truth a little bit different. I got into investigating dental embezzlement completely by accident. Before I got into this field, I was in the Army; I taught at some university, I worked at a bank. I’d left my job at the bank; I was sitting at home and thinking about what I was going to do next. When I picked the phone up from a friend who happened to be a dentist, and he said to me ‘I think my font desk person is stealing from me, and I really don’t know who to call’, so I wasn’t doing anything that week, so I said ‘no problem, I’ll come to your office after work and well get to the bottom of it’. So I went over to his office, this was 1989, so back in the days before most dentist were computerized, it was the out pegboard system that was in use, and I went to his office, we saw what she was doing, which was kind of rudimentary by the standards of embezzlement today, and fired, and I went back to watching TV and I didn’t think anything more of it. Until 2 weeks later, and 2 weeks later I was going to my own dentist’s office for an appointment, and I was about to go through the front door and I looked through the glass and sitting there at the reception, was the same woman that we fired at the other office 2 weeks before.

Justin: wow.

David: Talk about coincidence. So, I turned around, I sprinted to the nearest pay phone, because in 1989 were pretty big, I called the office, I got put through to the doctor on a pretext, and I told him about what was going on at his front desk, and he asked me in this very panicked voice ‘what the heck do I do now?’ and about halfway through his second sentence, he’d hired me. And by the time I finished his work, 2 other dentist had called me. That’s how I got started, so I didn’t choose dentistry at all, it chose me.

Justin: excellent. So since that time, you’ve done some amazing things for practices, I don’t even know if you know the dollar figure that you’ve saved ostensibly, lots of money for dentists like those viewing this show. Maybe you could tell us  some really quick tips as far as – here’s 3 quick tips or 2 or 3 quick tips, as to how you can avoid embezzlement, how  can you resolve a situation, what to do  if you suspect it, I’ll let you have the floor on those quick tips.

David: not going to be as quick as you hope. we all want to analyze other crime, when you put a burglar alarm system in your house, it’s very effective at protecting your house, but it does that not because it stops burglary, but because it redirects it to see other victim, and what we want to assume, Justin, is that the same thinking to embezzlement and it won’t, the difference between embezzlement and burglary, in breaking into houses, you can chose your victim, in embezzlement you can’t, in embezzlement is pre-ordained. So if you’re a dentist and I work for you,  and my plan is to steal, and I come up with an approach and you have blocked it, I don’t then move on to some other victim, I move on to some other approach. So the idea that we can prevent embezzlement, that we can lock practices down so that they don’t get stolen from, is vexatious, and in terms of tips, that’s the first tip; when embezzlers, and most embezzlers have worked in  practice for  a long time. You know we have this culture that you make a hiring mistake, and the next week they start stealing, and sometimes that happens, but the majority of embezzlers are long term employees, and they probably had no intention of embezzling when they were hired, and then they come in one day and start stealing. So they’re doing that with  knowledge of what the dentist looks at, and how she or he thinks, and I – sometimes,, it’s a crime of navigation, it’s finding your way around your bosses scrutiny, so that you can steal. So I think prevention is impossible, does that mean that dentists are powerless to embezzlement? Of course not, there are lots of things we can do. The first thing we can do is we can force embezzlers into high risk kinds of ways of stealing, and for the most part that involves some basic checking. I know a lot of dentists, who for example, don’t look at their day end report at the end of the day, or they think that monthly stats are the things that they should be looking at the end of the month.

Justin: sorry, could you repeat that again, a little bit louder and slower, for some reason the Wi-Fi is a little bit shaky, I just want to make sure this is really good value, I want to make sure that the listeners can pick up on all of what you said.

David: okay. What I said was that, were I think dentists should focus is on not the concept that we can’t prevent this, but that if it’s happening, we need to know about it. So we start with some really basic checking. Look at the day sheet at the end of every day. Most dentists thinks the month end is something that the staff do, and they don’t have any involvement in it, whereas I think there are some specific thinks that every dentist should be looking at every month e and, to see if things are at a miss. Now none of this will stop embezzlement, but it will shut down the easiest ways to steal, and force people into things that take a little more creativity and carry a lot more risk.

Justin: excellent. And so, for basically – prevention is a difficult issue because those who are hired, they don’t – your saying most people, when their hired to a dental office, they don’t have embezzlement on their mind, it’s sort of a crime or opportunity, is that what you’re saying?

David: no, it is absolutely not a crime of opportunity; embezzlement is a very premeditated crime. It is conceived by someone who knows their boss really well, knows how they think, and exploits that knowledge to commit a crime that they consider to be undetectable. It is not an impulsive crime, it is a well-planned one. Sorry, I answered half your question and forgot what the other half was.

Justin: well I guess my question better phrased would be; prevention is kind of a difficult thing, as your explained, how about, if I am a dentist -kind of put myself in the shoes of our listeners, if I am a dentist and I suspect that maybe some numbers are a little fuzzy in the office, or I’m a little bit underwhelmed by the dollars in the bank account, versus maybe production. And so I’m starting to suspect that maybe something is amiss, I don’t want to believe that Suzie at the front desk who’s been there for 20 years is any cause of it, but that’s always a possibility. What would you say, what is a good first step for dentist in this frame of mind, to kind of go forward?  Are there steps that they can take themselves to kind of figure things out? Should they contact you? What’s a good first step?

David: I’ll tell you the wrong step, that is to do something that lets Suzie know that you suspect her, if I’m a thief and I think I’m about to get caught, and I think that getting caught is going to have serious consequences, then the normal rules that apply to civilized behavior probably don’t apply to me at that moment.

I had a call about 7 years ago from a dentist; he  suspected embezzlement, we chatted for about 15 minutes, and he decided he could save some money if he done his own investigation. What he ended up doing as a consequence, is tipping of the suspect to the fact that she was about to get caught. And her response was very simple; she came back that night with a can of gasoline and burned down the office.

Justin: oh wow.

David: making very sure that every single backup medium was right next to the computer when she lit the match. And the dentist said to me afterwards, with some ruefulness in his voice ‘well that was a bit of a false economy’ The danger that I have, and I’d like to encourage your audience to become instant private investigators and to be able to – you know, and to tell them some things that they can do, but it’s a very dangerous course. And there really aren’t any particular limits as to what embezzlers will do. And I’ll illustrate this as follows. In 2012, a woman in Baltimore, Maryland, pled guilty to murdering the dentist from whom she’d been embezzling. Her name is Shanty Joiner Hickman, she worked for a dentist named Dr Albert Row, she was embezzling from him, and she thought she was going to get caught. So she came back one night when she knew Dr Row was going to be in the office, she brang her cousin for some muscle, and the 2 of them dragged Dr Row into the washroom and beat him to death. The worst part, Justin, is that the amount she had embezzled was $17 000. So a huge caution o your viewers, so if you suspect, you probably need help. There are ways to gather information, but they take a fair amount of skill, and there are options that people have, their CPA may be able to assist them, they may be able to get help from the company that makes there practice management software, or they can go to a specialized investigation firm, like ours. But the do it yourself approach is a huge minefield, and I’d encourage some caution.

One thing that we offer is that we have an embezzlement  risk assessment questionnaire and it’s a way for somebody to get a little bit of validation as to what their  seeing is actually embezzlement, or it might be something else. So this questionnaire is 37 questions, there yes or  no questions, it would take a dentist typically 10 to 15 minutes to complete, and at the end of that process they get a score, and the score is a pretty good indicator as to whether they have an embezzlement problem or not. So if somebody has suspicion and they want to do a low level investigation that would be the first step. And I can send you, is this something we normally charge for, but I’m happy to make the questionnaire available to your audience for some time and I can send you a link with a promo code after if you like.

Justin: excellent, that sounds great, I really appreciate you doing that Davis, that is – it pretty serious, I think a lot of our viewers may think ‘oh well things like embezzlement, and murder are very unlikely to happen’ but what would you say – how many dentist, and I don’t even know if this stat can even be reliably put out by you or anyone, but just kind of curious. What percentage of dental office do you think are being embezzled and the dentist doesn’t even suspect it?

David: you’re right that is a difficult one. What we do know is that about 60% of dentist will eventually be embezzled, so it safe dates that probably somewhere between 10 and 12000 offices will be embezzled this year. In terms of embezzlement that happens that is not detected, there is no way of knowing. The typically embezzlement goes on for about 2 and a half to 3 years before getting caught. If you wanted to take the 10 – 12 000 per year and string that out, assume that each one last about 2 years, you’ve got somewhere in the 20 000 offices range, where embezzlements going to take place for some period of time, before embezzlement is detached.

Justin: And as far as, your story, we’re going to come to a close here in just a minute, but your story is really alarming because, you know, you went to your dentist and here’s this lady that just got fired for embezzlement, I’m assuming there was no conviction on record that the doctor could have checked before he hired her. Nowhere days, what would you say – how can dentist screen employees, is it just a simple background check? How can dentist prevent hiring someone who actually has a history, say there’s not even conviction, and because it can be tough to convict people for these types of crimes sometimes, your help definitely helps with that? But I was wondering – how can I- I’m a dentist, I’m watching this show, what can I do to screen potential employees?

David: first, these 2 events happen 2 weeks apart. Meaning she was fired at the first office, and 2 weeks later I was in the second office for my appointment. Sometimes people don’t appreciate how long the criminal process takes, and the typical interval between when someone is fired in an office for embezzlement and when they get convicted of a crime, could be 3-4 years.  In that period of time, a criminal background check won’t yield any results. And I’ve asked thousands of dentists in presentations ‘can I please see a show of hands as to how many of you enjoy hiring people’ nobody every puts up there hand. Dentists absolutely despise that process, and when they find somebody who looks perfect, every ounce of skepticism leaves there brain and they hire them.

So the first thing I’d say is, statistically 1 in 4 adults in the United Sates has a criminal record, and every dentist hiring should bare that in mind. It astounds me, Justin that I can get a minimal job at UPS or Fed-ex, only if I pass a drug test, but yet I will venture that virtually every employee, of every dentist that’s tuned into this podcast, does not drug test employees when they hire them.

Another thing that’s really important is to speak with former employers, and I’ll give a tip here for your audience. A lot of resume’s, list former employers and they also put the phone numbers, don’t even call those phone numbers. If I say that I worked for Dr Smith in Peoria, don’t call the number I give you, because it might be one of those disposable cellphones that one of my relatives is answering and will give me a good reference. Go to your favorite search engine, find the number for Dr Smith in Peoria, and call that number. We’ve seen a lot of people hide a checkered past that way. The other thing that you run into is somebody whose applying for a job and they say ‘please don’t contact my current employer because they don’t know that I’m leaving’ and there are 2 possibilities; one is that it’s true, the other is that they were actually fired by their previous employer 2 weeks ago and their just using this as smoke screen because they don’t want you to call that employer because they know they won’t get the job. So the way that we deal with that one is simple, you say to that employee ‘I understand that completely, and what we will do is, we’ll complete the rest of the screening process, and at that point, if we’re ready to hire you, we’ll make you a written job offer, and the written offer will lay out all the terms, but with one condition, and the condition is that we speak with your current employer’ this is a great way of treating, because if that person has already been fired, they’re not going to jump through the other hoops to get hired, knowing that they’re going to hit a brick wall at the end, on the other hand, if it’s a legitimate thing, and they have not yet told their current employer that their leaving to take a job with you, then they’ll keep going. But that will typically stop the liar’s right there. So in terms of hiring, that’s what you can be doing. But you need to approach hiring with skepticism, you need to know that 60% of resumes have false information on them, 25% of adults have criminal records. There is a further group of adults who have committed a crime but just haven’t been convicted yet.

Justin: did you say 25%, so 1 in 4 people have a criminal record?

David: 1 in 4 US adults has a criminal record. About 60 million adults in the US have a criminal record. Now some of these criminal records do not make people unemployable. I mean if you live in Colorado and you were convicted of marijuana possession 25 years ago, I’m not sure that’s a barrier to hiring you today. So, the mere fact that somebody has a criminal record doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be hired, it means that further investigation is needed and the doctor needs to understand what really happened.

Justin: but does that include like traffic, or? That seems like a lot 1 in 4, is that like misdemeanors and above or?

David: that would be offenses under s state Penal code, so in terms of driving, speeding wouldn’t do it, but DWI would.

Justin: okay, wow, well that’s really interesting. And then, a lot – like you said – a lot of times the process, the legal process and the criminal justice systems, you know, there’s so many safeguards protecting individuals from having their constitutional rights infringed, that it  takes a lot of time to sort through that process, and that’s. Man, I mean I have heard some numbers from you that I am a little surprised by; you are the expert on this. here’s what we’re going to do for this listeners is, we’re going to put a link  below in the  YouTube description, and on the  dental marketing guy blog and you’re going to be able to go for that form for free for a limited time only, so if you hear this episode, please take action on that now, if you think you might – you know, here we have 60% of dental offices will at some point, experience some sort of embezzlement, so that’s 10-12 000 offices this year, you could be one of those offices. So let’s take action on this, it sounds like it only takes 10-15 minutes and it could be the best 10 or 15 minutes you ever spend in your life in terms of saving what you’ve earned!

Man, David Harris from, thank you so much for joining me.

David: great to be here, thank you Justin.

Justin: cool, yeah, so to all our listeners, we’re going to put that link below. Thank you for listening to the dental marketing guy show.