Opinion: Have we stopped looking for the money?

October 05, 2022

The recent discovery of a financial discrepancy in the Cherokee County tax office got me to thinking. How common is embezzlement, theft, corruption or “misappropriation” of our funds? I was stunned at the amounts I discovered. From my research, it might seem that there are more ways to steal than ever, and more places to steal it from. 

For example, Medicare fraud in 2020 accounted for $60 billion of all funds. (finance.senate.gov)

Non-health insurance fraud amounted to $40 billion. (FBI.gov)

Employee theft, $50 billion from “inside” jobs. (zippia.com)

I.D. theft was $56 billion in 2021. (Identity Fraud Study by Javelin Strategy & Research)

Daily, it seems we get news stories of stolen funds from the COVID-19 Relief program. NBC reported it’s the biggest fraud in a generation with more than $80 billion lost. Other sources claim it’s more than $100 billion.

The Paycheck Protection Program lost an estimated $90 billion, or 10% of the monies congress allocated. 

The pandemic Unemployment Benefits lost to fraud are an estimated $163 billion, according to CNBC. One report said it would cost too much to try to track these funds accurately.

A little bit of trivia: If one billion one-dollar bills were placed end-to-end, it would circle the Earth four times. Multiply that by all the figures stated above, our little world would be strangled in money that, in fact, the average American has lost. While these figures are dizzying and the amounts are figures few of us can grasp, the bottom line is, it our tax dollars being stolen that we struggle to pay daily. A Google search revealed that of the 34 industrialized countries included in the OECD, the U.S. has the highest tax rate at 39.1% and now it looks like those taxes we pay are supporting criminal enterprises.

This brings me back to losses businesses or agencies suffer when trusted employees steal funds.

Losses due to embezzlement affect small businesses especially hard, because they cannot afford to absorb the losses. Nearly 30% of all business failures are caused by employee theft, according to the Better Business Bureau.

We are aware of alleged employee embezzlements in our county that have happened at a local convenience store and, of course, the tax office, but I’ve heard of others and although a mere $50,000 or $100,000 or $431,000 might pale in comparison to billions, as I walk around with maybe $15 in my pocket, those figures are relevant to me and should be to you, too.

As a small business owner myself, I am acutely aware of the tight budget I work with and the ramifications that any loss would cost.

So this brings me back to the original question. With all these figures of fraud and lost money, have we stopped looking for the money? Nationally or locally?

The wrong-doers must be held accountable and that can only be obtained by aggressive prosecution.