Employee theft jumps by a fifth as cost of living pressures mount

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Employee theft has jumped by a fifth as the rising cost of living triggers a wave of workplace crime, new data suggests.

National figures reveal almost 6,000 workers were caught stealing from their employer in 2022, up from 5,000 the year before. This amounts to nearly 500 incidents every month.

The analysis was carried out by insurer Zurich UK based on Freedom of Information data from 43 police forces in England and Wales.

London’s Metropolitan Police saw the highest number of employee thefts, with 874 incidents last year, while the City of London saw the fewest, at 18. The biggest increase in thefts occurred in Lincolnshire, up from 40 to 71 incidents – a rise of 44%.

Employee theft ranges from petty pilfering of office supplies to the theft of data and embezzlement of company funds.

Although overall numbers are low, Zurich has seen an increase in commercial crime claims, including employee theft, which can leave firms facing average losses of £140,000.

Recent claims include a £150,000 theft by a ring of employees at a food manufacturer and a £50,000 claim from a double-glazing firm defrauded by its finance manager.

Rose Sutton, a senior Speciality Lines claims expert, said: “As cost of living pressures mount, employee theft has significantly increased, suggesting some workers could be turning to desperate measures to make ends meet.

“The consequences of employee theft can be devastating for companies, resulting in reduced profits, lower staff morale and in extreme cases, even bankruptcy. Consumers also lose out through higher prices.

“No business is immune to theft in the workplace, which can go undetected for years, and occur at all levels. Unless firms have the right protection in place, they have little chance of recovering stolen cash and goods, and may face other expenses, such as regulatory fines.

“Insurance provides a vital safety net that can help firms mitigate the impact of financial losses and resume normal operations quicker.”

Firms can reduce the risk of employee theft by implementing robust payment controls, regular audits, and a positive work culture.

Zurich has also seen an increase in claims for social engineering, where fraudsters manipulate employees into making payments or handing over bank details and passwords.

This includes cases where criminals have hacked a senior employee’s email and sent urgent payment instructions with fraudulent bank details to other staff members and external parties.

Arunava Banerjee, Cyber Risk Consulting Lead at Zurich Resilience Solutions, said: “Fraudsters are using ever more sophisticated techniques to trick employees into divulging sensitive information.

“These tactics can sometimes be difficult to detect, making it crucial that employers have robust security measures in place, alongside effective cyber awareness training to help staff detect and avoid these scams.”