Local News

Employee crime rising, national reports show

SEBRING - Generally at a pawnshop, a customer would give money to a clerk to retrieve items that were pawned, with the money then being credited to the business.

But authorities say that for a period of more than six months, an employee at Sebring Pawn & Check Cashing was pocketing the money, instead, according to a report released Monday.

That's been one of several instances during the past year where employees have been accused of stealing from their employers in Sebring.

Businesses in Sebring are far from being alone in that regard. Jack L. Hayes International, a private firm, conducted a study that showed employee thefts increased 5.5 percent in 2012 from 2011 and that during 2012 $50 million in goods were recovered, according to BusinessNewsDaily.

Mark Doyle, president of Jack L. Hayes, told BusinessNewsDaily that "these theft losses are stealing profits from retailers and driving retail prices higher for the consumer."

In Sebring and Highlands County, the arrest of the former pawnshop employee was the most recent, although the actual thefts were alleged to have occurred in 2011 and 2012.

James Wesley Tanner, 32, 727 Bay St., Sebring, was arrested this week and charged with grand theft of $10,000 or more.

The Sebring Police Department warrant affidavit said that Tanner worked at the pawnshop between September 2011 and April 2012.

Tanner was first accused of stealing $9,344 and later stealing another $4,002. The owner of the pawnshop told authorities he gave Tanner a chance to repay the money, but later fired Tanner after finding more money missing.

Other incidents that have occurred during the past year included:

Bryan Barber, a former manager of the Circle K store on Hammock Road, was accused of pocketing more than $8,000 that should have deposited in the business account.

Several people, including a former employee at JCPenney, were arrested and accused of being part of a scheme that involved returning merchandise not bought at JCPenney and then receiving gift cards that were sold elsewhere.

A father, a mother and a son were arrested and accused earlier this year of either embezzling or spending nearly $1 million belonging to Sebring Heart Center and its staff.

Nell Hays, public information officer for the Highlands County Sheriff's Office, said businesses can take several steps to reduce such incidents.

She said they should conduct background checks on all employees to determine whether they have criminal backgrounds. If they do, the employer can ask for more information to determine whether they want to hire that person, she said.

Businesses should have checks and balances into the methods of carrying out business, she said. That should especially be the case with gift cards, which aren't traceable, she said.

Businesses also need adequate video cameras capable of taking video that is clear. The footage needs to be trackable to a certain day and time and cameras should be focused on employees, as well as customers, she said.

Checks of inventories should be done monthly, she said.

If an employer suspects a particular employee, Hays said, they can do some tests to determine if that person is taking money, she said.

Hays also said they can do random checks of cash registers so it doesn't appear that they are targeting a particular employee.

Such crimes likely increase during the holiday season, Hays said.

"A lot of people will do things over the holiday season because of family pressures or the pressures of the holiday itself," she said.


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