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Stop, thief!

30th Jun 2014
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I wasn’t able to write last week because the office was in something of a turmoil.

Mrs Dragon, who’s been in charge of the petty cash tin since Miss Books left and hasn’t yet handed it over to No 2, came to me in some distress, saying money was going missing from the cash box.

“I balance it every night,” she said.  “People need cash to buy coffee and tea and milk and games magazines and things.  I always write a slip for what they take out and they always have to give me the receipt and the change as soon as they come in.  It’s worked fine up till now.  But on Monday I was £20 short.  And then on Wednesday another £20 went.  We’ve got a thief in here.”

That wasn’t good news.

“Could anyone else have access to the box?” I asked.

“I’ve got the only key.”

I had a look at the box.  It’s a fairly standard cash box but the lock looks strong and there were no signs of it having been forced or picked.

Now I had the difficult task of asking Mrs Dragon if she was certain that she’d done her sums correctly, without her taking umbrage and breathing fire over me.  Ideally I wanted to check it myself.

“Do you think it’d be a wise idea if I check it too, before we go to CP?” I asked her.  “That’ll be the first thing he asks, so it might help if we’re prepared for it.”

Mrs Dragon handed the cash box and the key over as meek as a mouse.

Trying not to look too relieved, I got out my trusty calculator and went through the sums from the slips and the cash book.  And I agreed with Mrs Dragon.  We were £40 short.

We asked CP for a meeting soonest and told him what had happened.

He advised us to get a new cash box with a number combination lock and be sure that only we knew the numbers – and to be vigilant and discreet.

So now we have a new cash box, the cash has been moved into it, and we’re keeping our eyes open.

It’s horrible to think that there might be a thief in the team.  The atmosphere here is normally so good, but both Mrs Dragon and I are not our usual cheerful selves at the moment.  We both find ourselves watching our colleagues suspiciously and thinking, “Is it him?  Is it him?”  It’s like something out of an Agatha Christie book.

I’m not sure if I want to find the thief or not.  Obviously professionally I do – but I hate to think of anyone here having stolen the money.  And yet if we don’t find out who it is, then we’ll go on wondering always.

Not good.


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Replies (28)

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By mrme89
30th Jun 2014 10:14

Trust should be paramount for any business.


Changing the cash box wouldn’t do much for somebody that is opportunistic.


I think I would be calling a company meeting to explain what has happened. Outlining the disciplinary procedures for such an occurrence, and telling them that measures have been taken to prevent this from happening again.


On another note though, do you not have any cctv? It’s cheap to get a good quality system nowadays, so there’s no reason for not having it.

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By B Roberts
30th Jun 2014 10:28

Sloooooooow down a litle .....
There could still be a reasonable explanation for the difference, eg. Mrs Dragon may have made a genuine mistake.

The fact that Mrs Dragon is the only person with a key makes a genuine error more likely as in my experience this kind of low value problem is usually as a result of an opportunist, somebody walking past and putting £20 in their pocket - the person is less likely to go to the trouble of seeking out the key etc. as there is more chance of getting caught.

Although you have "checked" the petty cash, you haven't really as you have assumed that the opening balance was correct.

It is only from now onwards that 2 separate people have checked the closing figures, that you can be sure of the balance as at today.

Why not carry on as you were - with the same cash box - and both independently check the cash at the end of each day.

If this discrepancy is as a result of theft, then it is likely to happen again - and soon, considering that there appears to be 2 instances in as many days.

If you "announce" the problem to the team then this can become quite destructive to team morale as people try to work out who is responsible.

The obvious "suspect" in these circumstances is usually the newest member of the team (because this didn't happen before they arrived, so it must be them) which isn't fair.

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Replying to kevinringer:
29th Jul 2014 09:42

newest member of the team

But then it may have been the person leaving having one last fling.

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By WhichTyler
30th Jun 2014 18:55

Another risk...

Is there really only one key? What happens if Mrs D is off sick? Or loses it?

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Routemaster image
By tom123
30th Jun 2014 21:29

I have always hated folding money

Personally, I have always hated dealing with folding money - it never seems to work for me.

It was always things like the directors rushing into my office, (with the Range Rover engine running outside) needing some 'subs' for their day trip to a client etc.

Have there been genuine cash expenses each day it went a bit short?

Did you collect a new bundle of cash from the bank.

For £40 I wouldn't assume the worst and spoil the whole atmosphere in the office.

How about phasing out petty cash completely and asking people to put in expense claims around payroll time.

Why not issue company credit cards to the bigger spenders.

That's what we do - and it works well.

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By alan.falcondale
02nd Jul 2014 11:47

my old maths teacher

when faced with some miscreants little prank he used to line up 10 most likely suspects with the weakest boy at number 10 and starting from the left would ask the same questions of each in turn.

Was it you, and if it wasn't then who did it?

Obviously, the interrogation was conducted in line roughly with Geneva convention but with a little more anger than normally associated with Maths teachers.

As the questioning reached number 9 and still no answer was forthcoming he would stare directly into no 10's eyes, face reddening, eyes bulging and declare "the rest of your friends here have all denied responsibility so therefore by the process of elimination it MUST be you.  For not owning up in the first place I will be thrashing you to within an inch of your life BOY!"

At which point the poor sole blurted out "It wasn't me Sir it was Tibbs, he did it!" and Tibbs legs turned to jelly.


Aaah, good old school days...


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By johnjenkins
02nd Jul 2014 12:31

Has anyone

thought of the possibility that the money could be going missing at point of contact. Mr(s) B asks for expense money. Does Mrs Dragon actually give the money out herself, is she distracted at any time? The fact that two lots of £20 has gone it is highly likely that someone has hit on a niche. Ask Mrs Dragon if any patterns have appeared whilst giving out money.

Alternatively receipts could be misread.

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By RogerCB
02nd Jul 2014 12:32

Why have petty cash

If the purchase of canteen supplies is delegated to one employee who puts in an expense claim (or order in bulk for delivery) and mileage claims are dealt with by expense claims paid to the employees bank account, then petty cash requirements become almost non-existent (in our case usually only if we run out of milk and clients arrive unexpectedly).

Or is it the case, as in one of my old firms, where one of the main users of petty cash was the senior partner if he called into town on Saturday and needed some cash?

The more serious and difficult point is if cash has been stolen, it is likely to not just be the petty cash at risk, but also money in wallets, handbags etc.  We have only had this issue once in 20+ years and a warning to all staff at that they "needed to be careful with cash as some has gone missing" did bring about one member of staff who asked why we thought they had taken the petty cash - since the word petty was not used in the warning, you might speculate who was the culprit, but a case of no proof.  The person in question did not long after by agreement for other issues!

It is certainly all about trust.


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By Moonbeam
02nd Jul 2014 12:40

Agreed - ditch petty cash tin

Many of my clients pay small amounts of cash from their back pocket and reclaim later in expenses. Larger ones give credit cards to staff.

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By philfromleeds
02nd Jul 2014 12:43

Not £36? or £45 ?

Transposition errors are a reason why the cash does not balance. The Rule of 9's. Buy something for £72 enter it as £27 May be?

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Replying to Ugur 1:
By Celia Botha
02nd Jul 2014 13:34

transposition error?

the difference was not a multiple of 9 but £20 over two weeks?

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By kenatnam
02nd Jul 2014 12:52


In my long and varied career I have come across petty theft in all its guises and particularly as a newsagent I had to accept that I would catch both staff, customers and even suppliers trying to steal from me in various ways.

The trick is accept that now and again someone will steal from you and then put in place foolproof procedures to prevent it happening. Then you won't have the awful job of calling the police or sacking a staff member.

In this case it appears that the procedure was not entirely foolproof, so needs checking and updating.

As the sum is quite small then the time is probably better spent on the procedure than trying to catch the culprit, especially with Employment Law as it is today.

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By ghewitt
02nd Jul 2014 12:55

Benefit of the doubt

In the absence of any hard evidence it might be best just to let this go. After all it might have been a genuine mistake. Mrs Dragon may have mistaken a £20 for a £10, easily done; perhaps the notes were new and two stuck together - (twice?? Yes it does happen). It is such a small amount and whilst I don't deny there are those who will put their job, reputation and future employment at, risk it seems unlikely.

There are too many maybe's associated with this and trying to root out the culprit - if culprit there be - will cause a lot of bad feeling in the company with the attendant consequences.

By all means, as it seems you have, update the cash box, be vigilant and employ two people to check it at each end of day or whenever; but spare the inquisition.

@alan.falcondale: Oh dear, I can see the sneak getting a duffing after prep; an apple pie bed and his pajamas tied in tight knots - matron won't be pleased.

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By carnmores
02nd Jul 2014 13:06

call for Miss Marple


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By alan.falcondale
02nd Jul 2014 14:03

one can only

wonder if the person who took the money, if that was the case, may be in dire need of cash to such a point that they have succumbed to temptation.

Like where I used to work at a fruit/veg distribution company, if you were caught stealing say kiwi or mango or tomato fruits, then you were instantly dismissed.  but if you were to attempt to steal say potatoes, you were cautioned and then helped to overcome whatever it was that drove you to steal.

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By SueWright
02nd Jul 2014 14:10

The key to our cash box is a close relative to a screwdriver.

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By Ju_Phelan
02nd Jul 2014 15:29

Reasons Why..?

Don't ditch the petty cash float, if it works for your business. Often staff resent forking out their own hard-earned, to sub the company, which should be looking after them.

Has anyone had their shift pattern changed, their hours reduced or some other benefit stopped recently?

I once investigated money going missing from a retail store. it was only small amounts, under £5, which wouldn't normally flag but this was happening several times a week and the tills had always balanced before. There was no other stock loss issue in that branch and no new staff or cleaners.

After several hours of investigation and analysis, a pattern came to light. Transpired that there had been shift changes, which meant that one elderly sales assistant needed to catch two buses, to meet her new start time, instead of the one she used to get. This cost her an additional £3.85 a day and £3.60 if her shift fell on a Sat. or Sun.

Therefore a previously honest and upright worker felt she was owed the difference, as it was incurred at the company's behest and she should not be out of pocket...I did find it hard to keep a straight face, during the investigatory interviews!


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By Michael C Feltham
02nd Jul 2014 16:43

Well, the way I was taught, early on was rather simple........

Yes, we must hope to enjoy trust in business, however, so sadly, today more than ever this seems to be a lost cause.

Cash held for small purchases must always be held using an Imprest Float system: and the person doling out the cash HAS to expect a mini-audit each and every time the float is made up to the set balance.

The person given the duty to look after the cash and box must be always held responsible for any losses. Tough but necessary. It is called discipline.

Often what happens is despite agreed security precautions and thanks to complacency, despite agreed practice cashier leave boxes open when they are busy: and pop off to the loo.........

This lesson was reinforced, to me on a costly basis when £450 in cash (cleared from the till and ready for banking) and a number of cheques were nicked from my retail garage business back in 1970. The girl responsible, despite being told robustly to :

1.  Lock the cash box:

2.  Place it in the steel office desk drawer and lock the door:

3. And if leaving the reception/admin office showroom area, even for a minute, lock the office door too!

She went into the workshop for a tea break and left the cashbox open in the drawer; the drawer unlocked and open and the office door open............

£450 then was a lot for a new rapidly growing business from which I was taking just £30/week!

Since I returned to practice many years ago, I have conducted a number of cash audits for actual and suspected defalcation. And every time the owner/s have been hugely cavalier about cash handling and security.


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By AndrewV12
03rd Jul 2014 07:51

A Tricky one

£40 is right in the middle to small to cause a crisis and not large enough to invoke an investigation.  May be keep it in a locked draw.


Or is it a golden opportunity to catch a thief.

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Replying to johnt27:
By james3
29th Jul 2014 01:00


How do I delete a comment?

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By mrshamilton
03rd Jul 2014 08:39


I used to work in a shop and we had money going missing from our tills (I was the department manager) every day.  They eventually put a CCTV camera in and caught him but it was horrible being under suspicion, even though I was management they couldn't tell me the camera was going in because I was as much under suspicion as everyone else.

It was a relief when they were caught and all my regular members of staff were cleared but awful whilst it was going on.

I feel for you and Mrs Dragon!

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Replying to Manchester_man:
By B Roberts
03rd Jul 2014 09:05


mrshamilton wrote:

I feel for you and Mrs Dragon!

Assuming that this isn't an error, and that the OP is not the thief, then surely Mrs Dragon is a "suspect" like everybody else ?

She could have raised the issue as a kind of double bluff.

Also, when this kind of thing happens it is often any new employee who falls under suspicion first (as it didn't happen before they arrived).

It is well documented that Mrs Dragon did not like the new employee, and it is possible that she could be trying to cause a problem ?

That is the problem with these kind of things, they can quickly turn toxic as everybody suspects everybody else and in the meantime nobody is happy.

It would be interesting to hear of any new developments in this "case" ..........

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By alan.falcondale
03rd Jul 2014 14:14

one of the big four

Could always ask one of the big four to do an audit and risk losing everything

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By philfromleeds
03rd Jul 2014 14:34

Get rid of cash

I suppose a preloaded cash card will prevent future losses.

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By A mum and an accountant
03rd Jul 2014 16:17

Miss Books??

Oh no. When did Miss Books leave? I must have missed a blog at some point.  I've subscribed to your blogs now though so I won't miss the next episode!  Are you sure she didn't leave with the £40?

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03rd Jul 2014 21:05

Petty cash

I used to help run a coffee and hamburger stall for the scout funds many years ago. Every so often the treasurer would state that there was a shortage in the cash. As volunteers, we would have a whip round to make it up. It was only after some years that we realised nobody checked the float given to us. Somehow it came to his knowledge that we would be checking this in future. End of shortages!!

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By mikewhit
07th Jul 2014 11:30

Honesty box ...

If you still think there is a "perp" in the house and you want to give a warning in a non-confrontational way, you could send a staff email saying that the petty cash may have accidentally paid out £40 too much, and if anyone finds that they were accidentally over-imbursed then they could just voluntarily under-report the next couple of petty cash claims to make things straight. No more questions asked.

Ok, no-one to blame etc but "we're on to you" ..... or at least "we are checking" and no staff recriminations....

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By stanbu
08th Jul 2014 16:56

Only one key....

Many years ago, a solicitor client was defending someone accused of theft. There was only one key to the petty cash box and the defendant had it.

The cash box was passed along the jury and one of the members paused with it, took out a bunch of keys from his pocket and opened it. Collapse of case!!

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