Accounts payable fraud is a serious type of financial crime that can have devastating consequences for businesses. It involves the manipulation or theft of funds through a company’s accounts payable process, which is responsible for paying vendors and suppliers.

According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), a typical organization loses 5% of its revenue to fraud every year, with a median loss of $125,000. More so, this type of fraud goes unnoticed for an average of 14 months, resulting in average losses of $8,300 a month.

So, what are some red flags to watch out for when it comes to accounts payable fraud? And more importantly, how can you prevent it from happening in your organization? This blog post will explore the answers to these questions and provide practical tips on how to safeguard your business from accounts payable fraud.

What is AP Fraud?

AP fraud, or accounts payable fraud, occurs when individuals manipulate payment processes for personal gain. This can involve false invoices, overbilling, or creating fictitious vendors. 

An example of AP fraud is when an employee creates a fake vendor and submits invoices for goods or services that were never provided. The employee then approves the payment in the system, resulting in company funds being paid out to the fraudulent vendor.

The consequences can be severe, including financial loss, damaged reputation, and disrupted operations.

How Does AP Fraud Work?

AP fraud exploits weaknesses in a company’s payable processes. It often involves manipulating records, exploiting weak internal controls, or collaborating with external parties. Understanding how these schemes operate is crucial to implementing effective fraud prevention strategies.

Red Flags for Accounts Payable Fraud

Detecting AP fraud early is critical. Here are some red flags to watch for:

  • Unusual invoice amounts or patterns: Keep an eye out for large or frequent payments to a particular vendor, irregular billing cycles, or invoices with unexpected changes in payment instructions.
  • Discrepancies between invoices and purchase orders: Invoices should match the terms of the purchase order, including quantity, price, and product or service description. If there are discrepancies, it could be a sign of fraudulent activity.
  • Invoices from unfamiliar vendors: Always verify the legitimacy of new vendors before making payments. Scammers may create fake companies or impersonate legitimate ones to trick businesses into sending them money.
  • Excessive voids or adjustments in accounts payable records: Voiding or adjusting invoices regularly can be a red flag for potential fraud. Make sure to review these transactions and investigate any suspicious patterns.
  • Employees living beyond their means: If an employee suddenly shows signs of living a lavish lifestyle that does not align with their salary, it could be a warning sign of embezzlement or other financial fraud.
  • High employee turnover in the accounts payable department: Frequent turnover in the accounts payable department could be a sign of potential internal fraud. Make sure to conduct thorough background checks on new hires and regularly monitor their activities.

Common Types of Accounts Payable Fraud

Man frustrated at computer (accounts payable fraud)

AP fraud can take many forms, but it often involves someone within the organization who has access to the accounts payable process. This individual may have the ability to create or approve payments, making it easier for them to manipulate transactions without being detected. Let’s look into common types of accounts payable fraud typically split into two different categories- internal and external fraud:

Internal Fraud

Internal accounts payable fraud type of fraud is perpetrated by an employee within the organization. They may create fake invoices or overbill for services to pocket the extra funds. These can look like:

  • False Billing: False billing involves creating fraudulent invoices for goods or services that were never provided.
  • CEO Fraud: Also known as business email compromise (BEC) fraud, this scheme involves fraudsters impersonating executives to authorize fraudulent payments. This type of fraud underscores the importance of verifying all payment requests, especially those involving large sums.
  • Pass-Through Schemes: In pass-through schemes, an employee sets up a shell company and bills the employer for goods or services. These goods are purchased from a legitimate vendor but billed at a marked-up price. Regular audits can help detect these anomalies.
  • Overbilling: Overbilling occurs when vendors inflate invoice amounts. 
  • Disguised Purchases: Employees may use company funds for personal purchases disguised as legitimate business expenses. Monitoring expense reports and conducting regular audits can mitigate this risk.
  • Conflict of Interest Schemes: Employees involved in vendor selection may have undisclosed financial interests in the vendors they favor, leading to inflated prices or subpar goods and services. Conflict of interest policies and thorough background checks are essential to prevent this type of fraud.
  • Check or Payment Tampering: This involves altering legitimate checks to redirect payments to a personal account. Implementing secure payment methods and regularly reconciling bank accounts can prevent such tampering.
Women in office working (accounts payable fraud)

External Fraud

External fraud involves individuals or entities outside the organization exploiting weaknesses in the AP system. These can include:

  • Vendor Fraud: Fraudulent vendors may submit false invoices or overcharge for products and services. Setting up recurring invoices, verifying vendor information, and maintaining a detailed vendor master file can help detect and prevent these schemes.
  • Customer Fraud: Customers might engage in fraudulent activities such as issuing fake purchase orders or submitting fraudulent claims. Clear communication and robust verification processes are crucial in combating customer fraud.
  • Check Fraud: Check fraud includes forging or altering checks to misappropriate funds. Utilizing secure check printing and electronic payment methods can reduce the risk of check fraud.
  • ACH Fraud: Automated Clearing House (ACH) fraud involves unauthorized electronic transfers. Strong authentication measures and regular monitoring of ACH transactions are vital in preventing this type of fraud.
  • Cyber Fraud: Cyber fraud encompasses a range of activities, including hacking and phishing attacks, to gain access to financial information. Implementing advanced cybersecurity measures and educating employees about potential threats can help mitigate cyber fraud.
  • BEC Fraud: Business email compromise (BEC) fraud, as mentioned earlier, involves fraudsters impersonating company executives to authorize fraudulent payments. Multi-factor authentication and thorough verification processes are essential to prevent BEC fraud.

These are just a few examples of the different types of fraud that can occur. Below, we’ll discuss the steps you can take to detect and prevent fraud in your business.

10 AP Fraud Prevention Tips

Person checking invoice (accounts payable fraud)

Effective fraud prevention requires a multi-faceted approach. Here are some tips to help you protect your business from AP fraud:

Conduct Regular Audits

Regular audits can help identify discrepancies and detect fraudulent behavior. These audits should include a thorough review of all financial records and transactions, as well as an examination of internal controls.

Train Employees

Educating your employees about the various types of fraud and how to spot them can help prevent it from happening. Make sure they are aware of the importance of safeguarding sensitive information and following proper procedures for approving payments.

Implement Strong Internal Controls

Establishing robust internal controls, such as segregation of duties and multi-level approval processes, can help prevent fraud. This ensures that no one person has too much control or access to financial information.

Use Technology

Leveraging accounts payable software with built-in fraud detection capabilities can enhance your ability to detect and prevent fraud. Software like Sage Intacct can flag suspicious transactions and streamline the auditing process.

Verify Vendor Information

Regularly updating and verifying vendor information helps ensure that payments are made to legitimate entities. Maintaining a detailed vendor master file is essential and conducting background checks on new vendors can also provide an added layer of protection.

Monitor Transactions

Continuous monitoring of transactions can help identify unusual patterns indicative of fraud. Implementing real-time monitoring systems like Sage Intacct AP automation can provide immediate alerts for suspicious activities.

Implement a Whistleblower Policy

Encouraging employees to report suspicious activities without fear of retaliation can help uncover fraud early. Whistleblower policies create a safe environment for reporting fraud.

Conduct Background Checks

Performing thorough background checks on employees, especially those in the accounts payable department, can help identify potential risks. This can include checking for past convictions, references, and credit history.

Limit Access

Restricting access to sensitive financial information to only those who need it reduces the risk of internal fraud. This can include implementing role-based access controls and regularly reviewing and updating access privileges.

Regularly Review Financial Statements

Conducting regular reviews of financial statements can help identify any discrepancies or unusual transactions. Look for signs of expense reimbursement fraud, such as inflated or fictitious expenses. This allows for timely detection of fraud and enables swift action to be taken.

Preventing AP fraud requires vigilance and proactive measures. By implementing these practices, businesses can safeguard against the devastating effects of fraud on their financial health. Additionally, it is important to educate employees on the warning signs and consequences of fraud, as well as establish a clear reporting process for any suspicious activity. With a strong system in place, companies can reduce the risk of AP fraud and maintain the integrity of their finances.

Key Takeaways About Accounts Payable Fraud

Person checks desk of invoices (accounts payable fraud)

AP fraud is a significant threat to businesses, but with the right strategies and tools, it can be effectively managed. Remember, prevention is key to avoiding the negative impacts of fraud on your organization.

Utilizing AP software is a powerful way to prevent AP fraud. Advanced accounts payable software provides automated controls, real-time monitoring, and comprehensive reporting, all of which are crucial in identifying and preventing fraudulent activities. These tools can streamline your accounts payable processes, making it easier to detect anomalies, verify vendor information, and make sure that all transactions are legitimate.

At BCS ProSoft, we are committed to implementing the right AP software solutions for your business. Our expertise, combined with our deep understanding of the latest technology, allows us to tailor our solutions to meet your specific needs. Protect your financial integrity and gain peace of mind with our cutting-edge AP software. Contact us today to learn how we can help safeguard your business against AP fraud.

Next, read our blog on the top 15 benefits of accounts payable automation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is accounts payable fraud?

Accounts payable fraud involves manipulating payment processes to commit fraud, often through various accounts payable fraud schemes. This can include creating false invoices, overbilling, or setting up fictitious vendors. Understanding the different billing schemes is essential for investigating accounts payable fraud and implementing effective prevention measures.

How can I prevent accounts payable fraud in my company?

To prevent accounts payable fraud, it is crucial to implement strong internal controls, conduct regular audits to keep track and prevent duplicate invoices, educate employees, and leverage technology. Effective accounts payable fraud prevention also involves verifying vendor information and continuously monitoring transactions. These steps help in preventing accounts payable fraud and safeguarding your company’s finances.

What are common types of accounts payable fraud?

Common types of accounts payable fraud include false billing, CEO fraud, pass-through schemes, overbilling, check tampering, and cyber fraud. These frauds can be committed by both internal and external actors. Identifying these accounts payable fraud schemes early is key to mitigating risks and preventing losses. One way to circumvent this type of fraud is to make sure you have the best invoice approval software possible. 

What are red flags for AP fraud?

Red flags for AP fraud include unusual invoice amounts, discrepancies between invoices and purchase orders, invoices from unfamiliar vendors, excessive voids or adjustments in accounts payable records, and employees living beyond their means. Detecting these signs early can help in investigating accounts payable fraud and implementing corrective actions promptly.

How can technology help in preventing AP fraud?

Technology plays a crucial role in preventing AP fraud and duplicate payments. Sage Intacct Accounts Payable software has built-in fraud detection capabilities that can flag suspicious transactions and streamline the auditing process. It also has real-time monitoring systems that can provide immediate alerts for unusual activities, enhancing the overall efficiency of accounts payable fraud prevention efforts. By leveraging technology like this, you can ensure that accounts payable fraud is calculated and addressed effectively, protecting your business from financial losses.

How to avoid fraud in accounts payable?

Aside from using technology, there are several other measures that businesses can take to avoid fraud in accounts payable. One of the most important steps is to have strong internal controls and separation of duties. This means having different employees responsible for different aspects of accounts payable, such as approving invoices, processing payments, and reconciling accounts.
Regularly conducting audits also helps to identify any discrepancies or red flags that could indicate fraudulent activity. These audits should not only include financial records but also physical checks like verifying vendor information and matching invoices with goods received.