how to respond to an anonymous note that says a temp is stealing

A reader writes:

Recently at my office I have become “in charge” of the office purchase card, essentially the corporate card for in-office expenses such as paper, ink, coffee, etc. We lost the person who previously held the card and hired a temp in his place, and company policy is that a full-time employee must be the card-holder.

Every month, I review the previous month’s receipts – all receipts and purchases are cleared by the most senior person in our office and I review the receipts compared to the bill to make sure everything is on the up and up. That said, I do not actually sit and make the purchases for office supplies (I have a completely unrelated job and simply cannot be the office manager AND do my own work).

Recently, we began getting anonymous emails from someone within the office accusing the temp of making unauthorized purchases on the card. All receipts and all bills go through both myself and the senior person in the office, and nothing has been amiss. The anonymous email accused the temp of not only purchasing several personal items, but doctoring receipts before they got to us.

Unless the receipts were doctored, there have been no purchases made that raised any eyebrows. Personally, knowing the temp — who has been with us for some time (and who has asked for a permanent position in the office) — I have no reason to believe he would be stealing. The anonymous emails most certainly come from within the office (they are too specific with certain physical details about the office to not be), but IT could not trace the IP address, which appears to have been masked. However, whoever is sending the anonymous emails would not have access to any card, receipt, or bill – so unless there was an out and out confession, all evidence seems to be at best circumstantial.

How would you handle these anonymous emails? To be honest, I stepped up to the plate to be a good employee and have checked all the receipts, but this incident is making me re-think that position, as it appears whomever is sending the emails is making unsubstantiated claims, and could easily make them against me. Ultimately, what I and the senior approving person in the office want is for whomever is sending the emails to come forward with evidence that the temp is stealing – if he was stealing this is something we would want to know, but this email-sender has hidden behind an anonymous email address. Any insight would be great.

Ugh, anonymous emails. They are rarely, if ever, the correct way to handle a problem, and they put the receiver in a really awkward position because now you have to wonder all sorts of things: Is this a real problem or someone with an unsubstantiated ax to grind? Should I spend time investigating this? How much time, if a first look doesn’t reveal any problems? If I stop after that first look and later it turns out there was a problem, will I be to blame for not investigating further? But should I really spend large amounts of time on something that I have no way of knowing is credible? Why wouldn’t the person come and talk with me directly? Is something wrong with me or with our culture that someone thinks they need to communicate this way? And so forth.

In any case, I’d do the following in this situation:

First, let the person in charge of approving purchases know about the note immediately. It sounds like you’ve done this, but I want to make sure, since it’s important that they’re in the loop on this.

Next, you said, “Unless the receipts were doctored, there have been no purchases made that raised any eyebrows.” However, the note-writer did charge that the temp was doctoring receipts, so if you’re going to look into this, you need to find some way of checking that part as well. How you do that will depend on the specifics of what’s been purchased, but you should be able to at least spot-check that too.

From there, if you’re then satisfied that nothing looks amiss, at that point I think you have three options — and you could do any or all of these:

1. Let it go. You’ve investigated and found no evidence of wrongdoing.

2. Depending on your culture, it might make sense for someone in authority in your office to say to everyone: “I’ve received an anonymous report of behavior that concerned me. It’s very difficult to act on anonymous reports, and I believe they can create a culture of fear and mistrust. I’d appreciate if it the person who sent this would approach me privately. And more broadly, there’s ever something you want to raise but you’re afraid there will be consequences to you for doing so, please talk with me and we’ll figure out a way to ensure that you’re not penalized for being the messenger.” (Then, of course, your workplace has to be committed to following through on that.)

3. Talk to the temp. Explain you received an anonymous report about this and that you have no reason to believe it, but that you want to ask if he can think of anything that would have given someone that impression. Maybe there’s some procedure he’s using that’s inadvertently appearing shady to an observer, who knows.

I don’t love option #3, because if the guy hasn’t actually done anything wrong, it’s going to cause him unfair stress and anxiety. On the other hand, most people would want to know if someone was making false allegations about us and he might want the opportunity to defend himself, even if you’ve already decided there’s nothing to the charges. Plus, if there’s something he can change in his procedures to make them more transparent, he might appreciate the heads-up and chance to do that. But it’s going to be a crappy feeling to know that one of his coworkers is making false allegations against him, and since he won’t know which one, he’ll have to suspect everyone.

In any case, you can do any combination of #1-3 above. And then, as you go forward from there, you’ll also have the tricky burden of having to do two things at once: not letting this  adversely impact how you see the temp (because it’s not fair to let his character be impugned by anonymous allegations that you can’t find evidence of), while simultaneously keeping an eye out for opportunities in the future to settle this, whether by noting future displays of integrity from him or by diving in further if you see something a little odd in his receipts down the road (that perhaps you would have ignored previously). That’s an inherent tension, of course — to not let the guy be marred by this while still having it in the back of your head. That’s another reason anonymous reports suck.

{ 262 comments… read them below }

  1. Malissa

    The easiest way to check this would be to compare receipts against a statement. Which it sounds it’s been done. If every thing matches and everything can be accounted for, I’d send an email to the tipster stating that while the allegations have been investigated, I put little stock into anonymous tips and if they have further concerns they can come to you directly to have them addressed.
    I would then also have a general chat with the temp to find out how everything is going and see if they are having problems with anything. Nothing specific, just a general chat. This gives them an opportunity to tell me if there are any issues or people bugging them.

    1. aNON

      They should not engage with the anonymous person via e-mail at all, that would legitimize the e-mails they’ve been receiving.

    2. Ruffingit

      At first, I thought checking the receipts against the statement would solve it too, but it doesn’t because here’s what a thief could be doing:

      Purchase toner for the office for $50, get cash back on the card for $20 so the total purchase appears to be $70. Doctor receipt so it appears the total cost of toner was $70. Thus, the statement and receipt shows $70 not the actual $50. My receipts with cash back usually show “cash back $50” or whatever, but he could be doctoring the receipt to remove that portion and making it look as though toner was actually $70. Statement would show $70, receipt would show $70 and no one is the wiser.

      1. J

        @Ruffingit

        I doubt that this is the case. That is an awful lot of work to go through for insignificant amounts. I say insignificant because if the temp were adjusting the price of something modest, i.e. toner that suddenly cost $500 instead of the usual $50, flags would be raised. And even if the temp were doing this for every purchase to have the insignificant amounts start adding up, you can always price check the items yourself. Again, I doubt this is happening. It’s more likely that the anon emailer has a vendetta against the temp, or is a very inappropriate prankster.

        1. Zahra

          You could also buy stuff and return it later for cash. A pack of paper here and there won’t be missed, but it can accumulate.

              1. Jessa

                Not so much with a corporate card, and I’m presuming this is one. A business account handles things differently than a personal one. Most big retailers know this, and have separate procedures.

                But if a receipt was really suspicious you could nowadays probably get a reprint from the store. And it’s pretty hard to doctor register tapes anyway. Not saying it can’t be done, but the tape paper is pretty sensitive to things. I mean you accidentally put it down somewhere damp and it’s obvious, so is erasures and nobody in accounting is going to take a photocopy as a submission.

        2. Ruffingit

          I agree that it’s more likely the tipster has an axe to grind, but small amounts is how a lot of office thieves get away with it. And really, once they have a system down for doctoring the receipts, it’s not that much work to do it. The small amounts add up over time. Not everyone is into the $1000 or more theory of theft if you will. Many people do the small amounts that add up over time because they’re more likely to get away with that.

          1. Arbynka

            This reminds me of a great movie I saw while back. Office mates made this great scheme where they would divert tiny amount of money from the office account which would over time cascade into a bunch of money but something went wrong and they withdraw like a million overnight ? Gosh why can’t I think of the name ?

            Anyways, I agree that sometimes people do steal little by little.

              1. JM in England

                Richard Prior’s character did something similar in Superman III, programming the payroll computer to divert all of the part cents into his account…………

            1. Ruffingit

              A couple of items from stories I recently read:

              “Police in Rialto, Calif., allege that Judith Oakes, 48, spent the past seven years embezzling as much as $3 million in student lunch money from the school district, and say they have video of the woman stuffing cash into bra before leaving work.”

              “59-year-old Sonia Branch was sentenced Tuesday to four years in prison for stealing more than $1 million from her employer…The theft happened over a seven-year period, and that’s just what the victims can prove. They believe the real figure is closer to $2 million.”

              1. Arbynka

                Roy: “I even did not know she was pregnant”
                Moss: “She was up to here”
                Roy: “I thought she was stealing office supplies. That’s how I got that monitor home”

                1. Jamie

                  I just watched that episode last week!

                  That show makes me lonely – I so want a Moss to my Roy.

              2. The Clerk

                I find it a little hard to believe that the school even took in $3 million for lunch over 7 years, much less that she stole that much and there was enough left over that no one wondered where a huge chunk of it went.

                1. Laufey

                  Depending on the location, I’d believe it that the school took in that much money.

                  My high school had over 3,000 students. Lunch cost $2.75. Even if only 2/3 of the school (2000 students) purchased lunch (and it looked like closer to 3/4 or higher did), that’s $5,500 per day. At 180 school days per year, that’s $990,000 per year, not including breakfasts, extra sides (football players were known for taking five or six slices of pizze when a set meal was one), and using a conservative number of students. My school would easier take in that much money.

                  Now, for that much money to go missing and no one notice, that’s a different issue.

                2. Laufey

                  Actually, my post is just so error ridden, I’m not going to even try to correct myself. That’s what I get for not proofreading.

                  The math stands though. Totally possible to bring in that much through school meals, especially over seven years.

                3. Jamie

                  Absolutely it could take in that much – depending on the size.

                  My kids went to a highschool with aprox 4000 students. I gave them each $5 per day for lunch – which was average amongst their friends…that’s $900 per kid, per year. If half the kids do the same (and I’m being conservative – way less than 50% brought lunch) that’s 1.8 million per year. Over 7 years that’s 12.6 mil.

                  Most good sized schools could easily clear 3 mil in street shoes.

                  I don’t understand how this wasn’t caught earlier, though. No financial reconciliation or audits? We’re they running at a deficit and didn’t notice? How is that possible? Public schools get audited.

                4. rlm

                  When my daughter was in middle school, she just happened to mention to me one day that one of the cafeteria workers would overcharge her for stuff. The lady would tell my daughter that was the new price. My daughter of course was more upset about how rude the lady was about it; it never occurred to her that her money was being stolen. I knew right away what was going on and lodged a complaint, and of course the woman disappeared shortly after.

                5. Ruffingit

                  Jamie,

                  The woman stealing the lunch money was an accountant at the district so that pretty much explains it. She was likely able to cook the books for years.

              3. Fiona

                Thank you for this story, if only because it reminded me that I have to put more money in my kid’s lunch account. :D

                1. Apollo Warbucks

                  Well if you want be to wear 21 pieces of flair, then why don’t you make that the minimum

      2. KarmaKicks

        We had an an employee do something similar to this. They would purchase an item and then maybe another that was actually a gift card for a small amount, then doctored the receipt to make it appear the gift card was an office item. We require receipts, but because these were electronic receipts received from the chain store to their email, they were easily doctored. It went on for at least 2-3 years before someone caught a mistake they had made. Over that amount of time they managed to rack up thousands.

        1. Ethyl

          I guess I don’t understand this, but maybe it’s because my office gets supplies from Staples and WB Mason, and I don’t understand what someone would want with a thousand small gift cards to Staples….

          1. KarmaKicks

            Honestly, we didn’t get it either. There were a couple of other ways they defrauded the company, but that was the most obvious once we talked with the store involved. I think it started small, then just snowballed. Worst part was that they were a very valued employee. We were pretty darn shocked.

          2. Arbynka

            Oh, I so could use thousand small gift cards to Staples. My kids always taking my pencils, I leave my pens everywhere, I am tiny bit OCD so I have higher than average use of sticky notes and those little sticky tabs….But of course I would not steal for it.

          3. BadPlanning

            I suppose you buy and resell printer ink. Or become a kingpin in graphing calculator black market.

          4. Laufey

            There are also places that will pay cash for gift cards (at a discount). If you take a couple of small cards use them to purchase a larger one, I imagine you could make a tidy sum over time.

          5. Not So NewReader

            I am not getting the deal with the Staples cards either. But I do know that gift cards are sometimes given in exchange for drugs- street drugs. There’s been stories about this in the news.

          6. Jessa

            If you used them to buy a piece of decent electronics (phone, laptop, whatever,) you could convert that to reasonably decent cash by selling the item.

        2. Windchime

          How is all this “receipt doctoring” happening? White out? I think I’m probably not smart enough to embezzle, even if I wanted to (which I don’t).

        1. TychaBrahe

          If there is some sort if system where receipts are scanned, a thief could scan them first and then edit the image and rescan it. I do something similar to change the appearance of data in our manuals. Scan a printout, change our customer’s name and address to make the manual generic. It doesn’t take long at all.

          And online receipts are often in HTML, which is really easy to edit. I am what Southwest Airlines refers to as a “customer of size.” They used to require us to purchase two seats, although almost always the second seat was refunded after the flight. I ALWAYS edited my receipt to show only the seat I was going to need reimbursement for. It was a lot easier than explaining that while I’d spent $500, I only wanted reimbursement on $250.

          1. Elizabeth West

            I do that too, to alter screenshots and highlight or remove information. But we’re also assuming the statements are online, that is. If they’re mailed, there’s not much they could do about it unless they also handle the mail.

            The digital receipts should be going to the accounting people then, if possible.

          2. Windchime

            Oh,OK. That answers my question about doctoring the receipts. I guess sometimes it shows that I am a child of the ’70’s.

            1. Chinook

              I love this – The AAM crowd has just crowd sourced how to steal from an employer. Luckily, we only use our powers for good!

              1. TychaBrahe

                If you know how it can be done, you know how to spot it. Online receipts from supply vendors can be edited, so compare them to the packing slip, which is printed at the warehouse. Scanned in receipts could be manipulated, so randomly match them to actual receipts. For things like my Southwest receipt, I presume my company could call Southwest and verify the ticket price.

          3. Jessa

            If I were auditing this, I don’t know I’d like that the receipt was altered. I think an attached explanation would be better. If we had to dig down and audit, that would require getting originals of the receipts from the airline and the text of those would not match up. It’d be worrisome and make extra work, since you’re NOT cheating or stealing or anything, it’d cause suspicion you didn’t need. IE are other receipts being altered.

            I’d rather see Airline $500, reimbursement request $250, Airline credit $250. But I’m incredibly obsessive/compulsive about auditing records and matching things up. So I try not to be roped into being on that kind of team. I’m just…my friends say I set the security on my computers and in my personal life to “raging paranoia,” they’re only half kidding.

            Now if that’s how the company wanted it, ignore me please.

  2. The IT Manager

    I’d suspect the anonymous person has an axe to grind just because I find to hard to justify not being open about this to the bosses. Why does the person’s identity need to remain hidden? It is not like the temp is in a position of power.

    Also it sounds like the LW and most senior person in the office already have fairly good checking system in place.

    1. Ruffingit

      I’m in the axe to grind camp as well simply because it appears the anon tipster isn’t providing details. If they believe the temp is doing this, they must have a reason for thinking that, so provide all possible details so it can be investigated thoroughly. It’s not helpful to say “I think the temp is buying personal items.” It is helpful to say “I witnessed the temp using the company card to pay for gas in his own car…” or whatever.

      1. A Bug!

        If the accusations are true (or at least genuinely believed to be true), it’s possible that the “tipster” left out these details for the same reason he or she used an anonymous e-mail to report it. It might be possible to reason out from the details who was in a position to know them.

        1. A Bug!

          Which isn’t to say that it’s any more or less likely that the accusations are true, simply that the lack of detail in the report would be consistent with a desire for anonymity even in a “good faith” report.

        2. Ruffingit

          That is a good point that details may ID the tipster. At the same time, it’s like telling the police “I saw a guy rob a woman.” Well, was he black, white, tall, short, fat? “Oh, I don’t know…” In other words, some details have to be given otherwise investigation is hampered or worthless.

          1. A Bug!

            Not the same. Your hypothetical doesn’t name the accused.

            If the police received an anonymous report that Peter was robbing people down by the harbor, the police couldn’t just arrest Peter and search him for stuff that doesn’t belong to him. But they could go down to the harbor and ask around a bit, or review statements from recent robbery victims for a description that matches Peter’s.

            1. Ruffingit

              I hear you, I’m just saying that there needs to be at least a detail or two to make it credible at all. The information given doesn’t help the OP at all as she’s already matching up receipts so what does the anon tipster expect her to do (assuming the tipster is in the right, which I don’t think they are, but we’ll go with it)? If you can’t give some kind of helpful detail, there’s just nothing to be done, which makes me wonder why the tipster is reporting it to begin with because without more info, it’s just not going to go anywhere. Something like “The temp purchased 6 cartons of beer and doctored the receipt on 10/12/13” would be helpful for example. The tipster doesn’t have to say how she knows that, but it’s something more than “Buying personal items” which is too vague to be helpful.

              1. Jessa

                Exactly, at this point the best check is A: to compare the receipt to the credit card bill and make sure the numbers match and B: to audit the actual supplies purchased. If the receipt is for 10 cases of paper and 5 boxes of toner, check the closet for the paper and the toner.

                Now it’s still possible for the employee to divert a couple of reams of paper out of that, or even a unit of toner or ink, but that’s different to, receipt is 50 bucks and bill is 50 bucks, if you believe that 50 bucks was not actually spent (ie did something that they got cash back from,) at that point you call the office supply place and get a copy of the bill.

        3. Jessa

          Yes but if it’s true, even if it’s anonymous wouldn’t they want to give enough evidence that the cheating could be found? Unless to give that evidence identified the person.

          The only thing I could think of is to look at all the available employees and try to think of what kind of thing they could see that would point up immediately “Oh Sam sent this email.”

    2. Yup

      I still favor the face-to-face approach, but the first question that comes to mind on the anonymity is whether the OP’s management has any history of shooting the messenger. If the last person who brought a fireable offense to their attention was then subjected to Inquisition-like questioning and deemed ineligible for promotion for being a turncoat stoolie rat, then…

      (Not saying this is actually the case in the OP’s office, just responding to the “why anonymous” question)

      1. OP

        No history of that as far as I know (or am aware). That said, I can’t be certain what baggage from prior jobs or relationships people bring in…

        1. Jessa

          Absolutely true. I agree with most of the people who said not to engage the letter writer, but if you’re going anyway, I would definitely explain that something is needed “It was Staples in January, it was Office Max last week.” Something to give you an idea where to investigate.

  3. PoohBear McGriddles

    I would let the office know that I have been receiving anonymous emails, and that I give those less credibility than a National Enquirer headline. If someone has something they need to report, my office is open and I guarantee what they say will remain in confidence. Hiding behind an anonymous email with a masked IP address is unnecessary and cowardly.

    I do second the idea to have a chat with the temp. He’s apparently made an enemy in the office – perhaps not even his fault.

    Beyond that, if the supplies in the office seem to match up with what he has receipts for, there probably isn’t an issue. On the other hand, if he has receipts for $10000 worth of paper but everyone’s resorted to writing on napkins, you should definitely look deeper.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      One tweak to that — it’s risky to say that whatever anyone tells you will be kept confidential, because there are some things that you can’t keep confidential, like reports of harassment, for instance (which you must report). It’s a little tricky, because you want to promise confidentiality, but you also don’t want to end up in a position where you have to break your word. That’s why I go with wording about guaranteeing that they won’t face any blowback for reporting.

      1. Jamie

        Yes – we have wording about no repercussion and that confidentiality will be maintained if possible, but it may not be in the course of investigating.

        Basically so they know their names won’t be used carelessly, but no one is going to comprise investigating just to protect anonymity.

        1. KarenT

          You could also add that no one raising a concern/complaint in good faith will be penalized for coming forward. You can’t always guarantee anonymity, but you can commit to not retaliating against someone for raising an issue.

          1. Ruffingit

            That’s an excellent point because people may be afraid to come forward in case what they think they’re seeing isn’t what’s happening. You don’t want to be the person who brings forward a complaint that turns out not to have merit only to then be seen as the office troublemaker. So the good faith component is huge here, great point you made there KarenT!

  4. Tiff

    I’m with Malissa – check the receipts against the card statement. That was general procedure back when I was doing travel and expense reports, the guys who had the corporate Amex could use it for their own needs, they just couldn’t charge it back to the company.

    If I were management at that company my priority would be to find out who is sending the anon emails. I have a very low tolerance for behavior that I deem sneaky and underhanded, and I believe the anon tattler has taken passive aggression to new lows.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Unless (a) the report is true and (b) the company has a culture where they shoot the messenger and the temp is good buddies with the senior person. That’s why part of the response to an anonymous note should be “have I done something to create a culture where someone felt this was necessary?”

      1. Michele

        Is there a way they can check with the merchants directly about what was purchased and when, so they can cross reference on accounts? Or if all else fails, change the account number?

        1. TL

          My mom does that for their business and I’ve done it with my credit card – you can call and go over the statement together to make sure yours and theirs match.

          If you were really worried about this, I would do it for a couple of statements to different places. If the receipts match the statements match the company’s records, there’s either nothing going on or a truly brilliant thief.

        2. KarenT

          It’s also possible the purchases are real, but the temp is taking the actual items (like ordering toner and selling it on ebay, or taking boxes of pens home).

  5. Ruffingit

    I’m not going to fry the anonymous tipster quite yet. It could very well be that this place has a culture that makes reporting these things a “kill the messenger” situation. I’ve certainly been in cultures where the reporter would be seen as the problem, not the thief.

    That said, the anonymous tipster ought to be more specific with this stuff. Give examples of what she believes is happening here instead of just saying “he’s buying personal items.” OK, what items, when, how, etc? Without that kind of detail, it’s not very helpful.

    1. OP

      OP here – I don’t think we have a real kill the messenger vibe going. Our office is small, we frequently do things as a group (temp included).

      That said, I can’t speak to the anon person’s mindset – just because I wouldn’t fear being killed as a messenger does not mean others don’t fear it – even if it’s irrational.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yep, and as people have often pointed out here, people who have worked in dysfunctional workplaces often bring the behaviors they learned there into the next.

      2. Anonymous

        Also I would like to add another possibility. That they fear reprisals. What if for example, you were to call in the alleged thief and say that “Mary says you are forging receipts”. No matter what the result, I think things would go very badly for Mary. Not implying that you would do this, but many companies handle these sort of things really poorly.

        1. some1

          Totally. This is the same reason some employees hold back when asked to evaluate their peers and supervisors.

        2. EvilQueenRegina

          Or it might be that the temp is told that there was an anonymous report, and they start thinking “I had that big argument with Mary around that time, maybe she said it just to get back at me” and then confronts Mary, only for it then to turn out that Mary knows nothing about it, that’s just going to make relations worse.

      3. The Clerk

        Having a small office might be part of the problem. It’s like living in a small town; you can’t make an offhand comment about John without it getting back to him eventually.

        Also, I will point out that while this anonymous emailer might just be paranoid for other reasons, it’s pretty common for managers (or anyone, really) to think they’re coming across a certain way while everyone else feels differently. One of the APs at the school I’m at describes herself as being so approachable because “I tell it like it is, and everyone knows exactly what to expect. No BS.” Except…in reality, she tells it like she thinks it is, and quite abrasively, and often she’s very, very wrong. In general people give her a wide berth. But I think that in her own mind, she’s being completely transparent and wouldn’t understand why people can’t deal with her.

      4. Malissa

        Right! You never know why a person is being anonymous. But from my experience you ALWAYS investigate. If the investigation yields nothing, then you shut down the tipster right away or they will annoy you.
        And if the investigation leads to something then you take action. Chances are the tipster will find out with out you emailing back.
        I once fired somebody because of an investigation that started with an anonymous tip. So you never know.

      5. anonymous

        I can imagine a situation where the anonymous tipster *actually* likes the temp employee personally, but dislikes the behavior. A case of love the sinner, hate the sin. Part of me can understand not wanting to ‘rat-out’ a friend/colleague….

        1. teclatwig

          This! If the accusation is legit, I would think the tipster is someone who the thief “let in on his little secret,” possibly as a brag. In this scenario, the tipster might have been appalled but uncomfortable confronting the temp because of possible damage to the friendship. Alternatively, if it’s a small casual office, then the tipster might fear social reprisals from others who are friendly with the temp (esp. if one or more of them were present when the scam was revealed).

          This is all wild speculation, but it demonstrates that we can’t simply assume anonymous means vindictive and malicious.

  6. Sascha

    Oh tech geniuses – can a masked IP be unmasked and found out? I suppose it can…just curious about this part.

    1. Evan

      It can, if you have cooperation from internet service providers and can inspect whatever nodes they’ve used to mask it. In short, it can be done by groups like the NSA or FBI, but (assuming it was masked competently) not by the OP.

      1. Sascha

        So is IP masking a difficult thing to do? That seems like a big hassle in order to report something like this.

        1. Jamie

          I don’t know about the NSA or FBI but it would certainly be untraceable with the tools at the disposal of your average IT department.

        2. Arbynka

          Well, FBI got Dread Pirate Roberts after they busted Silk Road which was only accessible thru Tor, so I would say I would not feel 100% safe hiding behind it :)

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Ah, but they didn’t bust him through Tor. They busted him through a series of mistakes he made, but not Tor. (That’s actually the case I was thinking of when I asked!)

            1. Arbynka

              That’s true. He used only VPN to connect to SR server and not Tor and if I remember correctly he also used email containing his real name so they connected him to SR server. So yeah, that does not count. It was his mistakes, not hole in Tor that got him busted.

        3. hamster

          TOR has multiple exploitable vulnerabilities . End-to-end correlation being a systemic one.
          But while it’s better than a vpn, it’s not “bulletprof”. For example, Researchers from the University of Michigan developed a network scanner allowing identification of 86 percent of live Tor “bridges” with a single scan, as wiki quotes. And have been other attacks and documented all over internet. Plus , a system to be truly secure requires more thank just tor.
          Here is a link by bruche schneier the famouse cryptographer, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/04/nsa-gchq-attack-tor-network-encryption

        4. Elizabeth West

          They know all about it. It’s no trick for them to use it themselves and use social engineering to get people to reveal their info. (Disclaimer: I sometimes use Tor to see stuff for my crime novels that isn’t accessible on the regular web.)

          They may not be able to trace you through the proxy, but there are plenty of files/sites where they can see you come out the other end. So if I’m looking at something shady and clicked on the wrong file, it could open up and reveal me. There’s usually a warning, but I would imagine that’s not always the case. After that, finding me would be easy. Then they could seize my computer and I’m screwed, assuming there was anything on there I shouldn’t have. Hypothetically, of course.

          Plus, you have to load the browser on the computer to use it, same as FF or IE. That is something the IT department could see very easily.

    2. KarenT

      How much trouble is it to mask an email address? I have no idea how to do it, but it strikes me as the type of thing that’s pretty hardcore for a complain this small in nature.

      1. Arbynka

        Actually it can be as easy as downloading software. There are VPN services, website based proxy and browser configured proxy (anonymous, distorting and high anonymity). Some are paid – there is one VPN called “hide my ass” . Browser configured are usually free but because they are available to the public, they do tend to be slow. But no, I wouldn’t say that masking your IP is hard core.

        Btw – I am not an expert. I know just enough to be dangerous to myself.

  7. Anonymouse

    If someone came to me and said that they received an e-mail accusing me of stealing, it would cause me a great deal of anxiety. Of course this is assuming the person is innocent, but as Alison said, knowing someone is in your office has it out for you could really make it awkward for someone.

  8. Jamie

    The only other thing I’d check would be that the things that were ordered are actually used in the office.

    i.e. someone could order toner and the receipt would be legit and match the statement, but they could have ordered it for their personal use and taken it home.

    Not saying it’s likely – but just pointing out you can have fraud with legitimate receipts.

    That said – anonymous reporting? Seriously? And if they have enough details to make the accusation why didn’t they include them? What purchases were fraudulent? Which receipts?

    And I’d think store receipts would be hard to doctor – and she can’t be messing with the totals since they reconcile to the statement, so if it’s an unusual receipt which could be changed contact the vendor and have them reissue.

    I really can’t envision a scenario where I’m lodging an anonymous complaint – I wouldn’t speak up unless I felt I was right so why wouldn’t I use my name? Let my credibility work in my favor.

    1. Sascha

      At my last job, the culture was so heavily fear-infused that people would drive to different cities in the state and mail in anonymous complaints. They didn’t even want to use email or anything like that. That place definitely had a problem with the “upper echelons” receiving special treatment and everyone else was terrified they lose their job for the smallest of things. So happy I’m no longer there. :)

        1. Sascha

          Definitely. It has caused me to be very distrustful of management. I’m working on it, but the scars are there. :) Of course in the case of OP, I’m going with the default “normal” workplace where someone shouldn’t have to snail mail a complaint.

      1. Anon

        I feel like that’s what I would do if I had to make a complaint (and I would type it so they can’t connect me to the handwriting). Our boss expressly told us to make anonymous “suggestions” if we had any, and everyone is still too scared.

    2. AVP

      Okay, thinking about doctoring receipts…I reconcile the corporate cards for my company and I’m trying to think of how I could do this, if I even wanted to. I think the best way would be if you received an email from Vendor, screen grabbed it, edited the text/numbers in Illustrator and then printed it and submitted it that way. I mean, the total dollar value would be the same but you could probably hide personal items on it, or items that you returned for store credit.

      I can’t see very many other ways that this wouldn’t be totally obvious to the OP! That said, this seems like a lot of effort to go through…

      1. Ruffingit

        It does seem like a lot of effort to me as well, but then I’m thinking once you got a system down, it wouldn’t be that hard. The longer you do things, the better you tend to get at them. And for all I know, there’s all kinds of software out there to make this stuff way easier to do. I’ve never given it much thought, but the Internet has everything else ;)

  9. BadPlanning

    Does the email bounce back if replied to? I realize there is some risk in replying — SPAM/engaging an anonymous tipper/creating a “paper” trail. I was thinking that the OP could reply and either A. Ask for more specifics because the accusations are too vague to be helpful. or B. Request the tipper email from their real address so the problem can be addressed promptly. Otherwise the tip cannot be followed up on.

    1. BadPlanning

      Additional thought: Does the OP have any idea what the regular rate of consumption on office supplies are (I’m assuming the accusation rests on the temp order extra and taking it home or buying something not an office supply and someone relabeling it as such)? Like is it normal to buy new pens, papers and toner every 6 months? If so, is that still the rate under the temp? I realize that this information is probably not necessarily stored in a spreadsheet with handy graphs, but maybe if the OP flipped through 2 years of receipts and got a general idea. Of course, this isn’t the OPs main job, so I can see how that would be a big pain and/or not information readily available.

      1. OP

        OP here – I don’t know the regular rate of consumption, but it’s a small enough office where I can kind of tell if new pens or paper or ink is needed. That is, I use enough supplies, paper, other essentials to be able to tell what we need, generally (though I don’t have an exact quantity count). Nothing seems out of the ordinary.

        1. Zelos

          In that case, if you haven’t done it already, I’d contact the vendors you’ve purchased from recently and ask for copies of your invoices. If their invoices match what you have on file and are actually for the makes and models of your printers and whatnot, your temp would be in the clear. Even if the temp is (theoretically) returning it for credit, if you’re buying it under a corporate account they’ll have records for that. Any cashback (is that even possible on corporate credit cards?) would be recorded on the invoices too.

          I’m inclined to think something just has it in for the temp, and I’d ignore the emails if everything came back clean. (The checking in with the temp is good, but I think checking in with a new-ish employee is good practice and should be standard anyway.)

          1. Jamie

            I don’t know if cash back is possible but on my company card every single return just credits back the card – I’ve certainly never been given another option, but then I’ve never asked.

            The only time I’ve been given a gift card in lieu of cash is when returning a gift or something bought in cash without receipt.

            1. Zelos

              For personal purchases which are smaller (usually), I’ve been offered store credit (sometimes insisted upon store credit when I purchased with that store’s credit card, to my great annoyance). But for large purchases? If the vendor doesn’t credit it directly back to the credit card of purchase, they should issue a cheque. (In my experiences, they have.) Otherwise they’re opening themselves up for fraud.

              I’ve never tried refunding a large (personal) purchase onto anything but my credit card either, but if I’d requested it as cash or store credit I’m pretty sure I’d get the side eye.

  10. Joey

    Instead of sending a blanket message to everyone why not just send it (reply) to the anonymous sender?

    I don’t like talking to everyone about an anonymous complaint unless its absolutely necessary.

    1. Ruffingit

      Totally agreed unless they just want everyone to know that it’s OK to lodge complaints personally and there will be no repercussions. But, as a general rule, I think it’s just going to start a ton of office gossip to address it with everyone that an anonymous complaint was made, etc.

      1. Joey

        I’ve always seen anonymous emails sent from some randomly created yahoo or gmail account. I haven’t ever seen one you couldn’t reply to. That would add another level of weird. I’d assume it was a tech savvy person.

        1. OP

          It’s weird –

          The address happens to come from our domain, but not from a recognizable email or an active inbox. Not a name of person, mind you – more of a place holder.

          It’s basically (fake name)@(our domain).

          1. Joey

            I’m sure only a select few can create new email addresses, no?

            Can’t you see who created it?

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              It’s actually not that hard to make the “from” field look like it’s from any domain you want, although once someone looked at the raw source coding, they’d see it was faked.

                1. Jamie

                  It depends what they are using – if they are spoofing through a proxy the original headers will be anonymized and useless.

                2. fposte

                  And even if you can pin it down to the domain, that doesn’t tell you the individual at the domain if the IP is masked.

            2. OP

              Not sure – I know it’s been impossible to track.

              That said, I get spam all the time from addresses using our domain, I think it’s a pretty common occurrence actually. Not sure how it is they do it, but it can be done by someone with a bit of savvy I think.

              1. Jamie

                You don’t even need to be savvy – google email spoofing or ghosting and you can find step by step instructions through the first couple of hits.

                If you’re running exchange I’m assuming they tried tracing it through message tracking to see if they could pull any information regarding originating ISP?

                1. Jamie

                  I’ll grant you that computer illiterate users wouldn’t be able to do this – so the ones that think they can “break” their password or that email operates by magic owl delivery could safely be ruled out – but really most people with email have gotten spammed with spoofed email at some point.

                  So most people know what it is and it’s a google away to learn how to do it.

                  But you know, even the computer illiterate people have family and friends…talk about it and someone shows them how to send it like that.

                  If it was sent internally I totally agree with you – but sent on the outside it could be anyone with basic knowledge and google or who knows someone with basic knowledge and google.

                2. fposte

                  Yeah, it’s really not hard. If you’ve set your own email up you’ve seen how to do it–it’s not even hacking, it’s just a setting.

                  Good point on the ISP. Heck, even viewing headings on a mail client could give you some info–most people aren’t going to bother to use relays or anything for something this small.

              2. TychaBrahe

                If that’s true, it may not have even come from an employee.

                Ex-partner or current partner’s ex-partner, etc.

            3. fposte

              Yeah, it’s pretty easy to spoof emails. I can manually reset the “from” email line on my Thunderbird client without any regard to whether the email exists or not, and I’m sure many other email clients have something similar (so you can send stuff from your work address even if you’re not accessing it from work, for instance).

          2. Anonymous

            How bizarre. Who goes to this much length over office supplies?

            OP, please, please keep us posted on how this turns out. This is the most drama I’ve had all week.

          3. Apollo Warbucks

            Do you have your own database server in the office? I only ask because the system I look after at work has the facility to send emails from any address you like, it’s really useful for particle jokes, you just need to know some HTLM and SQL. If that’s not possible, then I’d look at the person who sets up your email addresses for new staff, is it someone in the office or some one from an external company that looks after your email system, it must be someone with access to have set up an address to be used.

            I would not talk to the temp about what was said, if there is any credit ability to the claims then he could cover his tracks. Id start be checking the invoices on file and also from six months before the temp started to see if there is anything that looks odd, and then decide what to do after an investigation

  11. V

    You’ve said the temp has asked for a permanent position there. I wonder if maybe there is someone else in the office who is in the running for the position and is doing this, in an effort to eliminate the competition? Still ridiculous, but I guess it could be a possibility.

    1. BadPlanning

      Another random scenario that came to mind is that the temp has an ex (or angry friend/relative) with an ax to grind and is trying to get the temp fired out of revenge. The temp would probably naturally chat about their job and perhaps gave this angry person enough details to make it sound like the email is Coming From Inside the Office .

      1. V

        OP says there are enough details in the email that they can determine the person is familiar with the office (i think they might have mentioned this in a comment and not their letter).

        1. OP

          Yes – one had an oddly specific detail about the office that is pretty unique. So it seems at best unlikely that it’s someone beyond the office – though I suppose it’s still feasible.

          1. Brett

            It could be someone who has been in the office once or twice, but is not an employee. Employment is often times the first thing people attack when they want to go after someone.

          2. Chinook

            OP is it possible that someone has it out for the temp because she isn’t willingly integrating into the group where someone is their leader. I know I once had a Queen Bee type sabotage me so well that the only way I was proved innocent was that the Office Manager stumbled onto proof that the Queen was lying. I could see this false email as a way to clear out someone who isn’t easily manipulated.

  12. Bea W

    So not only are the emails from and unkniwn person, but that person went through the trouble of covering their electronic tracks to avoid being traced at all. ey did this to lodge a complaint about a temp, not even a regular employee. That smells awfully suspect to me. It doesn’t make any sense unless the atmosphere there is so threatening that even bringing up concerns about a temp is grounds for insta-firing.

    It’s worth auditing the purchases on the card, but if nothing appears to be off, the best course of action might be no response to Mr/Ms Anonymous Coward. After you’ve done your checking and found nothing, you might want to talk to the temp and let him know about these emails. Maybe he has a jilted lover or stalker deliberately trying to get him fired.

    I had an ex who resorted to this kind of anonymous harrassment through email, snail mail, and going to far as to spoof the caller ID of my workplace to get me to trick me into answering the phone. He tracked me down when I changed jobs and tried to harrass me there. To my knowledge he never stooped to anonymous accusations to my employers, but probably only to avoid the risk of being caught as the underhanded whack he really was by other people.

    This reminds me too much about my own experience. It’s creepy.

    I might be tempted to reply to this person (assuming you can) and playing it off like you’re concerned about the seriousness of the allegations but won’t be able to do much unless s/he is willing to describe how, when, where they came to be aware of the theft and how they know the temp and that HR may require to speak to him/her directly and reveal his/her identity to them in order to take action or some other such BS. Faced with that, Anonymous may just dissappear. If it’s someone trying to jerk your temp around, they’ll probably stop when they find out it’s not going to work and you can’t just fire someone based on an anonymous tip without having proven the guy is stealing.

    1. KellyK

      Yeah, I got a definite stalker-ish vibe from it too. Not to say that the alternate scenario, where it’s legit and the person is afraid of reprisal, isn’t also a possibility. It just has a couple red flags for me.

  13. LCL

    The average noncriminal adult person can’t change their writing styles very much. If you sent a few emails to your group requiring responses, you will probably be able to get a very clear idea who the anonymous complainer is.

    1. BadPlanning

      Clever idea. This is why I stopped filling in written comment on “anonymous” work surveys. I realized I had a hard time not sounding like myself. All the time.

    2. CEMgr

      I’m trying to imagine myself being in the position of someone who has seen possible evidence of fraud with a corporate card via unauthorized spending on personal items. It is hard to see how an office bystander could gather clear and convincing evidence that even justified a complaint. Some evidence may point to the possibility of fraud, but may also have a plausible innocent explanation. Yet the tipster did not raise just a possibility, the tipster made direct accusations without supporting data.

      It’s possible the tipster is an honest person shocked at the brazen thefts and quaking in fear of consequences of speaking truth to power, yet impelled to accuse his/her coworker because of personal principle (…think about that…), but the overall circumstances make it more likely in my mind that the tipster does not have solid evidence (or any evidence) and therefore makes it impossible to test the evidence. In this view, it is probable the tipster does not have a goal of stopping thefts, but rather of causing headaches for the temp or even another person, such as our OP.

      More simply put, given the relatively trivial misdeeds charged, along with heavy anonymous cloaking of the accuser and repeated uncheckable accusations, combined with the further detail that your investigation does not support the accusations and in fact tends to undermine them, I would have little trouble concluding these are false accusations.

      The worst part of it all is knowing that you most likely have an anonymous tipster.

      1. Joey

        Not necessarily. Its typical that an employee won’t provide enough info to investigate without specific questions being asked. Frequently they have no proof at all, just conclusions based on non specific circumstantial evidence. And people can be quick to jump to the worst case scenario.

    3. Jamie

      How weird – this just came up for me yesterday.

      A colleague was asking some advice on how to write a work related, but delicate, email. Every suggestion I made she’d laugh and ask how to say that in a “less Jamie” way.

      It came to light that she knows I’m the only one who uses the phrase “per our discussion…”, always substitutes, “issues” when I mean “problems” and my rare use of “whilst” and “hence” is the source of some good-natured office amusement – among other little idiosyncrasies like the fact that I start with a summary sentence or two, bullet point most issues, end with action items and deadlines. Always.

      It was just funny to me that she noticed all that – and then I thought about it and I think that if stripped of identification I could match an email to most of my coworkers just based on syntax and style.

      I would be so busted if I tried to write ransom notes, I’d leave my verbal DNA all over the paper.

            1. AB Normal

              As a reader, I thank you. I find romance stuff very boring to read, but will devour any crime-related book :-).

      1. Ruffingit

        It is true that people have a distinctive style of speaking and writing and if you’re observant, you can pretty much match it up to the person. Once, a friend of mine wrote me a letter and said that “someone anonymous that we both knew had told her x…” and I immediately knew who the person was because my friend writing the letter had the habit of adopting the unique sayings of others. So, shortly after that sentence in the letter, friend used the same unique saying as another person and I knew immediately that other person was Ms. Anonymous. So it’s sort of a third-party detection thing there, but yeah the way people say things is a definite identifier.

        1. Grace

          Ah yes. The same way that double-agent Robert Hanssen was caught. A tape-recording of an unknown double agent using a quote of Gen. Patton’s. Another agent remembered that Hanssen used to use the same Patton quote. Busted!

  14. PoohBear McGriddles

    I’d find it interesting that Anonymous Emailer would be scared of a shoot-the-messenger scenario, but nonetheless cared enough for the shooters (managers) to go to great lengths to report what probably amounts to petty theft. For a small office, the supply budget can’t be that huge, and no one seems to be complaining about being out of paper or coffee. So it seems likely that whether Tempy is guilty or not, AE has something against him and wishes to get him fired.

    1. Ruffingit

      Maybe, but as I posted above, people often do these things for years at a time and it adds up to a lot. If tipster knows that temp has asked for a permanent position, tipster might be wanting to nip this in the bud because with that permanent position comes the possibility of ongoing petty theft, which can add up.

      Personally, I think tipster has an axe to grind, but just making the point that petty theft can easily turn into something more if it’s an ongoing thing.

  15. Ash

    My question — how would the temp even try to doctor receipts? Buy and return later I get, but creating new receipts to cover up purchases he’s made? How? The date would have to be the same as what is on the credit card statement and most store receipts are on that silky paper and you could probably tell if something was whited out, etc. so I find that highly unlikely.

    I wouldn’t put too much credibility into the report, but I would just keep an eye on what the temp is buying and make sure everything is kosher.

    1. Jamie

      That’s what I wondered. It would be hard to do on a store receipt, but you could do it with other vendors who send packing slips/receipts in other, easier to forge, formats. You’d have to keep the amounts the same for reconciliation, but change the item description.

      I don’t see how it would be possible with a store receipt, but most businesses do a lot of ordering online.

      1. KellyK

        Some stores are doing receipts to email now. Once it’s just an image, you can do whatever you want with it. (Granted, the only major retailer I know of that does this is K-Mart, and only if you have a store membership that’s associated with your email address.)

      2. KarenT

        A lot of stores email receipts as PDFs. You could easily wipe out certain lines or add new lines of text.

      3. Colette

        If the receipts are scanned and uploaded, it wouldn’t be hard to fake. If they’re the physical retail receipts (i.e. not a business invoice or e-mailed receipt), it would be harder.

    2. Zelos

      Nowadays I only see the thermal paper receipt at point-of-sale in retail stores. If I order it online or by phone, I get an electronic PDF receipt…and because electronic receipts are rarely read-only, they are pretty easily doctored even if they’re PDF. (Sometimes it’s even legit because the issuing software doesn’t like doing math).

      It’s much harder to doctor the packing slip that comes with shipments (those are usually printed out, sometimes even on old-school dot-matrix printers on carbon paper), but because the clean invoice is the “official” receipt, you can probably throw out the packing slip without much hassle because they often don’t have the price on them, or don’t have neat enough layout, or whatever.

  16. Fiona

    Every time I try to come up with a rational suggestion, I get distracted by how completely nuts this is. Someone, presumably inside your office, has the tech know-how to spoof your company email, and mask it, whatever that means, and thinks – or wants you to think, anyway – that the temp has the skill to undetectably alter multiple purchase receipts to hide their personal spending on the company card. It’s like the ungodly offspring of The Office and Catch Me If You Can.

    That said, I would suggest rather than collecting paper copies of purchase receipts (I assume), have the email confirmations for all online orders sent directly to your email. Tell the office you’re trying to be greener by not printing receipts anymore.

    1. Ruffingit

      “It’s like the ungodly offspring of The Office and Catch Me If You Can.”

      Best comment all day! :)

    2. JessB

      It’s comments like this one tha make me want to see a Top 10 best comments of 2013 list.

      I know it would be tricky, and might come off as favouritism, or something, but there really are some wonderful commentors here, who sometimes hit the nail right on the head.

  17. A Jane

    Would it be possible to get an itemized list from the vendor for the past few orders? That way, you’re not seeing receipts but the actual orders.

    1. Elizabeth West

      Anyone ordering for the company should be turning these over to Accounting anyway (packing lists, and the like). I had to do that at Exjob when I ordered supplies from Staples or anything online where I had to use a company card. My bosses didn’t make me forward the emails, or have them copied to them, but now that I think about it, it would have been good practice to do that.

      1. Jessa

        Would have been good practise to have the email on the card account route directly to accounting and not to the person at all.

  18. Fiona

    Also, you said your IT people couldn’t trace the fake address. Who else in your office besides the IT people would have the know-how to do the fake email thing? I consider myself pretty tech proficient, and I have no idea (although I’m sure I could Google). Maybe it’s actually your IT person behind the fake. *shrug*

    1. Jamie

      Seriously, if you google for instructions almost anyone could do this – and it wasn’t done at work, they just spoofed the work email addy.

      This isn’t technical enough to give the side eye to IT over anyone else.

      1. Joey

        Maybe not IT per se, but you can definitely rule out the people who do to know what spoofing or ghosting is.

          1. Joey

            Most people I know who don’t keep up with technology wouldn’t know what spoofing or ghosting is and wouldn’t ever dream they were capable of doing it.

            1. Colette

              I could see less tech savvy people doing it without knowing the name for what it is (i.e. “Wow, look at the cool thing my neighbor showed me!”)

              1. Jamie

                Absolutely. All it takes is someone to be complaining about the temp at work and how they wish they could send an anonymous email and someone showing them how.

      2. Joey

        Maybe not IT per se, but you can definitely rule out the people who dont now what spoofing or ghosting is.

        1. Brightwanderer

          You don’t need to know what spoofing or ghosting are – a google search for “how to send an anonymous email” brings up a bunch of results as well as services like hidemyass .

      3. A Bug!

        Are the e-mails even fake e-mails rather than e-mails sent through a throwaway account on a free webmail service and using an anonymizer?

        Because it’s super duper easy to sign up for e-mail accounts and almost as easy to use something like Tor.

  19. A Bug!

    If this were a Five Minute Mystery, the OP (or rather, the retired police detective who is a friend of the OP) would meet one-on-one with several employees who each have a different motive, starting the conversation with “I’ve received an anonymous report containing some very serious allegations.”

    The OP would be able to identify the tipster because all of the interviewed employees would react assuming the report concerned themselves, except the one employee who already knows it doesn’t.

  20. BCW

    I’ll echo a couple of people here in saying that anyone who does this is a coward. If you want to screw with someone’s livelihood, at least be man/woman enough to put your name on it and face that person.

    If I were in that situation, I’d look into it, but if I don’t find anything, I would leave it alone and not talk to the accused. It will just make them feel bad and look at everyone there like they are out to get them.

  21. Annonnymmouss

    “…We lost the person who previously held the card and hired a temp in his place…”

    OP, was the previous person laid off or fired? Do you think the previous person could be the culprit?

    1. Elizabeth West

      Ooh, good point!
      1. They would know the format of the company email.
      2. If they’re not working, they’d have plenty of time to google how to do it.
      3. A plausible motive may exist.
      4. If they’re still connected to former coworkers, they could know there’s a temp, or even what his/her name is.

      I’m mad that I didn’t think of that.

      1. OP

        Had not considered it, but knowing the former person (who was let go for budgeting reasons) I don’t think the former person would do something like that.

        Plus, at this point, we are talking over a year before any emails were sent (between the time the previous person was let go and when the first email was sent) – just would seem to not make sense.

    2. alfie

      This was exactly what I was thinking. Especially if the temp is angling for a permanent position that could be similar to the ex-employee’s. They would have an insider’s knowledge of the office.

  22. Ann Furthermore

    Some companies encourage anonymous tips, when it comes to things like reporting violations of the code of conduct or unethical behavior. My company has one, and many other large companies do too. But not for something like, “Joe has been stealing office supplies.” I know of a couple instances where people left the company and then reported former managers, because they were bitter. There’s a whole group of people that does nothing but investigate allegations of improper/illegal/unethical conduct. This whole thing has a creepy vibe to it — the tipster has gone to so much trouble to conceal his or her identify. I think it’s someone with a vendetta against the poor temp.

    In graduate school I had to write a paper on a failed international business venture. I chose Walmart’s attempt to expand into Germany. (I’m not a Walmart fan, so it appealed to me.) It was an abysmal failure, and they ended up taking a huge loss on the venture a few years later. It was due to many things — like not knowing enough about the culture to know that Germans (and I would imagine most Europeans) are not accustomed to huge hyper-marts where you could buy produce 2 aisles away from lawn mowers, and so found the experience off-putting. Or not doing any market research to learn things like a standard European pillow is a different size than a standard US pillow, so they stocked all kinds of US-specific products that then of course did not sell.

    But I thought the most interesting observation was when they rolled out the anonymous hotline for reporting violations of their code of conduct. It was presented as something you could do without fear of retaliation, no one would know, you would remain totally anonymous, and so on. The Germans’ reaction to that was, basically, “Um, yeah. You know who else was a really big fan of that whole anonymous tip thing? The Nazis. And the Communists. So no, we won’t be participating in anything like that.”

    1. Anon

      That’s fascinating! Another thing I heard about that was the cultural dissonence with American-style customer service. German employees were told to smile at all their customers, which to Germans is really weird. Customers would feel like the employees were flirting with them, and were too uncomfortable to return to the store.

      Anyone who has ever visited a non-touristy part of Germany knows that for them, good customer service has nothing to do with being friendly, and is all about the quality/timeliness of the product or service being delivered. Anything more is great if you want to be friends with someone, but not part of the typical employee-customer relationship.

      1. Ann Furthermore

        Yes, I read that too. The other thing that I found hilarious was the idea of everyone doing the famous Walmart cheer before the start of every shift. My company has an office in Frankfurt, so I have many German colleagues. The thought of all those very forthright, no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is people doing a cheer each day before starting to work painted a very amusing mental picture.

        1. Jamie

          I’m finding this fascinating, because I had the same thought when I first saw the walmart cheer thing, Apple does it too… I’d quit my job. It would be such a deal breaker for me I would not physically be capable of participating in something where I felt so foolish.

          And the whole not smiling for the sake of it, as I was reading I kept nodding in visceral agreement – yes, can we please divorce psuedo-friendship from every single interaction in life, no matter how perfunctory and transitory?

          It’s funny – my siblings and I are all reserved and we’d all walk off jobs before cheering for anything…and our dad was born in Germany. Reading this perhaps those two facts aren’t unrelated.

          No matter what happens maintain your dignity at all costs – some lessons from the cradle are just hardwired.

        2. Mander

          Wait, you have to do a group cheer before you start work there? I am so glad I have never worked at Walmart. My head would have exploded.

      2. Germany

        This is true. My husband is from Germany and when he came to America and we went to the bank, I had a short, friendly conversation with the teller. As we left, my husband asked me “Do you know her?” And I said no, this is how we conduct business in America frequently though. He said they don’t do that in Germany, people are not that friendly during standard business transactions.

        1. Brazil

          Heh. I’m from Brazil, living in the U.S. My husband, also Brazilian, complains that in the U.S., the smiles seem “fake”, while in Brazil they feel genuine.

          I just got back from a vacation there, and while getting a document notarized, got a full report on the attendant’s life — her kids, how she is a widow but now has a boyfriend she’s taking care of because he’s sick, you name it. For an American would be TMI; I can’t even imagine what a German would think of the interaction :-).

    2. Chinook

      Yeah, Walmart doesn’t quite get national differences. Common ornaments I have found in Alberta Walmarts include American flags . Considering the border is 800 km away, they didn’t sell that we’ll.

    3. Rayner

      Disney did this exact same thing when they introduced the Euro Disney experience – they basically copy pasted everything from the American and Tokyo experience, from the food to the rides, and it tanked.

      Why?

      Because Europeans don’t do things the American way. They don’t like to graze every waking minute – they eat meals at set times, and there wasn’t enough restaurants. They didn’t like the queuing system. The hotels were far too expensive for most people, and the whole holiday culture was ignored – people get far more holiday, and prefer to spend it doing diverse ranges of things, rather stay in one place, and focus all their energies there.

      Not to say it’s bad to do that, but it’s definitely not the European way.

      It took a lot of emergency meetings and rescue efforts to make Euro Disney profitable again.

      #degreetalking

  23. Mena

    I am assuming that no one reports to this temp, right? So, the tipster is afraid of the temp’s retaliation? The temp has any power? This right here makes the tipster look a bit suspect. I like Alison’s #1 and #2. Keep and eye on things and see if mgmt wants to make an announcement. You can also reply to the tipster and explain that the anonymous note isn’t credible.

    And keep your mgmt fully in the loop on any communications with or about the tipster.

  24. the_scientist

    *casually sitting in office, chewing on popcorn*. This is just so, so, so strange. I have a purchasing card, and reconcile my card and our principle investigator’s card every month. We have to get pre-approval from finance for purchases over a nominal amount (for example, catering and travel expenses must be approved), then submit original receipts, then get the research head to sign off on the statements, then send them to finance for approval, and they inspect the paperwork pretty thoroughly. I just can’t really think of how I would fake up my receipts….

    To be honest, the fact that this is completely anonymous, weirdly specific on internal office details but not specific about instances of fraud, and presumably from someone who doesn’t handle the receipts, gives me a weird and vengeful vibe. If the OP’s office is able to find the anonymous tipster and the accusations are false, I hope they make an example out of them, because this is unbelievably underhanded.

  25. HR lady

    IF the tipster is correct (and I think that’s a big IF here), then one possibility is that the tipster is the temp’s friend or significant other (or ex-significant other), but not a coworker. I can imagine being in a position where my friend told me he/she was stealing from the company and explained to me how to do it. I might be disgusted enough to email the company to let them know (and I’d have details that friend gave me about how they did it), but I wouldn’t want to let my identity be known to the company (and I wouldn’t want there to be a chance of my friend finding out it was me).

    I don’t actually have any friends who would do this (or if they did, they wouldn’t tell me about it). It was just easier to write that paragraph using “I” instead of trying to write it all in the 3rd person.

    However, I am still skeptical that the tipster is right, especially since the OP has already done some investigating and found nothing.

  26. Anonymous

    If the accusation is true (big IF), it is likely that the email-writer learned about it through direct observation or confession (or, rather, bragging). Thus, it is possibly someone in the temp’s social circle. This person could be going anonymous to avoid a social falling-out with the temp. Or this person could be afraid of the temp.

    The tipster could also be a more tenuous business connection, like a client, a vendor, or a contractor, who doesn’t feel like she has the standing to bring this to your attention. There are really a lot of possibilities here, from malicious to well-intentioned.

  27. Mochafrap512

    I work in retail. All of our receipts are kept electronically. The op should go and ask the retailers to see the copies of the originals and compare them.

  28. Clever Name

    Do you worth with Thomas at Downton Abbey? Because spoofing an email and masking the IP address just to send an anonymous accusation is pretty damn devious.

    1. Windchime

      Good point. OP, are there any employees who skulk about in darkened hallways, eavesdropping and pensively smoking cigarettes? That’s your anonymous tipster.

  29. BadPlanning

    Reading all these comments leads me to two conclusions: I’d be a bad criminal and a bad anonymous reporter. Both sides seem like too much work and I don’t seem to be devious enough to think of the several angles people have mentioned.

  30. Jamie

    Two questions – the OP writes that there were anonymous emails – plural. Did they both say the same thing, lacking specifics?

    Just to assure myself I’d check purchases about a month prior to each note.

    How big is the office? Because you could logically rule out anyone with the authority to deal with the issue if they believed it to be happening. How many does that leave in the suspect pool? I’d wonder most about anyone who is a general sh*t stirrer or someone wants the same permanent position the temp wants. Also anyone who is high drama and has a particular dislike for the temp, and those extremely adverse to conflict.

    I’d be less suspicious of people who tend to not look for drama outside their own jobs and who wouldn’t know about this in the course of their work. In this camp are the people who have proven that if they have an issue to raise they’ll do so openly.

    How big is the pool of likely suspects when you all this into account?

    I’m just so curious – I really hope we get an update on this.

    1. KarenT

      BadPlanning’s comment resonated with me. It really could be someone from outside the office messing with the temp, such as a jilted ex.

    2. OP

      There were multiple emails, one was to me, two directed at the most senior person in the office. They both said largely the same thing, though one mentioned a detail about the office that is pretty unique (though it had nothing to do with accusing the temp of anything).

      Our office is small – around 13 people – and I can rule out three off the bat (myself, the temp, and the more senior person). I’m confident I can rule out a couple others as well. So the pool, admittedly, is small – not counting those outside of the office who might be doing something.

      1. Awesome Temp

        Have you by chance, been interviewing external candidates for the position that the temp is interested in? Maybe the Temp causally mentioned wanting the position to one of them while they were in the office, hence, they know about the little detail, but now want the Temp out of the way.

        More likely, sometimes the easiest solution is the correct one, ASK the Temp… specifically ask them if they have an ex that considers themself ‘computer savvy’. Maybe you don’t need to be to do something this devious, but a jilted ex out for revenge might think they are diabolical by sending an anonymous email trying to get the temp fired. I know that I would want to know if I was accused of something like this, as I am currently a Temp in an office trying to land a Permanent position, and would want to know if someone was trying to hurt my chances.

  31. Shawn

    At my last company we had an employee who was in charge of ordering and maintaining certain supplies/materials/equipment. It was found out that this employee was selling some of these supplies/materials/equipment online. Sometimes the person added a 3rd widget onto the order when only 2 were really needed, sometimes they sold the old product that a legitimately newly ordered product had replaced. There wasn’t a ton of oversight over this person, their actions, and their inventory, obviously. We only found out because one of the potential customers called our workplace’s main number after noticing the seller’s email address appeared to be a work email address. They just wanted to confirm if the item for sale was legit. No one in the company had any clue this was going on and probably would have never found out.

    1. Ann Furthermore

      I worked at a dot-com years ago, and an IT guy was doing something similar. He was ordering computers, printers, and other stuff, and it was purchased with company funds, but then he was selling them himself out of a storage unit he’d rented.

      I remember we were all shocked when he was busted. I’d seen him hauling equipment out to his car quite frequently, as had other people. We always assumed he was taking something to the other building. Well, he *was* taking it to another building, just not one that was a company facility! I never cease to be amazed at the gall it would take to do something like that — not to mention pull it off for any amount of time.

      Somehow the police got involved when he tried to set up a sale to someone in another state, and at that point, I think the FBI got involved. Or something.

      1. Shawn

        Yup, ours was an IT person too, and the only IT person we had so there was no one else to handle it. Other folks had to approve the purchases.

        The issue here was this employee could easily provide legitimate sounding explanations for things we needed and was charged with the complete oversight of excess/old equipment such as computers, monitors, projectors, printers, phones, cables, associated accessories, and replacement parts/pieces for all of these. We had multiple buildings on the property, the inventory was kept in a separate building from where everyone involved was located, and no one charged with approving purchases would really know what was or wasn’t in the inventory. This was a respected employee who had been with the company for quite a while.

    2. MR

      This is why things like this should not be handled by one person all of the time. Get other people involved so that it’s harder for one person to act on their own. It’s a bit more of a hassle from a logistical standpoint, but it’s better than your stuff getting stolen.

      1. Jamie

        They are actually following GAAP by having the reconciliation and verification done by the OP and another who are not involved in purchasing.

        I don’t know how having more people purchasing would bring anything to light.

        1. Jessa

          I don’t think the issue was on purchasing per se, but on the ability of the tech to just move equipment around without oversight. There should be a paper trail (or computer trail as it were,) on the inventory. And there should be regular reconciliations.

          I worked for a state institution that had many many buildings, but anything over a certain price point had a state inventory sticker on it, with a bar code, and was tracked. You couldn’t dispose of old machinery without it going through channels. There were inventories done regularly and if property came up missing, it wasn’t fun for the people responsible for it.

    3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

      Somebody at Wakeen’s got away with that for about 6 months.

      I would love to tell the story but I’d have to meet you for coffee. Can’t post too many details on the internet, but it’s a doozy full of chutzpah and audacity.

      If you have the balls to walk out the front door with equipment, during the day, you can keep a game running for a little bit at least.

    4. Noah

      Our IT personw as doing something similar. We upgrade iPads/iPhones periodically and he would collect the old ones. Then he would turn around and sell them to Gazelle and pocket the payment. The only way he was found out was because he started ordering extra iPads and sent them in their shipping boxes to Gazelle. Gazelle called the company to make sure we sent in the correct ones and no one had a clue what was going on.

  32. ThursdaysGeek

    This sounded like something that’s been in our local paper recently, although the anonymous complaint was a letter, and it was a big enough charge (against a city manager) that the FBI investigated. The FBI found nothing. That was in 2009. Three years later, there was another investigation and by then the embezzled funds were close to $3 million (over 22 years).

    So, not finding anything doesn’t always mean innocence, nor does an anonymous tip mean it can be ignored. I too, lean towards some of the suggestions above (the temp is innocent, someone else has it out for him), and agree with Alison suggestion to try to get more information by letting it be known that anonymous allegations aren’t the best way of communicating. But a pleasant and competent person isn’t always honest.

    I’m glad the OP is commenting — that means it’s more likely we’ll get an update, if OP ever finds out more.

  33. Holly

    I like number 1 followed up by number 2 if another email comes in. If number 2 ultimately doesn’t work, consider number 3 in case the smaller is screwing with the temp in other parts of his life.

  34. annie

    At a teenage job I had in high school, a coworker and I were accused of stealing. We were both extremely upset about this, as neither of us would have ever done anything like that at all. After some discussions with the boss, who definitely was predisposed to believe us as there did not appear to be any money missing, it turned out that the accuser did not understand that coworker and I were in charge of counting the cash box and locking it up at the end of the night. I guess she saw us take the cash box to the back office and thought something was up. Why she had made the leap into we were stealing, I have no idea – she had some issues and was not very bright. But after that, my coworker and I both said we did not want to work with her, were pretty irritated with how the boss handled it with the accuser afterwards, and both of us moved on to other jobs within a few months – the company ended up loosing two of the best workers (and two shift leaders at the same time) because of one dumb accuser they allowed to keep working after that. So, moral of the story, tread with care.

    1. A Bug!

      If she genuinely believed you were doing something improper with the money, then what exactly is wrong with her reporting it to the manager? The manager looked into it, found nothing amiss, and cleared up the misunderstanding, is that right?

      Unless she was rude, or refused to believe the manager’s explanation, or treated you guys as if you’d gotten away with theft, I don’t understand where the fireable offense is here.

      1. bad at online naming

        I was actually thinking this story illustrates why someone might want their report to be anonymous!

  35. Not So NewReader

    My knee-jerk reaction is that this is someone outside the company. It could be a disgruntle ex-employee or as others suggested an ex-BF/GF.

    OP, I see lots of comments about comparing receipts to statements but what about comparing the shipping bill to the contents of the box??? I think that a second person needs to be involved in receiving these items, if for NO other reason than to protect your temp.

    It sounds like the paths you have chosen to review you have reviewed very well. Please start looking for new ways to examine this situation. This might include inventorying the supplies on hand. It could mean having a second person check the order when it comes in.
    What else is this account used for? Is it just for supply purchases?
    Who else has company cards? Have these accounts been thoroughly checked too?

    Just a gut response on my part but I don’t think anyone is stealing I think you have a problem with a trouble maker from outside the company.

  36. Rebecca

    Very late here, but I’d like to add this. I just ordered an item for my office using my Amazon Prime account (we ran out of an item we needed right away). The box came, there was a packing slip in the box for the amount I charged to my credit card. I submitted the packing slip to the person who normally purchases the items, she checked the box, yep, items are in there, correct amount…

    My boss signed the voucher, and they paid me from petty cash.

    Pretty straightforward and not sure how I could have defrauded or stolen anything (not that I would!).

    I hope Alison follows up on this. It seems to get curiouser and curiouser.

  37. The B

    In terms of employees doing weird things, we once discovered the IT director had put a hidden camera in the lunch room to look at people. Not for security (he had no clearance for that), I think the pervert got off spying people. *shudders*

    1. EvilQueenRegina

      But why would he want to? Just for the drama of it? If he doesn’t want to work there any more, there are other ways of getting out of there without all that.

  38. glennis

    The OP says the accuser says the temp is “making unauthorized purchases on the card.” It doesn’t say he’s skimming cash or returning items, or whatever.

    If you’re using a vendor that does proper record-keeping, and everything checks out, it sounds like a false accusation to me.

    One thing you could do is review the vendors you use. If you are using vendors that don’t provide detailed receipts, or that use hand-written receipts, maybe you should change vendors.

  39. CAndy

    I’d do nothing. The OP is the person charged with making calls about this stuff, and to me it’s a personal values call. And about owning the situation.

    If ever challenged, I reckon it would be absolutely fine to say, “This was my remit and I don’t usually react to anonymous emails. When I weighed up the situation I decided I trusted our temp.”

  40. glennis

    We discovered one of our cashiers was skimming from the till in a computerized parking operation. He’d figured out a way to take a payment and then cancel that transaction. It showed up as a zero sale, so the daily sales report matched the cash in the till. He’d pocket the money. Each cashier had a couple of cancelled transactions each shift, and in most cases they were for legitimate reasons. But this cashier had a lot of cancelled transactions, and was pocketing over $100 per day. That’s only twelve or so transactions in a busy parking lot.

    You had to run a separate report to get a total for the NUMBER of cancelled transactions, and we didn’t routinely do that. Someone happened to notice this cashier had a lot of cancellations, and then they ran the report, and only after comparing his history with the other cashiers, and only over a period of time, did we figure out what he was doing.

    I’m making it sound like we were stupid, but really, the system was so complex he’d just found a little glitch to exploit. We figure he was taking maybe $40 – 100 a day for a couple of years.

  41. Wren

    Given that it’s the temp who is being accused and she hasn’t found anything yet, I bet the anonymous tip is false. The way I see it, why do people use anonymity? because they’re afraid of blowback. A temp is about as non-threatening and powerless as you can get in the organization, so what they heck could this person be afraid of if this were true? Unless you have another temp competing for the same permanent position, I guess.

  42. Cassie

    One thing that can help with transparency is to have a different person receive/open the orders than the person who placed the orders (temp person). That way, it would take at least 2 people conspiring to defraud the company.

    Of course, you already have 3 people involved in these purchases – the senior person who approves the purchase, the temp who places the order, and the OP who reconciles. How many more staff will need to be added?

    Our univ’s procedures state that someone other than the order placer should reconcile, but given constant downsizing, it’s not uncommon for me and my coworkers to a) authorize the order*, b) place the order, b) receive the order, c) reconcile receipts/ledgers. *Usually this would be for office supplies or something similar – naturally larger purchases are approved by bosses. We do have one level of checks-and-balances though – an accountant in the dept gets copies of the transactions so if I’m ordering a dozen purple pens each week, she could/would get suspicious.

  43. Mousey Anon

    One thing that does poke out to me is that a temp is doing a job that company policy basically says a temp should not be doing. Yeah, the OP is the one reviewing it and likely is “on paper” the card holder, but the job is actually being done by someone else. It may be within the letter of the policy, but certainly not its spirit.

    I wonder why the company can’t hire the temp, or hire for that job?

    I know this is somewhat off the topic, but it does feel to me that there’s more to the background. If the anon notes are sent by someone who is trying to get the temp out of the job, are they trying for that job? Is there office politics involved in who has/who gets the job?

  44. Editor

    People have already mentioned most of the scenarios I could imagine — checking the vendor receipts, looking for changes in supply consumption, ascribing complaint to personal rancor, and so on.

    Could the temp be ordering some personal stuff and paying for it, but having it delivered to the office at the same time as the office order? This could add the appearance of misbehavior without being wrong — just someone getting out of going to the store without doing the business volume that would justify delivery. Does the temp kid around with the person who delivers supplies, and could someone have misunderstood some teasing? If it isn’t a delivery, could the temp be doing personal shopping while picking up supplies, leaving a bag of supplies in his or her vehicle, and raising suspicion that way?

    Does the store give some kind of credit for empty printer ink cartridges or some such product that the temp is getting credit or points for?

    Also, is it possible that there is theft, but that the rate is so small that it never registers? I’m thinking here of people who brag they never buy pens or sticky notes for home because they take them home from the office. If someone is taking a pen and a notepad every month, it may not be obvious, but if they’d made some remark, it could have offended someone who never removes so much as a paper clip. If it came up during a group chat at work and the righteous person was told “don’t be so uptight” or something similar by a co-worker who doesn’t take stuff home but doesn’t see it as a big deal, then there might be reluctance to be ridiculed for reporting petty theft because of someone else’s “don’t snitch” culture.

    I do like the theory that it’s personal and not necessarily accurate best. I hope the temp isn’t taking stuff.

    1. EvilQueenRegina

      This. An employee who got laid off at my last place once found himself the subject of a rumour that he actually got fired for stealing stock. What happened was that he was buying stock during his last week and his friend made a joke about how he was stocking up in preparation for starting his own service. It was just a joke, but someone overheard it and thought it was a real accusation.

  45. Vicki

    I’m still stuck on “anonymous email from inside the office” coupled with “IT could not trace the IP address, which appears to have been masked.”

    I would not only announce that the anonymous complainer needs to come forward but come forward in the next 2 days because, after that, when we find him, he will be fired for misuse of the company network.

    1. Mochafrap512

      When no one comes forward, IT can’t track them, and no one is fired, the anonymous person will realize they were bluffing. They will know that IT can’t track them, and they can continue to write anonymous letters. I do like Allison’s advice because it doesn’t state that they “will” figure out who it is. The keyword to change what you said is “if” we find out who it is. Also, not everyone needs to know the contents. Allison’s advice was spot on because it addressed that there was a letter, but with no details.

  46. David

    Haven’t read through all the comments, so it’s possible this was mentioned, but there is the chance the anonymous tipster isn’t an employee at all. I’m assuming since the e-mail couldn’t be traced it was a burner yahoo/hotmail/etc. account. Perhaps the temp has an ex-girlfriend or friend or general nutcase in his life that just wants to make his life miserable. I’ve seen that sort of thing happen before. If that’s the case, no amount of talking to the staff about the downside of anonymous e-mails will do any good in this case because it isn’t anyone on the staff (although it is a good lesson in general).

      1. PoohBear McGriddles

        Nothing like reading a post, thinking of an excellent response, then having to read thru 500 comments to make sure others haven’t beat you to it!

  47. anon-2

    I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again.

    Anonymous letters are, basically, CRANK letters. If you checked things out, and realized that the employee is on the up-and-up, then consider the letter a crank.

    Moving along , if someone is writing crank letters, then someone in the office may have an ax to grind. I might even report the letter (framing it as the crank letter that it likely is) — for the protection of the affected employee, and others.

    I’ve seen this happen. People who write crank letters. Miserable. Pathetic. Disruptive.

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