our employee forged the owner’s signature on his mortgage documents

A reader writes:

I have a remote medical billing job that I have been doing for the last seven years. The owner of the billing company, John, is a wonderful person who goes above and beyond for me and for his two other employees who are on-site. For context, I have run a highly successful medical practice for the last 25 years, so I am the go-to person whenever the owner of the billing company has questions/concerns.

Recently, one of the other two employees (Rob) approached John, said that he was moving out of state, and requested to work remotely. The request was denied, for various valid reasons. (The reasons could be a whole other letter to you, trust me!) Rob acknowledged this and gave his two-week notice.

This past Monday, when Rob’s last day was this upcoming Friday, he called John and confessed to having forged John’s signature on two mortgage documents for the new house he was purchasing out of state. The documents “verified” that John was still his employer, and that Rob was still making his salary and would continue to be an employee at that salary in the future. Which is a total lie, as Rob was going to be out of work come this Friday.

John immediately told Rob that he was terminated and that he was contacting his lawyer, and to send him the documents that were forged. Upon receiving them and consulting with his attorney, he advised Rob to contact his mortgage lender to explain that the documents were forged, and to amend them, and to send proof of this back to him. He also told Rob to not come back to the office until the next morning, at which point he wanted Rob to turn in his keys and computer login info to the other employee there, who is considered to be the office manager.

Rob then went back to the office LATER that night and deleted several files from his work computer, and then when he came in the next morning to turn in his keys/login info, he somehow managed to delete about 100 other files from his computer, claiming that while he was gathering his personal belongings, he somehow unplugged his work computer and had to plug it back in. When confronted by John about this, he lied and said he hadn’t done anything, even though John had a record of it through computer logs. When presented with the evidence contradicting his lies, he continued to say he hadn’t deleted any files.

I should note that John is going through a major medical issue with his wife, and could not be there to monitor any of Rob’s actions when Rob came to the office to turn in his keys/login info, as John was at the hospital with his wife. The timing on all of this was horrible!

John is reluctant to do anything more right now, other than chalk this up to a “lesson learned” when it comes to hiring someone he considered to be a “friend,” as he originally hired Rob because he knew him and felt bad when Rob was let go from his previous job. I have told John to check all client accounts for issues, and while I know there is no way Rob has embezzled from the company (we don’t ever get checks/money at the office), I still feel that Rob should face some consequences for what he did. John feels differently and I know it is because he has so much going on right now in his personal life (he told me so).

I know that if I was to push John harder, he would report Rob to the proper authorities and Rob would be in serious trouble. What would you suggest be done at this point?

If John wanted to report Rob’s actions, I’d have no beef with that.

But he doesn’t want to, and I don’t think you need to push him. It sounds like he has bigger priorities right now, and I don’t think there’s a moral imperative to ensure that Rob face justice.

I understand the impulse! It’s natural to want to see people face consequences for outrageous behavior, especially when they’ve lied to your face. But it’s not your job to dole out justice.

(For what it’s worth, though, Rob’s reaction is kind of fascinating! First he confessed what he did to John, and then he got petulant when Jonn had a reasonable reaction to it.)

John or his lawyer should contact the mortgage lender and inform them that John’s signature was forged on the documents they received; that’s just setting the record straight.

But ensuring Rob faces consequences … if John doesn’t want to deal with it, he doesn’t need to.

That said, there will be consequences: For one thing, Rob just got fired from his job and destroyed any chance of a good reference. And informing the mortgage lender that John’s signature was forged is highly likely to have some consequences too.

You’re right that now you can’t assume Rob acted with integrity in anything else, so someone needs to check whether he really did things he said he did and otherwise examine his work for problems. Bring in professional outside help to recover those computer files, too.

But the most important thing to do is what John is doing — to look for lessons to take forward. Of course, sometimes people say “lesson learned!” when they’re not really processing the lesson for next time, so if you have the kind of relationship that allows for it, you might nudge him in that direction: Were there red flags about Rob previously? Did John cut him more slack because he was a friend? Did Rob think he could get away with fraud because he misunderstood their relationship and, if so, did John contribute to that misunderstanding in the way he managed him? Were there things John/the company could have done differently to change the outcome?

John doesn’t need to do all that reflection right now if he’s got his hands full … and with his wife in the hospital, it sounds like he does. But ideally he’d do it before the next hire.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 321 comments… read them below }

  1. Artemesia*

    A computer expert needs to recover the deleted files. That will no doubt give a clue about what damage he may have done to the company. And of course, contact the mortgage company.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      And a note to all small companies: make sure you have an automated backup system that backs up files off site to a server employees do not have access to. There are several companies that offer this service, and it is worth it!

      1. Bilateralrope*

        Also, make sure you’re not relying on an employee handing over their username and password when they leave. Have someone (preferably multiple people) who can take care of transferring access when the fired/dead employee isn’t cooperating.

        Oh and try to revoke a persons access as soon as possible after you’ve decided that their employment is over. Before telling them is standard procedure when it’s an option.

          1. Ashley*

            and email … amazing how often email doesn’t get turned off because the email was originally setup poorly.

          2. Yvette*

            Exactly. If access is revoked there is no need to have them hand over username and password because they just won’t work. There should not have been any ability for an employee to set up files etc. that only they could access. There should always be a way for someone else to access basically everything.

            1. Candi*

              I’m headed for a Bachelor’s in IT, and if I wind up at a small company afterwards, I have a long list of things I intend to handle. I’ll just have to find out how best to handle the boss first. :p

          1. Bilateralrope*

            A dead employee who is still cooperating with the business seems more worrying.

            But it’s important to have a plan that can deal with an employee suddenly dying. Even if you never use it for someone dying, it’s going to be easily adapted to things like an employee being arrested, ghosting you, getting told to isolate, etc.

            1. Lab Boss*

              I’m reasonably sure if I got hit by a bus tomorrow, they’d have me raised up in a Halloween seance to answer questions about my extremely well-documented processes that nobody wants to pay any attention to…

              1. Why Bother?*

                I wrote a 200 page manual on how to do my job and left feeling pretty confident that they could do it without me there.

                Apparently no one knows where the file is (hint: on my shared drive and I told at least three people about it) and no one can do the job. *DEEP SIGH*

              2. IndustriousLabRat*

                Pretty sure my job would like me to go out in the world bundled up in bubblewrap and/or plate armor for this reason. They cluck extra cluckily at me, as compared to other staff, when it has started raining by clock-out on any day I’ve come in on my motorcycle…

                I keep telling them where to find my EXTENSIVE documentation… and still keep getting emails “hey Lab Rat can you send me this SOP?” NOOOOO!!!! IT’S ON THE SERVER! REALLY!! RIGHT WHERE I SHOWED YOU! AAAAAGH!!!

                P.S. That’s not Brimstone you smell… it’s Formalin ;)

              3. CoveredInBees*

                When I left my job, they were dragging their feet despite 3 months of notice (my choice). This meant that there would be no one to train the new hire who would be the only one doing that job and quite possibly new to that type of work. The only other person in the department had been hired about a month before my last day and was doing very different work. So, I wrote a comprehensive training manual and got snarked at by my bosses for it. It wasn’t unreasonably long, especially because I did things like start new sections on new pages and put procedures in numbered lists with spaces instead of big blocks of text. There was a table of contents (which Word made for me) so they didn’t have to skim the whole thing to find what they needed.

                But sure, be sarcastic about how complete it is.

            2. Elizabeth West*

              A dead employee who is still cooperating with the business seems more worrying.

              After spending the entire weekend bingeing Midnight Mass, I agree, lol.

              Hit-by-a-bus procedures should be standard in business everywhere. I’ve been in workplaces where coworkers died, stormed out, unexpectedly left for personal reasons, got a new fabulous job, etc. Life happens. Employers should have a contingency plan, especially if the employee’s work is central to the business.

          2. I'm just here for the cats!*

            Is dead employee not cooperating an AAM letter I missed somewhere? If its not it should be sounds hilarious!

            1. Tessie Mae*

              It appears that is referencing Bilateralrope’s comment above about “transferring access when the fired/dead employee isn’t cooperating.”

              But I would love an AAM letter about a dead employee not cooperating.

              1. Dream Jobbed*

                Isn’t that the letter? “My employee died on me, which violates their contract. What can I do?”

              2. Beth*

                Dead employees tend to be unresponsive and don’t return paperwork, but rarely commit outright sabotage. They could be described as uncooperative, but only in a purely passive sense.

            2. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

              there was that one post a while back where (CW sad)
              a LW’s coworker was killed by a drunk driver over the holidays. their boss then left a profanity-laden voicemail where he was calling her names for not showing up at work, not knowing she was dead. the coworker’s grieving parents heard the voicemail and were understandably pissed.

              LW was on PTO at the time and found out about their coworker’s death the day they came back to work and were thrown into a disciplinary meeting for not informing boss of their colleague’s death even though they had no way to know about it. it was such a mess and iirc LW was formally disciplined for it.

            3. Candi*

              There’s the worst boss one where the boss made the LW put a note on a gravestone, but the note was for the living -and grieving- employee who was taking time off. (Boss sounded terrible, mixture of gaslighting and manipulation, mental abuse stuff all over.)

            1. kicking_k*

              There was the lawyer on “Angel” who worked for the evil law firm… and found that her employment contract didn’t end with death, rather to everyone’s surprise…

    2. Ama*

      Yeah it is likely that unless Rob is very technically savvy, he hasn’t deleted files in a way that a computer expert can’t recover most of them.

      I had a boss at a previous job who quit before an audit that would have discovered she had charged a number of personal expenses to the company as well as made some professional expenses she wasn’t authorized for (hiring contractors to do tasks she then claimed she had done herself, for example). Before she quit, while the higher ups still had no clue what she had done and so didn’t know to revoke her access, she tried to wipe her computer, but everything she deleted from her computer was recoverable. The only real issue was that several of the contractors she had hired were communicating with her via her non-work email (which she was smart enough not to use from her work computer) and so we didn’t have a full record of who she had been working with and couldn’t proactively reach out to them — some of them were still finding their way to us three years after she quit.

      1. Candi*

        Let me guess. She tried to either delete all files and empty the recycle bin, or formatted the hard drive. For a forensic computer tech, that’s like being thrown a ball of mozzarella on the hard-to-softball scale.

          1. noname*

            Depends on your storage device. A safe strategy is to use a program that completely overwrites a file with random data several times over, usually called “shredding”.

    3. Momma Bear*


      Also, many companies do an “after action report” when something big happens. Maybe help John craft one for future reference so if Rob’s antics are even worse than first realized, he has record of the actions taken.

    4. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      And once the expert recovers the files, someone needs to go through them with a fine tooth comb, looking to see if there are issues – both that might open your company up to liability, or that might indicate additional malfeasance on Rob’s part.

      THOSE were the files he felt compelled to destroy. It may have been petty cyber-vandalism – but it may also have been intended to cover tracks, and hide wrong doing that he was worried might be discovered after his departure.

      Especially the files he came in on the night he had been told not to, to get rid of. Something in those is something he wanted to hide desperately enough that he risked being arrested (he was trespassing) to get rid of. It may be nothing, but your company needs to protect itself, and check everything, but those especially.

  2. Roscoe*

    This isn’t your issue to fix, so let it go.

    It really amazes me how many people feel its their job to make sure people face consequences, even if they aren’t the harmed party. The owner of the company wants to let it go, so you don’t need to be the one to push him. He may see it as more trouble than its worth. Also, even if he was screwed over by this guy, that doesn’t mean he wants him to face the kind of legal trouble he could be in. Not sure why you can’t just accept that.

    Everyone doesn’t need to be punished, and even if you feel that way, you don’t need to be the one to ensure that.

    1. CBB*

      Agreed. I think one indication of LW’s thinking is:

      …report Rob to the proper authorities and Rob would be in serious trouble.

      It may not actually be that simple.

      Especially since John wasn’t really harmed by Rob’s bad actions, I can understand why he’d want to drop the matter.

      1. Ashley*

        He was harmed though because of the loss of files and time spent recovering and going through everything. In the big picture when a partner is in the hospital this may seem minor, but there was harm.

        1. Sunflower*

          Someone down thread suggested the OP work out a harm reduction plan with John- which is pretty much all that is in the OP’s control and seems to be a much better use of time and helpful for the future than insuring Rob gets in trouble.

          I understand the OP’s feelings but Rob getting in trouble will not help the OP or John in anyway.

        2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

          Of course John is and should be focusing on his wife’s health – that should go without saying! But if Rob damaged the company, then that COULD impact the LW and their colleagues – they’re still working for that now-damaged company, after all. It doesn’t sound as if anyone yet knows the full extent of the problems caused by Rob, but yes, those COULD affect the employees who were in no way responsible for Rob’s criminal behavior.

          LW, is there anyone else in the company that John would trust to handle the “Rob problem”? Presumably SOMEONE is in charge of trying to recover those deleted files and following up to ensure that John’s name is off the fraudulent mortgage paperwork. Hopefully, that person is also launching a thorough investigation to find out what ELSE Rob did during his time at your company: that’s the only way you’ll learn whether Rob’s crimes were limited to forging signatures and deleting files.

      2. Ms. Ann Thropy*

        John was harmed by Rob’s crimes. He just wasn’t hurt enough to want to take further action. This is how the Robs of the world get away with doing stuff like this. I’m guessing that a conversation with Rob’s previous employer would yield a similar story.

    2. Tuesday*

      I feel like pushing John to take further action would be pretty punishing for John. He has enough going on with his wife’s health problems, running a business, and figuring out what damage Rob may have caused. He should be able to decide how he wants to handle this without being pushed.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          This is probably if John is going to go after Rob the smartest way to do it. Figure out all the issues through an exhaustive investigation first – then decide what to do with/about Rob.

          1. Tuesday*

            Yes – the files could have been personal stuff he wasn’t supposed to have on his work computer. Who knows at this point.

    3. Gerry Keay*

      Our current justice system is entirely based on punishment, and that ideology gets in there REALLY deep and poisons a lot of our social interactions.

      1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

        Punishment is a necessary part of all justice systems, because the whole point of a justice system is to encourage people to trust a state actor with adjudication when they have been wronged, rather than act on whatever sense of retribution motivates a given wronged individual. This is necessary for a functioning society because it allows for people to be told both that they will be heard when a wrong has been done to them, and that they won’t be judged with undue harshness because someone really happened to care about a mistake they made.

        1. Gerry Keay*

          You are incorrect, both historically and philosophically. Please read about restorative justice and transformative justice processes, which have been used in Indigenous societies long before our modern conception of policing, judges, and prisons.

          1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

            Restorative justice still has elements of punishment, in that most systems require that the party which has transgressed the social compact receive some degree of negative consequence (even when it is as simple as having to listen to statements of how they have harmed others, and apologize for it) for having done so (and even within restorative justice systems, punishment tends to become more severe when the transgressor is unwilling to take part in the justice process) – but you are correct that it does not make punishment the sole or primary focus of the justice system, and has a tendency to reduce recidivism and increase rehabilitation because they seek to do more than merely punish the offender.

            I confess, transformative justice completely confuses me. Apparently transgressions are supposed to be some sort of learning experience for both parties? Sounds idiotic, and completely unsuited to the functioning of a society. Try saying “it was a learning experience” to a someone who has been murdered, and see what if they can articulate what the lesson they learned was. I imagine they’ll be silent, and the system will be finding a solution that looks a lot like punishment pretty quick (though they’ll probably call it something like a harm reduction strategy), if what the offender says they learnt is that killing people felt good, or was a perfectly acceptable way to get what they want.

            1. Kella*

              Punishment, enforcement, and consequences are three different things. They sometimes overlap but not always.

              Punishment means the intention is to create suffering, regardless of how relevant or effective that suffering is in addressing the problem. If someone steals money and gets solitary confinement, that’s a punishment, because limiting contact with any other person doesn’t clearly address the tendency to steal money, it just makes them scared to do it again because they want to avoid the suffering. Putting them in prison is somewhere in between because it takes them away from society where they might continue to do harm to others, but it doesn’t actually reduce their tendency to steal money, given finding a job is *harder* once you get out of prison, so you’re mostly relying on the fear of the suffering to prevent it in the future.

              Consequences are the logical result of poor choices, which is something Alison talks about here a lot. If an employee steals money from you, you can no longer trust them not to harm you or your business. Firing them isn’t a punishment, it’s the logical action given there just isn’t a workable business arrangement anymore. And that employee likely won’t be able to get jobs doing cashier work or bank work especially because of their history of stealing money, employers know they can’t be trusted to work with money professionally. It is possible that a side effect of this consequence is suffering but suffering isn’t the goal. Avoiding or solving the problem is the goal.

              And enforcement is the act of making sure that someone’s transgression is addressed, either through punishment or consequences, depending.

              I’m actually not super well-versed in restorative justice but my vague understanding is the emphasis is on the idea that you can’t just put all the bad people in prison forever. People have to actually be taught and given the resources to fix their problems and do better. Obviously, that has to be handled differently depending on the crime.

          2. Candi*

            Restorative systems still have restrictions and limits, especially if the criminal refuses to stop being a criminal.

            Transformative is a noble experiment, but until we find a way to objectively fix the darker side of human psychology, it won’t work for a lot of people.

            Some criminals are people who wouldn’t have been criminals if they’d had a better chance. Restorative judgement is the kind they need, to guide them back and help them become and remain a part of society. Transformative might or might not help, depending on the criminal’s specific mentality. Often, you have to work past their pain before you can help them.

            Some criminals are people who like breaking things, taking stuff, hurting people. They enjoy the feeling of power it brings, the way they can dominate, they way they are in control. Neither restorative or transformative will help someone who does not want to change their ways, even with therapy and discipline. They might one day change, but until then you have to keep them from harming others.

            And some people prove themselves mentally miswired to a point where there is no coming back, such as the serial killer and others who commit violent serial crimes. They can function in society, but they don’t want to obey society’s conventions. They have no innate empathy, no compassion, and often show themselves to be functionally incapable of using or understanding such. Often with them, all you can do is keep them from hurting others until natural causes take them.

            And quit locking up addicts. They need medical help while their brain tries to repair itself. Send them to a well-run hospital with withdrawal treatments first.

    4. Retro*

      I agree that OP shouldn’t continue to pressure John to make sure Rob faces consequences but I can totally empathize with OP in wanting Rob to face consequences. What he did was SERIOUS and repeatable and insensitive to John’s current life situation. My concern would be that he should face some level of consequence simply so he doesn’t think that he could get away with it and repeat this at his next employer. It’s even worse because this is in the medical field and Rob is most definitely not trustworthy to handle confidential medical information. I believe there should be a warning attached to his resume and it’s very hard to make that happen unless official things (such as a letter from John’s lawyer to the mortgage company) are sent out into the universe/aether.

    5. Ann O'Nemity*

      Yeah, the OP does remote medical billings. They may be the resident expert in their respective area, but they are not in HR, legal, or management. And thus, this whole situation is pretty far outside of their lane!

    6. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

      I really, really get the impulse. I am a compulsive rule-follower and it triggers something unpleasant in me when other people don’t follow the rules.

      It’s not a helpful impulse, and I don’t indulge it (…mostly. OK fine I do occasionally yell at someone using a cell phone while driving.). I can absolutely understand where the LW is coming from, though, and empathize with the LW’s feeling that they’re letting a great injustice stand.

      1. Roscoe*

        I find this fascinating.

        Can I ask why it triggers you like this? Do you just find it “unfair” that people are getting away with things? Do you want to break rules, but are afraid of the consequences, so you are jealous that others have a “consequences be damned” attitude?

        This just reminds me of when I was a teacher and students would involve themselves in situations that didn’t affect them just to tattle. Its like, why do you care.

        1. Laura*

          Perhaps a mindset thing. Following the rules is (usually) best for the “community” whereas not following rules can be seen as best for the individual. The example with someone using a phone while driving, that action is statistically bad/unsafe for the the community though the individual doing may not view it as a bad thing.

          1. Jack Russell Terrier*

            Yes – this. It’s that there are social conventions that rely on people who are not necessarily connected stepping up and enforcing them. A small, but I think telling example, is if someone tries to get in front of you in a queue. You’ve politely said ‘oh – actually – the queue starts there. They roll their eyes at you. You ask if they’re in a particular hurry – they say ‘what are you, the queue police, you’re being ridiculous – lighten up’. I’ve had people tell me, I’m the one being rude!

            On the face of it, it’s nothing right – but look at how bullying someone is if you call them on it. I do call them, and inevitably that’s what happens. I imagine they go though life, railroading over everyone and everything because they can get away with it.

            Admittedly, I’m from the UK and queues are sacrosanct. Everyone backs you up there with a queue jumper – you get all the people in the queue telling them – literally – where to go.

            That’s the point – we don’t want people bullying and barging through social conventions – because that’s enabling their behavior and it has repercussion on customer service reps etc. We need to uphold these conventions – especially as bystanders.

            1. banoffee pie*

              Jumping a queue is so bad here! If someone jumps in front of me and I say ‘I was there first’ and they just look at me like ‘So what?’, I always always let it go. Because there’s quite a good chance they’re willing to go further if they’re willing to jump the queue.

          2. Roscoe*

            You know, if its a public safety thing, like being on the phone while driving, I get that. Because it can have negative and deadly affects for other people. But some stuff I just can’t bring myself to care about

        2. Greg*

          Human beings have an innate bias toward fairness. There’s a psychology experiment where one subject is given an amount of money (say, $100) and asked to give a portion of it to a second subject. Now, in theory the second subject should be willing to accept any amount offered, since it’s free money. But studies show that if S1 offers too small an amount, S2 is far more likely to reject it, because to do so would validate S1’s behavior

          1. Candi*

            Jeez, the number of short psych surveys I’ve done on Mturk about “fairness” and “sharing”… although right now they’re mostly displaced by “consumer” anything surveys. (Looks at calendar.) I wonder why. /s

            What’s bothering me about Mr. Forger is he’s definitely criminally-minded, but he’s dumb for that mindset. He’s going to fall sooner or later, but he’ll leave a wide trail of destruction behind, either because he doesn’t realize he’s leaving a trail or he doesn’t know how to cover it. Like with the computers -wiping files does nothing these days. If he wanted to hurt his former boss and/or cover stuff up, removing and destroying the hard drives would have been much more problematic, and harder to prove due to the absence of the computer logs that caught him out on deleting the files.

        3. Anon Supervisor*

          Yeah, I’m a rule follower/people pleaser and my lizard brain feels it’s very unfair that I’m expected to follow rules (and face consequences) when others do not. Jeannie Beuller’s voice rings in my head “Why should he get to ditch when the rest of us have to go?” It sucks because it’s a real negative drain on my mood sometimes.

        4. Andie Begins*

          My understanding is that a sacrosant sense of justice/fairness is pretty common in folks with autism and ADD/ADHD and probably other neurodivergencies – I think for folks who have to work harder to understand and/or abide by our unspoken cultural norms and participate in society, the idea that someone is breaking those norms knowingly and willingly for personal gain can be especially galling.

          Seeing the way the ethos of “fuck you, got mine” has poisoned some big swaths of the world around me, I’m inclined to agree – it’s hard to watch people shredding delicate societal fabric, even if they’re only pulling on a single thread that says “we agree the fairest way to approach X is by queueing”, as Jack Russell Terrier makes an excellent example.

        5. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

          It is, as best as I can discern, a complicated stew of having been in positions of responsibility from a (prematurely) young age, a family of origin that placed a ton of value on being right at all costs, and my own discomfort with making a scene or breaking rules because said family of origin was pretty harsh with the punishments at times. Or maybe I am just uptight by nature! Who knows!

          Besides my siblings and partner, people are surprised to learn this about me because I do manage to come across as fairly chill and not an insane vigilante schoolmarm. One helpful tip for anyone who can identify with this: the Fundamental Attribution Error is your friend. If I’m getting heated over someone cutting in line or walking on the grass when the sign says not to, I come up with an alternate explanation for their behavior that is more forgiving than “they’re breaking the rules because they’re a selfish jerk.” Much easier to let things go with that mindset.

          1. Allegra*

            I struggle with this for very similar family of origin reasons! :hugs: A parent had a health crisis when I was young, and my second parent said (likely not seriously, though I was seven at the time and didn’t know!) I needed to be good and helpful or they’d send me away. I am 100% sure now this would not have happened and doubt my parent remembers, but boy do I still get Really Uptight About Rule Following. I love your suggestion of alternate explanations–I find that trying to imagine the compassionate reasons for someone else’s behavior is difficult but helps with this.

          2. Mamma Llama*

            Thank you for this perspective! As the mom of a recent college grad who is “very rule-bound” this provides some great info I can pass on to him. He does recognize this in himself and does try to temper it, but sometimes it spills out. Luckily he is going into an area where following rules is pretty important and there can be real consequences to not following every procedure/rule. Thanks!

          3. Gumby*

            I am also a rule-follower and some of it is oldest-child stuff because I have siblings who have much less of an issue with breaking rules than I do. Also, the many years I spent doing gymnastics might have something to do with it; talk about rule-following on steroids – every tiny break has an associated deduction. This also means that I have gone to a Cirque du Soleil performance and been disturbed by the fact that they were not pointing their toes while they did giants 40 feet up in the air. But seriously, it’s not that hard – just point your toes! Yes, I realize I am ridiculous.

            I tend to get annoyed when rule-breakers cause danger or inconvenience for other people. I also manage to keep most fuming internal. Though my dislike of jaywalking does tip some of my more observant but not especially close friends off.

        6. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          @Roscoe – As the person who was supposed to ensure fairness and the social cohesion of the classroom, why didn’t you care?

          Sorry, but my life would have been a lot less traumatic if teachers had acted when other kids came and said “Cthulhu’s librarian is being beaten up behind the swing set”, instead of saying “no one likes a tattle tale”

          1. banoffee pie*

            Some teachers at my school were the same. A mixture of laziness and, I suspect, that they were bullies themselves once. I assume Rosoce would make a distinction between ‘tattling’ about something like violence and silly rules being broken? I hope. I don’t care about silly rules being broken but draw the line when it hurts someone. I remember coming across some younger boys putting a kid in the bin (garbage can) when I was about 17, so I was in my last year of high school. It was after school hours and everyone else had gone home, it was empty. I must have looked scary because the bullies ran for it lol. I was always glad I came along cos I’m not sure how far they were going to go, the victim looked pretty scared anyway.

          2. :/*

            Yeah, this kind of thinking also undermines support for minority students. “Why do you care, you’re straight/white/non-disabled, go sit down.”

            Presuming you don’t mean for this impact, and you do care about kids reporting inequality and abuse, then you’re asking kids to accurately adjudicate what the serious, ‘reportable’ things should be AND to trust that the bias towards inaction/classifying reporting as ‘tattling’ won’t be the default and that you’ll actually be a helpful, safe adult in a position of authority.

          3. Candi*

            I hate the concept of “tattle-tale” with a passion.

            The people telling kids not to be tattlers are often people who haven’t looked at or judged the situation; they have no standing to judge whether it’s serious or not. Or they don’t care what the situation is because they don’t want to deal with it.

            So it gets ingrained in kids not to tell about what are sometimes pretty serious situations… and they carry that forward into adulthood.

            In adulthood, the feeling of being a tattler remains, and they don’t know when they should speak up. So they let serious situations slide. When things explode, everyone asks, “Why didn’t you tell!?!” Well, they were never taught how to judge situations that should be allowed to slide vs situations that needed to be reported, and as adults, are still learning which is which.

            If you teach kids how to judge what needs to be reported, you get kids who know when something’s minor, when something’s more serious but can make the decision to let it go for now, and when something needs to be handled NOW.

            It also has the very entertaining aspect of driving bad teachers and principals crazy. It’s harder for them to slack on their duties when the teenagers are calling them on it.

          4. CowWhisperer*

            There’s a difference between a student informing a teacher about a dangerous or hurtful situation going on with a different student and tattling.

            “Joe and Jack have been at each other’s throats all day and now they are heading towards the parking lot” is a critical piece of information that I can use as a teacher to prevent Joe and Jack from getting suspended for multiple days for fighting if I can get someone out to the parking lot to prevent a fight. It’s not tattling in part because the point of sharing the information is to stop harm from coming to one or more person – even if that causes another person to be punished.

            “Joe’s been using his cellphone instead of studying for the test tomorrow” is tattling. Playing on a phone instead of studying has a natural, logical consequence of Joe needing to study at home or not doing well on the test. Or maybe Joe is solid on the material and doesn’t need to study. Either way, Joe is in control of his actions and the consequences are his to deal with.

            My experience with high school and junior high kids has been that I do spend a bit of time telling them that I want and need to hear about people or materials being hurt or put into danger. If someone is simply getting away with flouting a social convention that harms no one else, I don’t need to hear about it.

        7. :/*

          @roscoe The more I think about your perspective, the stranger I find it that you think it’s unusual that children would speak up about things that don’t affect them.

          Kids are forming their ideas about the world, about morals, about the nature of truth versus lies, about what matters (to them and to others) and what doesn’t. They’re looking at adults’ behaviour versus their words to see what stacks up. If you’d taught a kid about anything that interconnected with a justice or caring theme (which can be broader than we would think! Even if you were, say, a maths teacher who’d shown that you cared about them or their wellbeing warmly or personally etc) and then shown disinterest, dismissal, or judgement if the same kid raised a concern about perceived unfair behaviour (and kids sensitive to these dynamics aren’t dumb, they can pick up subtle eye-rolling), then their sense of perspective around matters like trust in authority and adults could be affected.

          And even if it’s the ‘petty’ tattling stuff that you were seeing, it doesn’t mean that kids with more serious concerns weren’t paying attention to your reaction to figure out if you were safe and effective.

          1. Candi*

            One thing I broke with my kids was any idea that people in authority were always right. I personally always hated that -no, you are objectively wrong, you are not in charge because you are right.

            I taught them that I was in charge because I’m the mom, the teachers were in charge because they were teachers, etc., but we were all capable of being wrong. I also taught them that sometimes you have to internally roll your eyes and obey the wrong person anyway, since they are in charge.

            This created a couple things: The kids felt safe to argue with me about when I was wrong, which helped them develop debating and reasoning skills to show why I was wrong. They also learned when to pick their battles… eventually. Because, well, teenagers. But you know you’ve accomplished something when your son presents a well-reasoned argument about why he should have more privileges and his rule boundaries should be expanded. (It worked; he was right.)

        8. JSPA*

          Its the intangible equivalent of “matter out of place.” The world isn’t much changed if one flower in the arrangement is head-down in the water, or one fork on the table is pointed towards the edge of the table, or someone is wearing their shirt inside out. But we’ve evolved in a world that for millenia, rewarded people for noticing pattern inconsistencies. Stuff that feels “off” is our way of warning ourselves. When it makes us unable to have an intelligent conversation because someone is wearing two different shoes, or when we’re upset because a classmate did their test in purple pen, when it’s supposed to be black or blue, it’s counterproductive. But that’s a recent change, in the forces that decide who survives and thrives.

      2. Sparkles McFadden*

        That sounds really stressful! It’s like taking responsibility for the behavior of everyone around you.

        Even if people do get punished somewhere along the line, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be there to see it happen or ever find out about it. So you’d be in a state of agitation really often. Sounds like you’re coping fine but I feel for you.

        1. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

          Ha, thank you. It is unpleasant, and not in line with how I generally like to be as a person, but I have developed decent coping techniques over the years.

          1. Boba Feta*

            Dear Tequila & Oxford Commas,
            OMG, are you me? I was reading this sub-conversation and it didn’t click until I read Sparkles McFadden’s comment: “It’s like taking responsibility for the behavior of everyone around you.”
            This. It me.
            Also: I love Tequila AND Oxford Commas, so we must be the same person.
            Nice to meet you/me!

            1. Olivia Mansfield*

              This kind of sheds some light on my coworker for me. She is very rules-following and gets upset (in a hopes-to-see-them-get-their-comeuppance way) when other people aren’t as rules-bound as she is. Now I wonder if she resents that their behavior activates her monitoring-others tendencies and she gets exhausted from hyper-vigilance.

    7. Sparkles McFadden*

      This really is not LW’s problem to address. The boss needs to devote his time to his business and his family issues. Business-wise, that means he should focus on hiring practices, systems back-ups, system security, termination procedures etc. (Hiring someone because you feel bad because he got fired? Really?) Letting the lawyer handle things is the right way to go.

      Rob will suffer natural consequences from his actions. He’s been fired TWICE in short order, and he will likely have huge issues with his mortgage, so Rob’s life is probably a dumpster fire already.

    8. pony tailed wonder*

      John may be thinking if Rob has committed financial fraud, there will be bigger dogs going after him first for that. Just document what you can and go over everything that Rob did in case there is a time when/if John would like to be second at bat against Rob after the finance folks go after him.

    9. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      The problem with this mindset is that it often leads to bad actors being allowed to continue to be bad actors.

      Rob should never be trusted with anything related to billing or finance again. He has proven he will commit fraud and forgery in financial matters. This is the sort of thing organizations conduct very through background checks about, because the stakes are so high.

      If John does nothing, Rob may get a job handling other people’s lives again. Wanting to ensure that doesn’t happen is entirely reasonable for any person who hears about it – they may not have standing to ensure anything is done, however.

      John not reporting Rob for financial fraud is by no means a good or just thing – it may be understandable, especially given John’s circumstances, but it is socially irresponsible, as it allows a known bad actor to continue to work in a field that is ripe for abuse and fraud.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I wonder how long Rob was here at this job? If it was any length of time, he’ll probably have to chance listing this one (and also probably the prior job that it sounds like he was also fired from). He’s probably torpedoed any chance of a good reference. Also, most jobs that deal with money/billing/financials will run a credit check and the Mortgage Brouhaha should appear on that.

  3. Jam Today*

    If he accessed (and deleted) medical records — after being terminated from his job and being forbidden from entering the building — your company has a much bigger problem on its hands, since its PHI exposure.

    1. Littorally*

      This, holy crap.

      How do you terminate someone from a job accessing sensitive data and not immediately yank their access?

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        I’d guess it’s because John is preoccupied with what is going on with his wife but holy cow, yeah. Hopefully one of the lessons learned moving forward is to immediately disable access!

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I’d guess it’s because John is preoccupied with what is going on with his wife but holy cow, yeah. Hopefully one of the lessons learned moving forward is to immediately disable access!

          I’d guess the wife’s health has nothing to do with it. Imposing these restrictions and controls are part of small companies growing up, and this one just may not be to the point of acquiring the expertise to do it right.

        2. banoffee pie*

          He considered Rob to be a friend and probably didn’t think he would delete data even after getting fired.

      2. Threeve*

        It sounds like they were planning for office-hours-immediately; if it couldn’t be done remotely, it’s not really shocking that it wouldn’t occur to them to drive to the office to secure their files that night.

        1. Anon for this*

          No, this is textbook disgruntled employee 101, his account absolutely should have been locked IMMEDIATELY. If someone’s quitting, sure, next business day. But if they’re being fired because they forged the boss’s signature? Noooooooooooo

        2. Artemesia*

          It should not only occur to them an employee who forges documents might mess with their systems when fired, it should be obvious to them. This is a huge management fail. If John were too distracted by his personal problems, he should at least have tasked someone else to lock out Rob and secure the office.

          1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

            This x 1,000! Please, people – if you know you’ll be preoccupied with a family or personal crisis then have someone in mind to whom you can delegate your responsibilities. John SHOULD be focused on his wife’s health now, of course, but that means that someone ELSE should be trusted to make wise decisions for the company. Rob is taking advantage of John’s concern for his wife to engage in criminal behavior; if he gets away with this, he’ll have absolutely NO incentive to clean up his act and refrain from similar behavior in the future.

      3. Bibliovore*

        As OP reported that Rob was to turn in his computer login information when he returned his keys, it doesn’t sound like this company has any sort of professional-tier IT that could yank access appropriately.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          It also doesn’t sound like the office manager present was instructed to remove his computer from his access. Even if it was a heavy tower, I probably would have gone and removed the power cord or something so John couldn’t log in and mess with anything. But…hindsight is 20/20…

          1. EPLawyer*

            I was told once to disable someone’s access while he was in the meeting with the boss being fired. It was the boss who told me to do it. I disabled it by simply unplugging it. Sure enough he came back to his desk and started typing away angrily. Then was all “hey my computer is not working.” never once did he check the cord.

            1. lailaaaaah*

              As an IT person, the number of callouts I get that are literally just ‘yeah this machine has been switched off/unplugged’ is unreal. People really don’t think to check!

    2. Bilateralrope*

      Sounds like John needs to talk to a lawyer now to figure out how to protect himself from whatever Rob might have done.

    3. Sunflower*

      We don’t know what Rob deleted from the computer. Since the OP has worked in medical billing for this long, I would assume she knows if the company was in legal trouble for what he deleted. Not defending what Rob did(because he is a a hole) but it sounds like what he deleted created more an annoying nusance vs a legal issue

      1. Jam Today*

        LW is not nearly concerned enough a terminated employee entered the building and had easy access to their equipment and files. The mortgage thing is secondary — that’s bank fraud that the company’s attorney can and should handle directly with the bank, and is going to have little to no impact on this company’s ability to function on the day today.

        Having to report a security breach to the FTC? Much, much bigger deal.

        1. Le Sigh*

          Yeah, this is my feeling. I would set aside concerns about punishing Rob for now. That seems distracting and even getting ahead of things, especially since John has limited capacity right now because of his wife. But maybe — esp. if OP could coordinate things — John would agree to bringing in an outside expert to get the files and an outside expert to assess any damage to ensure they know the true scope of the issues. And then they can decide how to act. I do not work in medical billing, but in situations like these it does seem like at the very least you need to do your due diligence to understand how big of a mess you have and what to do.

          1. Kal*

            I agree with this course of action. Discovering what all has been damaged by Rob’s actions is the first task. Its fairly normal to wait to pursue a lawsuit or such until after you have assessed the damage, and having an outside party in to do that assessment means you can do that while John can still focus on his wife. And since OP wants to help, helping coordinate that outside party is a pretty natural fit. Keeping everything going right now is the primary concern, not Rob.

            As someone with complex health issues and intermittent crises, sometimes you just don’t have the bandwidth to make large decisions, so the only option is to just not, because even if you want to do something you just can’t (RIP my poor car, totalled by an uninsured driver while I was too sick to try to get compensation through the courts). Taking the time to do the full assessment means John might be able to get to a place where he can actually make the decision properly of what, if anything, he wants to do about Rob, or at least get to a point where he can designate someone to make that decision and pursue it in his absence.

  4. KHB*

    I’m not a lawyer (which is why I’m asking), but would John even be on the hook at all for the forged signatures? If Rob’s lack of income means he defaults on his new mortgage, that seems like it would be Rob’s problem (and the mortgage company’s), not John’s.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      John’s signature was not as a co-signer for a loan, like you might be thinking. It was a signature to prove that Rob had the income required to qualify for the loan. So no, there is no financial obligation imparted upon John for the forgery. And the confession was likely, as someone else suggested, a poorly thought out ploy to get John to agree to continue to employ his friend but on the remote terms he’d asked for. Certainly if Rob defaults on the mortgage, no one is coming after John to find out why or to get him to pay it.

      1. KHB*

        Right, that’s my impression too: The mortgage company wants John to attest that he intends to continue employing Rob, even though John’s business is based in City X, and Rob’s new house is in City Y.

        But in an at-will employment environment, how much of an obligation can such an attestation carry? John’s not promising to continue to employ Rob for any specific period of time – even if he really had signed the documents, he’d still have every right to turn around and fire Rob the next day.

        So I guess what I don’t understand is why everybody seems so insistent that John must contact the mortgage lender to set the record straight. It seems to me like if John wanted to wash his hands of even that, he could.

        1. I'm just here for the cats!*

          It’s my understanding that this sort of paperwork is just to show that you have the income. A coworker was looking at a mortgage and she had to sign paperwork saying that she was employed by our company and that her employment was not ending. Obviously anything can happen and no one is going to come after you if your laid off or the company goes under. Those are things that are outside of your control Its more if you are planning to change jobs.

          1. Felice*

            Yeah, when I was applying for a mortgage, I was being hired after being a contractor for six months, but I hadn’t started my first day as an employee, so the mortgage broker was mostly interested in my offer letter. There was no “proof” that I would remain employed, but fortunately, I have!

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              Yeah, when I was applying for a mortgage, I was being hired after being a contractor for six months, but I hadn’t started my first day as an employee, so the mortgage broker was mostly interested in my offer letter. There was no “proof” that I would remain employed, but fortunately, I have!

              I’ve had the exact same tale in both my home purchase and a refi. It’s wholly consistent with both experiences.

          2. Olivia Mansfield*

            Yes, I have to provide these letters on behalf of our department when new faculty members start and are signing their mortgage paperwork. Basically it’s just a form letter that I prepare, and the department head signs, stating that the person is an full-time, non-seasonal, non-temporary employee making $x amount annually.

      2. mreasy*

        It’s not uncommon in NYC for employers to write a letter confirming a higher income than an employee actually receives so they can qualify for an apartment under the extreme income requirements most brokers have. Not sure that an employer could face any legal repercussions for doing this.

        1. The Price is Wrong Bob*

          mreasy, really?! I have lived and worked here for 14 years and have never heard of companies doing fraud for employees like that. My company just produced a letter for me, and they reported my salary to the cent. My HR dept is pretty strict so I cannot envision them even rounding up to the nearest dollar. If someone gets a bonus they usually have to write a second document or break it down more granularly in the letter. And that has to match your W2s and paystubs from the last 2 years. What landlord is accepting just a letter without the paystubs or tax returns?

        2. Candi*

          That sounds like something the IRS would be interested in. They don’t know the employer isn’t paying the difference under the table, after all.

    2. Rose Apothecary*

      I work in the mortgage industry as an underwriter, and it’s highly likely he wouldn’t get the loan. Most lenders require a verbal verification of employment at least 10 days before the closing and should have some Fraud protection verifying its actually the employers number. If that’s the case, the lender would just deny the loan. If anything, they’d go after the forger for falsifying documents, not the employer.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        Yeah, I was thinking that John wants to make sure there’s no additional harm to his business (and restore those files), but it’s the mortgage company that’s more likely to press charges for fraud. And rightfully so.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          I wouldn’t be surprised if such a highly regulated industry would mean they’re required to report it.

      2. NerdyKris*

        Yeah the confession was probably the result of realizing the mortgage company might verify the written statement they received.

        1. Sparkles McFadden*

          Agreed. Rob probably figured it would be better to come clean before the mortgage company called for verification.

        2. ArtsyGirl*

          He might have also hoped his “friend” would cover for him. I imagine Rob forged the signature thinking John would never hear about it but then the mortgage company wanted further verification and were planning on contacting John. When he realized it, Rob reached out to John hoping he would ignore the forgery and lies.

          1. ArtsyGirl*

            To add to this, my guess is that Rob did this some time ago before he found out that John was not going to employ him remotely. House hunting, especially in this climate is fraught and can take months depending on the location. My guess is he justified it in his mind by saying “John is so busy dealing with his wife’s medical condition, I will just take care of it” but in reality he didn’t want John to know that he was house hunting out of state. He likely thought that if he presented it to John as a done deal, John would be forced to let him work remotely (basically he thought he was much more integral than he was).

            1. Candi*

              I remember during the housing bubble someone bragging that BoA got their paperwork through in less than four months. (And then BoA was found to be rubberstamping foreclosures after the crash…) Meanwhile, Google tells me these days it can take from 30 days to several months to sort out a mortgage.

              So I think the circumstances weigh in on Rob’s been messing with the mortgage for a while, and only told John when the mortgage company was going to check and blow the game.

              Rob’s not very smart. With John distracted by his wife’s illness, Rob could have fed John any reasonably-plausible story about needing the mortgage (my sister needs a place, I have better credit than her, she’s paying me back; my mom needs help; I want a second home for vacations) and it probably would have flown. Heck, John trusted Rob so much he probably wouldn’t have read the documents thoroughly! Then once Rob had the mortgage secured and the remote work thing was turned down, he would still have had the loan; paying it would be his problem.

      3. New Job So Much Better*

        Also in the mortgage industry and agree. Borrower wouldn’t pass the 10 day Verbal Verification of Employment.

    3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      also not a lawyer, just expanding…
      Rob submitted forms to the lender stating he was employed by John at X salary. He was not. Rob was trying to get a mortgage under false pretenses.
      If (when) Rob defaulted, there could be legal problems not because he didn’t pay the loan, but because he lied to get the loan. And John would be dragged into that.
      With only Rob, who’s a proven liar left to vouch for John, “oh, yeah, I forged his signature. John really didn’t know anything about it.”
      Because the mortgage company will believe him.

      1. KHB*

        So if the scenario other commenters are describing is right – that the mortgage lender was about to reach out to John directly to confirm what was stated in the forms – it seems like John could just say, “Rob was indeed employed here at X salary on the date the forms were submitted, but he’s since been fired for gross misconduct, and he no longer works here.”

        That’s a coherent (and true) story, whether the signatures on the forms were forged or not, and it gives the mortgage lender all the information they’re interested in, so it seems like that would be the end of it: Rob would get turned down for his loan, and nobody would be “dragged into” anything further.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          I agree.
          But something made Rob admit the whole thing to John.
          Perhaps thinking John would just say, as you write, that Rob no longer works there. The information is out of date.
          But what if the caller simply asked to clarify.
          “OK, Rob is an employee of your company.”
          He is no longer employed here.
          “Was he let go?”
          No. He resigned on MM/DD.
          “So he’d already resigned when you signed this document stating he worked for you?”

        2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          I don’t think “he was employed here, but I’ve subsequently fired him” etc is all the info the mortgage company would need to know, though. There’s a world of difference between telling the truth (as far as the mortgage company knows) but then the situation being ‘no longer true’ because you were then fired, as opposed to the mortgage company knowing they are dealing with a fraudster.

    4. Magenta Sky*

      Depends on what the forgery was on. It it was employment verification, I’d guess not. If it was a co-signing document, that’s whole different situation.

      1. KHB*

        From the letter: “The documents “verified” that John was still his employer, and that Rob was still making his salary and would continue to be an employee at that salary in the future.”

        That doesn’t sound like a co-signing agreement. Nor does it sound like an agreement that creates any obligations for John, since “in the future” doesn’t refer to any specified period of time.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          That appears to be the case here, yes. I’d still make certain the lender knew they were forged lest Rob claim that John lied when he signed them, which could conceivably create some level of liability if not challenged.

            1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

              I agree with you that John is not liable for the mortgage in any way. But I think he could be called in if the mortgage company determines the loan was given fraudulently.
              They gave Rob money because he said he had a job when he did not. That is fraud. If John knowingly signed that document, it was with the intent to commit fraud.

                1. Observer*

                  Making false statements in order to induce someone to give someone money is always going to be a problem for the person making the false statement. It’s fraud, and the person making the statement could face penalties. So, yes, John absolutely DOES need to let the mortgage company know. Not because Rob needs to be punished, but because John needs to protect himself.

              1. KHB*

                I’m not sure you’re understanding the question. Nobody is saying they think John would be liable for paying Rob’s mortgage.

                At the time the documents were submitted, Rob was still employed by John. We can assume that his salary was accurately reported, since that hasn’t been mentioned as a part of any of this. The only false statements in the documents themselves (potentially, depending on what they actually said) was if they contained an explicit affirmation that John intended to continue to employ Rob as a remote employee. John never had any such intention – but even if he did, it wouldn’t place John under any obligation. He’d still have the right to revoke Rob’s employment at any time – especially if Rob committed gross misconduct, which he did.

                The only reason the documents were fraudulent is that it wasn’t John who signed them. Therefore, by definition, it couldn’t have been John who committed any fraud.

                Given all that, what exactly do people think John could be held liable for?

                1. WS*

                  +1, the only thing John could be “caught up in” is having to make an official statement that it wasn’t his signature on those documents.

                2. Candi*

                  After an investigation, including research on the signatures, was done, nothing.

                  But that’s not how the world works.

                  If the mortgage company decided to push the issue rather than taking John at his word, they could claim he signed the documents and is now claiming fraud due to the meltdown between him and Rob. (Just read this site; there are absolutely people that would do that.) Whether or not criminal statutes are involved, there’s civil action to be worried about.

                  John would have to have an expert analyze the signatures to prove the signatures were forgeries. And retain a lawyer. Both are expensive.

                  He’d still come out innocent, but it would be a lot of hassle.

    5. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I would however strongly recommend John go on record that the forged signature is not valid, because signature matching software is starting to be more and more of a thing.
      And tbh, this guy forged it once, so who’s to say he won’t try again?

    6. anonymous73*

      He didn’t forge his signature to be a co-signor on his loan. He forged it to prove that he was an employee of the company making “X” salary, which is needed to qualify for a loan. My husband and I started the process last year of refinancing our mortgage. When we started I was employed. Before we settled I had lost my job. I had to disclose this to the mortgage company for underwriting purposes. It didn’t affect our loan, but could potentially cause the loan to be denied. Because of COVID and people losing jobs over the last year and a half, mortgage companies are being more diligent about these things. All that said, I don’t think there are any legal ramifications on Rob from the mortgage company if they find out he forged the docs and lied after the fact.

      1. Candi*

        Forging signatures to obtain money (the mortgage) is fraud. Civil action because someone was defrauded is absolutely permissible and is done; the only caveat is the DA’s office prefers the plaintiff to wait until any criminal proceedings are either done with, or the office decides not to take action. You don’t have to wait, but a successful criminal proceeding can boost a civil case. (But you also have to worry about legal filing deadlines.)

        Now, whether the mortgage company would consider it worth their time to pursue is another matter.

  5. LB*

    I don’t understand why Rob confessed (given that he doesn’t seem to be overburdened with an active conscience)?

    1. hf*

      I think some people figure voluntary confession should merit instant forgiveness–like, “hey, I didn’t force you to drag a confession out of me, so you should reward me by not being angry or imposing consequences.” It might also have been that Rob is so deluded he’d thought that John would be okay with having his name forged on legal documents, as it sounds like they were friends and were otherwise parting on good terms.

      Either way you slice it, though, assuming someone would be fine with you forging their name (and misrepresenting your relationship) in a mortgage application, requires a fairly spectacular level of delusion and/or entitlement.

    2. CanWeHaveSinglePayerNowPlease*

      I’m guessing the mortgage company was about to contact John. Rob’s initial approach was likely to ask John to continue the lie so that Rob wouldn’t lose the house.

      1. Chilly Delta Blues*

        He might have been hoping that once John realized the impact of not keeping him on remotely (that his “friend” would default on a mortgage), he’d change his mind and let him keep the job.

      2. quill*

        Probably. Banks don’t NOT verify that.

        Probable chain of events:

        Bank: and we need to verify your employment.
        Rob: uh… I’ll just deliver those papers to my boss, then?
        Bank: Okay
        Rob: *does a forgery*
        Bank: Okay, we have a few questions, we’re gonna call your boss…
        Rob: *confesses, tries to lean on the “we’re frieeends, lie for me!”*
        John: Absolutely not.
        Rob: My FRIEND betrayed me and ruined my chances at a house! And now I’m fired! *deletes, deletes, deletes.*

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          I like to think it was small talk that raised a flag “so, you are going to work in a different state. That’s cool that your boss was willing to set that up.”
          “um yeah, he’s great.”

          1. TypityTypeType*

            Yes — I’m an out-of-state employee, and the mortgage people made *very* sure of my circumstances before I got my loan. Our COO ultimately signed off on my employment and general existence; I think a forgery would’ve been caught pretty quickly.

            Rob is a dope, but since he’ll probably lose his loan over this, it’s not like he won’t face any consequences.

            1. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

              My poor coworker needed a letter of verifying her employment for a mortgage on a house in the same city as where she is employed! For sure they would make sure of it for an out of state job.

              1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                Spouse and I refinanced – and the mortgage company wanted HR Contact information. In a small company they probably would have wanted to talk to the owner or CEO (which is what I am guessing John is in this company).

              2. All the words*

                It’s a normal piece of the employment verification process. The time between approval (or pre-approval) and closing can get lengthy. The verification is to make sure the originally submitted information is still valid at the time of closing. And of course the loan isn’t going to be approved if he’s now unemployed.

              3. Coenobita*

                Yeah, I needed similar documentation to sign a lease on an apartment once. I was transferring between office locations within the same company, so all my pay stubs said State A but I was trying to rent an apartment in State B. I think I needed something on letterhead confirming I’d still be employed after moving.

          2. NerdyKris*

            Yeah, lately there seems to be quite a few people moving out of state and just assuming that they can continue to work remotely, so any bank worth its salt is going to want to verify that the employer is okay with this.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              Yeah, lately there seems to be quite a few people moving out of state and just assuming that they can continue to work remotely, so any bank worth its salt is going to want to verify that the employer is okay with this.

              My bank rightfully did its due diligence on it a decade ago. I can’t imagine it’s gotten more lax since then.

        2. Empress Matilda*

          Yeah, I’d bet money on this scenario as well.

          Also agreeing with Alison’s answer that John probably doesn’t have the bandwidth to deal with “consequences” right now – lawsuits are complicated and expensive, even when you’re in the right. He needs to focus on his wife’s health, mitigating any future harm to his business, and also running his business right now, which is plenty. He can let the chips fall where they may as far as Rob is concerned.

          1. Sara without an H*

            Well said. I’m trying to sort out a situation for my elderly father, and you’re right that it eats up all your mental energy. I can understand OP’s desire to whack Rob with the Clue Bat of Nemesis, but John has more urgent things to do.

        3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Yeah – I think Rob lives a bit in denial, and his “friend” popped the bubble of denial that Rob was living in.

          OP, please don’t stress John out now, it sounds like he has a lot on his plate (which possibly Rob was trying to exploit).

        4. AdAgencyChick*


          OP, just worry about the consequences on your end of his deleting the files. This guy will experience natural consequences for sure: He’s already not going to get the loan, he’ll get denied if he tries to apply to a different bank now that he has no job, and he’s going to have a harder time securing new employment because he’ll either have to leave this job off his resume or else know that he’ll get a scorcher of a bad reference from anyone who calls John.

      3. Super Duper Anon*

        OK, that makes way more sense because I was confused too. If the mortgage company did not contact John, Rob would have an easy crime. He could walk out of work after giving his two week notice without destroying a reference, move to the new state, get a new job with his good reference, then contact the mortgage company and say that he decided to find a new job and here is is new place of work and salary. Probably what he was planning to do, but plans got upended.

        1. cmcinnyc*

          Wouldn’t work. When you’re getting a mortgage, you’re advised to make no changes–even take a new job at a higher salary–because the lender often makes you go back and start over at square one. Mortgage lenders are cautious to the point of paranoia, and the Robs of the world show why.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            Wouldn’t work. When you’re getting a mortgage, you’re advised to make no changes–even take a new job at a higher salary–because the lender often makes you go back and start over at square one. Mortgage lenders are cautious to the point of paranoia, and the Robs of the world show why.

            I’ve never been advised to decline a promotion/raise/new position. I’ve just always been informed up front of the consequences of doing so and what it’ll take to get back on track. As you note, it’s far from trivial.

            1. doreen*

              As far as I know, a raise/promotion/new title at the same company isn’t an issue. It’s having a new employer that can be an issue, even if the salary is higher than the job you left.

              1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                Even the new employer, as long as it’s the same line of work.

                So if I take another job as a programmer at a 10% pay raise, I’d be good. If I got the same offer to switch careers and be a carpenter or florist, I’d have to start the mortgage process over again.

      4. CBB*

        My guess too. If a bank receives an unnotarized letter saying, “Dear bank, this person is employed. Signed, random stranger,” following up with a phone call would seem prudent.

      5. T.N.H.*

        He must have been looking for a house for a long time before this and he just found out less than 2 weeks ago that he didn’t have a job. I wonder if he forged the document before talking to John about it, assuming he would keep his job. But now he’s about to be unemployed and realizes the bank will notice. The original document may have been pre-qualifying paperwork too which doesn’t get the same level of scrutiny.

    3. Artemesia*

      I think he was hoping to get John to employ him remotely or at least not drop the dime on him if the mortgage company called — old buddies and all.

    4. Anon Supervisor*

      Yeah, people like this don’t just confess because of their conscience. They’re trying an old PR move to get in front of the issue and score a couple of points for being “honest.” 100% the mortgage company casually mentioned that they do a verbal follow up with the employer,

      1. Artemesia*

        If he had been smarter he would have told John that he ‘told them’ he still worked there and not that he forged the signature and asked him to verify it when they called. John would probably not do so, but it might not have triggered instant firing.

  6. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    Sit back and let karma sort that shit out.
    And by Karma, I mean credit karma.
    John doesn’t have the emotional bandwidth to deal with Rob forging his name on a document he gave the mortgage lender.
    Neither does the mortgage lender. It has no emotion at all.
    And he tried to take is money under false pretenses.
    God’s speed, Rob, ya simple ass.

    1. WellRed*

      Yes to this! He’s probably gonna lose the mortgage if nothing else! He’ll probably have a hard time ever qualifying for another one (if this is the sort of thing that turns up in credit Chex and other due diligence). He’s lost the reference.

      1. Venus*

        Where I live there would likely be some financial penalties to the Seller if he has agreed to buy the home but then has to give it up at the last minute because the finances changed. I think there is some sympathy if the person lost their job or had a family emergency, but the Buyer’s lender will not be happy if they have to cancel the loan due to a lie, and I hope the Seller will get some compensation.

        1. STAT!*

          Where I live, Rob would be at risk of forfeiting his deposit to the house seller, assuming there are no grounds for ending the contract (and there usually aren’t). That’s 10% of the purchase price. Plus, Rob would be liable for the seller’s re-advertising costs, some of the seller’s legal costs, any other relevant financial losses, statutory penalty interest … so Rob could find himself in a world of legal and financial pain.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Agreed – I really don’t think that Rob is going to get off with a “no harm no foul” situation with regards to the bank (and at this point I would direct the lender to the lawyer for any and all conversations- which even if not much is told should let them read between the lines that much not goodness went down).

          2. Candi*

            “Rob could find himself in a world of legal and financial pain.”

            This. I like this.

            It reminds me in one of his books, The Art of the Steal: How to Protect Yourself and Your Business from Fraud, Frank Abagnale mentions that embezzlers will laugh off calling the police due to the tiny criminal penalties, especially when the book was written -but they’ll fold like a house of cards if you mention you’re telling the IRS what they did. (There’s even a special form for reporting it to the IRS.) Apparently it’s very rare for embezzlers to report the stolen income as income, even with that nice misc. slot on the tax forms.

  7. quill*

    You need a harm reduction plan in place more than you need Rob to have consequences. It sounds like John barely has room in his life right now for the harm reduction plan, so if you’ve got excess anger and energy: work on harm reduction for your clients!

    The forgery is going to be it’s own punishment: banks hate that, and now that they know, Rob is going to be up shit creek without a house.

    1. Hotdog not dog*

      Up shit creek without a house, indeed! I work for a bank, and that will ABSOLUTELY bite him in the ass. Hard. As noted above, banks have zero emotion, and will have that black mark on his credit report before he can finish signing his own name.
      John doesn’t have to take action for Rob to reap what he has sown.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Yes, oh my god, and that plan should start with hiring an IT professional to secure your data.

      1. CBB*

        Right? If there were any files on Rob’s computer that the company couldn’t afford to lose, that’s a problem. Even without disgruntled employees, computers can get stolen or destroyed in car crashes, tornados, floods, and fires.

        Most places I’ve worked, files are saved on a network drive that’s backed-up regularly.

  8. jms*

    I wonder what happened to make Rob confess? It reads like he did so unprompted. Usually people who run scams like this only confess when they’re forced to, and sometimes not even then.

    1. Paulina*

      I expect the signature wasn’t going to be enough for the lender (why would it?), so he confessed to John in the hopes that John would be willing to confirm the lie.

    2. The Rural Juror*

      Someone mentioned above that the mortgage lender may have been preparing to call the company to verbally verify his continuing employment and he panicked. That does seem like a likely scenario.

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      A few of us have wondered if the mortgage company was about to contact John to verify information and Rob panicked and confessed hoping he’d get a pass with everything John is dealing with it.

      1. Wry*

        I think this is likely. When I got my mortgage, the employment verification process was me providing contact information for my company’s HR department. The bank contacted the company directly; I wasn’t involved in that communication at all. This was probably always going to happen, Rob just must not have known. Which is pretty wild, because what bank would verify employment by accepting a signed document provided by the employee? Of course the bank would go straight to the employer for final verification.

        1. Underwriter*

          I suspect he received his commitment letter from the lender and one of the conditions on it was the final verbal verification of employment (underwriter here, that’s a standard condition on all mortgage approvals) if he is doing a conventional loan, the rule used to be verbal VOE within 10 days of closing…because of covid snd how many people are getting laid off, it decreased to 3 days so they get the info literally right at the end of the process to ensure the borrower is employed when the loan closes. They ask during that conversation the probability of continued employment, in order to find out about things like people who just gave notice.
          And lying about keeping your job and forging paperwork is mortgage fraud. He can get in huge trouble.

        2. Freya*

          I’m a bookkeeper, and in various jobs I’ve been that finance department person who has been contacted by finance providers doing their due diligence – usually, a coworker would send me an email giving me the heads up that they’d reached that part of the application and asking what contact information I’d like them to put down. This helped me ensure that I gave the same job title for myself as the coworker did, and I’d have the data to hand. I’d also be prepped not to be cagey, because for reasons of information safety, I don’t disclose anything to anyone on the phone without reason (reasons include talking to a client about their own business)

  9. generic_username*

    I bet Rob “confessed” because he was hoping John would change his mind about the remote position since Rob now needed it to afford the mortgage he got/is getting because paperwork with John’s signature said he’d have a job. He probably didn’t even think about John demanding it all be righted. John should definitely contact the mortgage company on his own – I wouldn’t trust Rob to do it.

    Also, letting someone keep their keys after firing them for shady behavior wasn’t a great idea…..

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Also, letting someone keep their keys after firing them for shady behavior wasn’t a great idea….

      Yes! OP, please arrange to have a locksmith come and rekey the locks. Even if Rob “returned” his keys, there is no telling if he made copies.

    2. Ama*

      I also feel like it is possible that Rob may have submitted the forged document while his request to work remotely was under review, assuming that John would say yes so it wouldn’t be a problem.

  10. Michelle Smith*

    It is extremely time consuming to be the witness in a felony prosecution. Particularly if the person doesn’t take a plea, the case can drag on for years and require multiple court appearances, many conversations with the district/state attorney’s office, travel to give grand jury testimony, travel to give trial testimony, etc. And that’s after having to deal for perhaps months with out of state police as they prepare their investigation and conduct interviews, gather evidence, etc. Think about what you’re asking John to do in the name of retribution while he’s trying to focus on what is more important to him – his wife. Don’t push him. Preserve as much of the evidence as possible and *if* he decides to move forward with claims in the future or if he finds that there is actual damage done to the business that he wants to pursue, he can deal with that later. The statute of limitations likely will not run for some time. Plus, prosecution just really isn’t the answer to everything. And I say that as someone who prosecuted cases for 4 years.

      1. UKDancer*

        Definitely. Taking legal action against people is exhausting, time consuming and not something to be done lightly. As a solicitor friend of mine says (not entirely flippantly) “before embarking on a journey into litigation, dig two graves.” If John doesn’t have the spoons to do it right now, that’s an acceptable choice. I’m sure that Rob will have sufficient consequences in any event.

    1. Phony Genius*

      If the lender finds out, and wants to have this prosecuted, John may not have a choice as he’d likely be subpoenaed.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Chiming in to agree – posted my experience down thread. It’s incredibly time consuming and stressful to be involved in fraud convictions.

    3. Candi*

      I’m of the mind John should file a police report, to get everything on record. But pursuing the case and ensuring his company’s security and taking care of his wife… he’s in a situation where he has to pick two, and B and C are more vital to his future right now.

  11. EPLawyer*

    OH MY. This is why you change the passwords IMMEDIATELY when someone is terminated, especially for dishonesty. To keep them from destroying files. It will be interesting to see what files were destroyed. Just because no money came into the office doesn’t mean fraud of some kind was not going on. Just off the top of my head — and PURE SPECULATION — he could have created fake patient bills and have the insurance checks sent to an address he set up. he could have billed from a company he created. Things like that. The files he deleted COULD be the records of that. You really need to find out.

    Honestly, I disagree with Alison here. The forged signature is a BIG deal unto itself. Although the mortgage company will probably take care of that. But destroying company files is not just an internal matter. I think your boss SHOULD pursue charges. Something tells me that the reason he was let go from his previous company was probably something along the same lines. Although you own no loyalty to his next company, you do owe a duty to society to protect them from this guy. But if the boss won’t do it, now is not the time to push him. Just remember, there is a Statute of Limitation so he can change his mind in the near future.

    1. Anon for this*

      Boss might be thinking of the gargatuan tasks of notifying clients, and not want to add prosecuting the guy to his plate. The fact that a disgruntled, DISHONEST rmployee’s access wasnt revoked is already going to be opening them up to massive liability, he might not have time for anything else.

    2. Observer*

      Pursuing charges is not going to help anything. What the OP should be doing, and getting John on board with, is finding some way to restore the delete files, and to do a THOROUGH review of every single item this guy touched.

      And to let all clients know that Rob no longer works for the company and if they have ANY further contact from him, to let the company know IMMEDIATELY.

      1. Candi*

        I think John should file a police report -that can be done with no intention of further pursuing the issue. But he might choose to wait until he gets the company’s damage assessed.

  12. learnedthehardway*

    John made the right decision to terminate Rob’s employment. It’s unfortunate that Rob was given access to the building and computer, but a good tech person should be able to recover the files he deleted (and should be asked to do so).

    John should let his lawyer deal with the rest of the situation – that’s what you pay a lawyer to do. The lawyer will give the best advice on whether the bank/mortgage company should be consulted, etc., and can take that on on behalf of John, who sounds like he has his hands full with his business and health issues.

    The odd thing about all this is that Rob told John that he’d forged John’s signature. I’ll bet that the bank/mortgage company made noises about verifying documentation and Rob was in a bind (of his own making). So, he thought he’d present the whole thing as a fait accompli to John, and that John would go along with it. Which is bonkers, but people with terrible ethics sometimes don’t even realize how out of touch they are with normal ethical standards.

    In future, should anyone call to request a reference or employment confirmation, your business should refer the question to your lawyer. I had that happen when checking the references of someone, when it turned out they had done some very unethical things. The company did not need to tell me any details – just the fact that they referred the entire question to their legal team was enough for me to realize that there was something very serious at play (in further investigation, it turned out the employee had falsified their background and had been fired from the company 3 years before, and were not a current employee, like they had claimed.)

    1. EPLawyer*

      I was so afraid this letter was going to be “Employee forged signature, how can I trust them again” Like firing wasn’t the immediate thought.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Yeah, I think it was a panic situation. He got told the employer signature would be verified, panicked and decided the best way to go about this was to confess and try to get the boss to just agree to it. ‘It’s only a white lie – I need a house after all’ can pull on the sympathy a lot.

      Still a daft idea, forging anything is a daft idea, he’s now a known liar.

      1. Redd*

        I cannot believe he thought he could confess to fraud and forgery and be kept on for even one more day in his *medical billing* position

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Delusional thoughts is something I gotta lot of experience in. Not excusing them, just saying I can see perhaps where he might have been thinking.

          He’s still of course 100% in the wrong.

        2. Candi*

          I read a lot of crime and criminal history, and one thing I’ve noticed is criminals are very good at siloing various aspects of their life. They genuinely don’t seem to get why action X affects circumstance B.

          It reminds me of a (possibly apocryphal) story of a woman got financial training, etc., through “a government institute) but when she got out, she couldn’t get a job with her training. She was mostly applying at banks.

          She went to a career counselor to ask for help, and in the course of the conversation, she asked if where she got the training might be the problem. Seems she got it in prison. (Which, awesome the prison was offering a substantial education program.)

          Of course the counselor asked why she was in prison.

          Turns out the woman was the getaway driver in a bank robbery. And could not see why that might affect banks wanting to hire her.

          (The story always says that the woman was seeking shortly after her release, which gives her very little time to prove she’s not criminally inclined anymore. It’d be much more annoying if she’d been out for a few years and had been properly law-abiding during that time.)

  13. emeemay*

    I cannot imagine the impetus to forge documents for a house. If he’s done that, he’s prob done other stuff too – something will come back and bite him harder than the mortgage company, I expect.

    I’m also team leave John alone – he’s got enough to deal with, and if he wants to let Rob make his own incredibly stupid mistakes after (correctly) firing him, John – and you – should let it go.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      Yeah I’d assume the deleting stuff was covering tracks for more sketchy doings, not just fired-vindictive deleting.

      1. Observer*

        This is likely, but not certain. I once had someone delete a whole bunch of files off a work computer. I was sure that it was intended to hide sketch stuff – there was enough history, in fact, that even though we have to justify every penny on stuff like this, my boss immediately approved the cost for data restoration. There was nothing there. Either someone panicked or it was spite or both.

        But I do agree that the OP and John need to do whatever they can to restore the files, and that one of the things they should be looking for is signs of malfeasance one way or another.

  14. Meep*

    Wow. That is a lot to unpack. I am surprised Rob could forge those documents. When I bought a house last year, they called the owner of the company to confirm I was employed and would continue being employed.

    I suppose I could’ve had them call my manager but at the time, she was being an absolute criminal brat (not Rob’s level of illegal but illegal, nevertheless) because she didn’t think a 25-year-old should be allowed to buy a house when she at 58-years-old had just lost her house due to failure to pay on the mortgage. (She could pay. She refused to, to spite her ex-husband.)

    1. socks*

      I’d bet actual money that the reason Rob came clean is that the bank WAS going to contact John to verify Rob’s employment status

      1. BlueWolf*

        Yeah, I don’t think I was given any paperwork for my manager to sign. They asked me for my manager’s contact information and handled everything with her directly. You’re probably right that they were going to call to verify so he was forced to come clean.

    2. The Rural Juror*

      Oh man, I’m sorry you had to deal with that manager. I had to chase my boss around to get him to answer the lender’s call to verify my status, but in his defense, it was an extremely busy time at work and the lender had to be the one to originate the call (my boss couldn’t simply return their call if he missed it). That was very stressful! He ended up connecting with them like 3 days before closing.

    3. Observer*

      ecause she didn’t think a 25-year-old should be allowed to buy a house when she at 58-years-old had just lost her house

      Does. Not. Compute.

      Honestly, I can’t even figure out what to call this. It’s beyond bizarre. Totally out of touch with reality.

      1. Candi*

        I put it at the level of the stepmother slicing her daughters’ feet instead of running with letting the prince marry Cinderella and settling into a comfy position as mother of the queen. Cinderella in most incarnations was too nice, too beat down -and most importantly, as queen would have an image to maintain- to do anything but go along with it.

  15. Typing All The Time*

    I know you’re trying to look for your boss but let him handle it. The best thing he can do is get in touch with an IT expert to assess the damage that has been done. If the bank reaches out to him, he can alert them that this guy is no longer an employee.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Maybe you can actually help more by helping John find a good IT team (if you don’t already have one) to recover what Rob deleted, and maybe also an outside Auditor to go through all of Rob’s work (he forged mortgage paperwork – betting that’s not the only faults in his work).
      You can also maybe help pick up some customer interaction- basically try and help John focus where he needs to right now so that as a team you all come out together.

      1. Sara without an H*

        This. OP, the best thing you can do is figure out what you can do to relieve the pressure on John. That might include lining up some tech assistance to deal with the missing files and, possibly, identifying a good accounting firm for an audit. I’m not clear from the letter whether Rob’s duties included anything to do with company finances, but if they did, you’ll need an audit just as soon as an IT specialist can resurrect those files.

        1. Candi*

          LW says there’s “no way” Rob embezzled since there’s no money coming into the office.

          That worries me. There’s more than one way to embezzle, and many don’t require access to physical money or its physical representations. I think there was one on here, can’t remember if it was a letter or comment, where the scam involved fake contractors or suppliers being paid by the LW/commentator’s (small) company. The company heads let one person handle all those functions with barely any oversight, with the results you get when someone scummy in such a role.

          There’s also fake billing, “accidental” double billing (which too often gets paid), and the old favorite, the insurance company pays up but the client is told insurance didn’t pay, or only paid partially, and the client needs to pay their balance, or it will AFFECT THEIR CREDIT FOREVER!

          Full scale audit, and company credit check.

  16. The Bimmer Guy*


    For one thing, my mortgage lender called my employer directly and verified that I still worked there and made the salary I claimed to make; they would have been unlikely to take a signed affidavit from my boss.

    Second, yeah, why confess after having committed fraud, and why quit your job in the first place during the mortgage process? For all intents and purposes, Rob could have stuck it out until the papers were signed and then did whatever he wanted regarding leaving, and wouldn’t have had to commit fraud.

    As for the deleting things from the computer, I’m ashamed to say that I was at one time spiteful enough to do that. In my youth, I had a job where I was already on a PIP, and then—as I was recovering from adult mono—I fell asleep in a meeting. It was an internal meeting with just the three people on my team and a contractor from another firm. It might have not been a dealbreaker if I wasn’t on the PIP, if an external contractor wasn’t there, and if my boss hadn’t fired my predecessor for falling asleep repeatedly at his desk…but I got myself in hot water.

    That was a Tuesday. The following afternoon (Wednesday), I had a meeting put on my calendar for the following morning (Thursday), entitled “Meeting with HR.” I rightly figured they were going to fire me, and so I put Find My Mac on my work computer the night before. When they fired me, on my way out the door, I remotely wiped and locked the computer, taking a few months’ with with it, since we didn’t have good code repository processes. From what I understand, they were not able to use the computer again, and had to junk it.

    I would never do that again, and I’m lucky it didn’t impact my future job prospects. In fact, I ended up being hired by that manager for a one-off project years later…who (it turned out) really didn’t want to fire me, but HR forced his hand.Wow.

    For one thing, my mortgage lender called my employer directly and verified that I still worked there and made the salary I claimed to make; they would have been unlikely to take a signed affidavit from my boss.

    Second, yeah, why confess after having committed fraud, and why quit your job in the first place during the mortgage process? For all intents and purposes, Rob could have stuck it out until the papers were signed and then did whatever he wanted regarding leaving, and wouldn’t have had to commit fraud.

    As for the deleting things from the computer, I’m ashamed to say that I was at one time spiteful enough to do that. In my youth, I had a job where I was already on a PIP, and then—as I was recovering from adult mono—I fell asleep in a meeting. It was an internal meeting with just the three people on my team and a contractor from another firm. It might have not been a dealbreaker if I wasn’t on the PIP, if an external contractor wasn’t there, and if my boss hadn’t fired my predecessor for falling asleep repeatedly at his desk…but I got myself in hot water.

    That was a Tuesday. The following afternoon (Wednesday), I had a meeting put on my calendar for the following morning (Thursday), entitled “Meeting with HR.” I rightly figured they were going to fire me, and so I put Find My Mac on my work computer the night before. When they fired me, on my way out the door, I remotely wiped and locked the computer, taking a few months’ with with it, since we didn’t have good code repository processes. From what I understand, they were not able to use the computer again, and had to junk it.

    I would never do that again, and I’m lucky it didn’t impact my future job prospects. In fact, I ended up being hired by that manager for a one-off project years later and at a different company…who (it turned out) really didn’t want to fire me, but HR forced his hand. That made me feel even more guilty.

    1. Elenna*

      I’m pretty sure your first thing is the response to your second thing – as in, I’m guessing the lender let Rob know that they were going to call John directly, and that’s why Rob confessed, in the hopes that John would lie for him.

    2. Tiffany Aching's imaginary friend*

      It can be harder to get a loan for a house that you won’t live in full-time, and if that house is in a different state from where you work, the odds are good that it’s far enough away that the bank won’t believe that it’s your primary residence. So he might not have been able to get the loan by just staying employed thru the buying process.

      1. Candi*

        Rob clearly doesn’t care about screwing John over. If Rob had just asked his dear friend John to fib to the mean ol’ evil villain bank that he was working remotely (but he really wasn’t, honest, how’s your wife doing?) while taking advantage of John’s being primarily concerned with his wife, he might have pulled it off. Hero/antihero against a much more powerful enemy is a powerful trope. Especially if Rob gave John some sad sob story Rob was helping out a family member that really needed it, and who was totally going to pay Rob back, and Rob tells John Rob just said he was working remotely so the bank would give him a better deal on the loan. (This is all stuff Rob is telling John, and never intends to have the bank know.)

        Of course, Rob would have to make sure none of his lies got back to the bank or mortgage company, and he’d have to maintain the story consistently or it would all fall apart. And he doesn’t seem very good at either.

  17. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Speaking as one who was a witness (provided documentation and evidence) in a very big financial fraud case – yeah it’s not easy. Those tend to drag on.

    It nearly destroyed my health for a year. I’d still do it again but if I’d had a major crisis going on at the same time and realised how much stress that was I may not have.

    Rob will likely face major consequences anyway – mortgage companies do not like being lied to and it’s likely his credit ratings et al will be in the toilet for decades now. Additionally he’s now got no chance of a reference. Most future employers (especially those to do with data security) won’t take kindly to someone who deletes data on their way out.

    By the way, from an IT professional standpoint – unplugging your PC won’t delete specific files like that. It may corrupt a few, but most modern PCs can handle a sudden power down. He’s absolutely lying through his teeth. If the company can afford it it’s worth getting a professional data recovery team in. I highly doubt he had the skills to completely cover his tracks and render the data unrecoverable.

    1. Lab Boss*

      “My PC came unplugged” sounds like the IT equivalent of “I must have caught it from the toilet seat.”

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Oh don’t get me started. Actually do. In 20+ years in IT I’ve heard some right tripe:

        ‘It was a power cut’ (to excuse a load of files being deleted off the server).

        ‘My PC got hacked’ (to excuse some really dodgy website viewing).

        ‘My PC got hacked’ (to excuse…well just about anything that clearly wasn’t hacking)

        ‘I must have clicked the wrong button’ (this one was legendary – 20Gb of data gone. In different folders. Across different servers. On different days)

        It’s all very akin to the ‘I fell on the sauce jar in the kitchen. Backwards. While nekkid. And somehow fell on a ping pong ball first’ medical stuff :p

        1. Free Meerkats*

          Tangential story time!

          The last sentence reminded me of a friend who was crewing on a sailing race down the California coast. She was off watch and went into the head when the boat fell off a wave and she took the marine head pump handle in an uncomfortable place. She had to be medevaced from the boat by Coast Guard helicopter. She was able to joke about it later in this vein, but it was serious at the time.

        2. Candi*

          (takes notes)

          Going into IT, and I want to make sure I know common lame excuses. :p

          I’ve already got a list that boils down to “I’m telling you my computer got hacked because I don’t want to explain where I got the millions pieces of malware from.”

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Ironically, the dog really did eat my English book in tenth grade. I took a letter from parent who put the book down in the dogs reach, the remnants, and $35 to school and still had trouble getting a new copy…..as a straight A student.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Honestly – I think this is how the OP can beat help John – find a good IT group to recover the deleted stuff and prevent this from happening again if possible.

  18. bunniferous*

    Folks, this is called mortgage fraud.

    I reassure you that this individual absolutely will be facing some consequences. DO NOT EVER EVER EVER lie to your lender unless you LIKE the idea of federal prison.

    1. Magenta Sky*

      The forgery itself on a legal document is almost certainly a felony in which John is the victim. It’s up to him whether or not to file charges.

      Using a forged document to obtain a loan for six figures (and what house isn’t over $100,000 these days) is fraud against the bank, and John has no say in whether or not they decide to pursue criminal charges. If they do, John will get drug into it whether he wants to be or not.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        Really it’s up to the local District Attorney or the US Attorney whether to file criminal charges. They might be more likely to if John makes noise, but it really isn’t up to him at all.

        1. Candi*

          John can file a police report, and decide whether to mark “no, I do not wish to pursue charges”. (However they do that on the form.)

          I think the cultural tendency to shorten phrasing and conflate terms really hurts when discussing legal stuff. The affected party files the police report, the DA files and pursues charges, with or without the help of the affected part. And in civil procedure the affected party (or their lawyer) is the one filing and pursuing stuff. And it all gets condensed and conflated down to very wrong layman’s terms.

    2. Ali G*

      Yeah I didn’t try to lie and it caused massive issues for me. I was in the process of refinancing my loan and unexpectedly a great opportunity I just could not pass up was presented to me. I didn’t realize that the employer verification part wasn’t done when I supplied them with my pay stubs (I assumed they verified my employment then). Nope, they don’t do it (actual phone call asking if I am indeed employed there and will continue to) until about 5 days before close. Well, I was already out on my 2 weeks of vacation between jobs when they called my original job to verify. They had to be truthful and said actually I don’t work there anymore.
      Cue sh*t hitting the fan. So before I even worked there, I had to get New Job to write a letter and verbally confirm my start date, title and salary so that the load could proceed to underwriting. It was stressful and embarrassing and could have completely cancelled my new loan.

      1. JustMyImagination*

        You must have had my mortgage lender shortly before me! When I finally had my offer accepted on a house the lender was very exasperated and said “please, please just stay at your current job for the next 5 weeks”

        1. Lab Boss*

          In our case it was our buyer’s agent who sat us down and said “Congrats, you’re pre-approved and your offer was accepted. If either of you decides to buy a new car before closing on the house, I’m going to smack you.” Yes, he was speaking from experience.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Sadly – common sense is no longer common.

            There is also a large number of policies in place at companies to deal with “nobody explicitly told me not to” explanations/rationales. Why would the mortgage industry be any different. If anything I would expect it to be even more picky about the little details.

            1. Candi*

              “Company policy: Don’t be stupid or an idiot.”

              (Employee goes out and does something.)

              “We told you not to be stupid or an idiot!”

              “This wasn’t being stupid or an idiot, this was being dumb! Totally different!”

        2. Anne of Green Gables*

          I actually just set a start date with a new employee that is later than I’d like because they are closing on a house and need to stay at their current employer through closing. Which I totally understand and am accommodating, because I know that’s a thing.

        3. Recruited Recruiter*

          I got this when I was doing paperwork with my mortgage lender as well! I thought that was such a strange request. I also had to sign a document that at the time of signing, I intended to stay with my current employer for at least 6 months.

      2. All the words*

        As a general rule, make no major life changes when planning things that require major financing, like buying a house. Don’t open new accounts, don’t make major purchases, don’t have large sums of money appear in your accounts, put off job changes if possible. If one does change jobs, just know that the lender will be looking very closely at that situation. Same with large, unexplained deposits.

  19. lb*

    I’m not a banker, but I can’t imagine that reporting fraud to a bank wouldn’t result in serious consequences??? I mean I guess there’s a chance it gets lost in the bureaucracy of a large, national bank like BoA or Chase, but it’s hard to imagine they just shrug that off…?

    1. Phony Genius*

      Yeah, I wonder about the part where John told Rob to go back to his lender and admit that the documents were forged and just submit new ones. I don’t know too many lender that will just say “OK, we’ll just switch out the documents.” Rob’s best move here may be to just withdraw the loan application, if he can, without explanation. Otherwise, he’s basically confessing to a felony. (I think at this point, Rob needs a lawyer.)

      1. Dancing Otter*

        Well, Rob could just tell the lender he lost his job. It will probably kill his chances of getting the loan, but they won’t know the documents were never valid.

  20. Observer*

    Several things (some of which is a repeat) in the lessons learned category:

    1. Get someone in to recover the files. Unless he’s REALLY good, this should be doable.

    2. Start requiring all work documents to be stored on a shared hard drive that has multiple layers of backup (on-site AND off-site).

    3. When someone gets let go in for bad behavior you need to revoke their access to EVERYTHING (including the office itself) IMMEDIATELY.

  21. ENFP in Texas*

    “…he originally hired Rob because he knew him and felt bad when Rob was let go from his previous job.”

    Anyone else curious now as to the circumstances of Rob being “let go” from that previous job?

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I missed that bit. I’m definitely curious. Also wondering if John bothered to do reference checks.

    2. Sara without an H*

      I’m sure there were two circumstances: 1) Rob’s version, and 2) the former employer’s version. My guess would be that there would be very little overlap between 1 and 2.

      ALWAYS check references, even if you’re hiring “friends.” Maybe especially if you’re hiring “friends.”

      1. Recruited Recruiter*

        I have a different personal rule. NEVER HIRE FRIENDS OR FAMILY!!!!! I’m a Human Resources Professional though, so I might be a little biased.

        1. Candi*

          My younger (now adult) kid is in school to become a chef. (Combined chef/business course.) Their dream since they were 15 was to own their own cafe. (We have had many, many discussions about this.)

          A couple years ago, I asked them if they were going to hire friends to work at their cafe. Their response? “No! Then they wouldn’t be my friends anymore!” Family is also a “no”.

          I mean, if the then-17-year-old gets it, you’d think older people would.

          (Side not on the business course: On a recent quiz the kid had, every right answer could have come straight from the AAM handbook. The kid knew the answers because, even though they don’t read AAM, I’ve been talking AAM at them for yeeeeeaaaaaaarrrrssss.)

    3. Nicki Name*

      Oh yes. Also the whole other letter’s worth of reasons why Rob wouldn’t be allowed to work remotely.

    4. Observer*

      Anyone else curious now as to the circumstances of Rob being “let go” from that previous job?

      That was one of my first thoughts, actually. Like, Hm I WONDER why he was let go…

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        I’m now wondering if John actually knew the full story himself, or a version that Rob told him that maybe wasn’t quite what happened…

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          The longer the thread goes on the more of a “Svengali” Rob strikes me as being. At the very least we know he is vindictive, impulsive, and not good at the truth.

          1. Candi*

            Also not very bright, and not very good at adapting when things don’t work out to plan. Not very good at properly taking advantage of a very distracted boss, playing off the friendship, at coming up with convincing stories to snooker his boss… Not very good at making plans.

            Really, Rob’s caused a lot of pain, but he’s pretty pathetic.

  22. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    When I was working in software, someone was actively deleting client files. RCMP got involved and discreet spyware installed to catch him in the act. He was caught, terminated and I can assume charges brought against him. (And it broke everyone’s hearts – he was well liked until that point.)

    Since this is medical billing (and not just custom changes to the the software for a client that we had go missing), I’d take a *very serious* look at your data. There could be surprises lurking.

    Good luck.

    1. Observer*

      Very much this.

      OP, this has been mentioned multiple times. Please take it VERY seriously. There could be a lot of different issues here, whether or not money was going in and out of that office.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Very much. You don’t need to hire an IT professional full time to do this – there’s a great number of places that’ll send you an infosec expert for a few days to a) try to recover data b) take an overall look at your risks and c) give a good recommendation of what to do in future to prevent this happening again.

  23. DJ Abbott*

    Interesting that Rob confessed when if he had kept quiet he might’ve gotten away with it.
    IMHO either self sabotage or maybe he had reason to think he would get caught.

    1. Daffy Duck*

      I’m betting he put in an offer for a house and was then surprised John wouldn’t let him work remotely in another state. It is amazing how many people think remote work means you can live anywhere in the USA/world (pro tip: each state has different regulations and it isn’t worth it for most companies to jump thru the hoops for one employee). He compounded his mistake by forging John’s signature and afterward realized the mortgage company would actually be calling to check in person. He would have gotten caught, the only way to avert it would be to pull his offer or have his boss agree to the fraud. He told John hoping his friend would forgive/lie for him and was surprised the boss wasn’t going to lie for him.

      1. ecnaseener*

        I guess that’s possible, but the out-of-state element doesn’t have to come into it. The mortgage company would potentially call John regardless of whether it was in the same state.

  24. Hiring Mgr*

    Obviously Rob is awful, but your company does share some of the blame, not for the forgery but for not shutting down Rob’s access to email, files etc immediately upon termination

  25. FYI*

    “He also told Rob to not come back to the office until the next morning, at which point he wanted Rob to turn in his keys and computer login info … ”

    This was a mistake. If someone is demonstrably committing fraud, you don’t allow them access to anything valuable for even a nano-second longer.

  26. Yvette*

    I think that John needs to run a credit check on himself. The kind that shows all outstanding loans etc. Because he may very well find out the forgery was not limited to this instance and that he has cosigned loans for Rob.

    1. Siv*

      Just because someone said they are employed by you doesn’t mean they’re going to steal from you. I think this is a stretch

      1. Yvette*

        Why would it be a stretch to think that someone who forged a signature on one document would not hesitate to forge a signature on another document? Cosigning does not equal stealing, a cosigner is only liable for the money if the person who takes out the loan defaults.

  27. JMals*

    Just because money isn’t received at the office doesn’t mean he didn’t/couldn’t embezzle another way. At the very least, check accounts payable – could he have submitted a fraudulent invoice (from himself) that the company paid?

  28. Delta Delta*

    Lawyer here. I actually represented a person charged criminally with theft of intellectual property for a very similar scenario. Client had a work laptop and periodically used it for personal stuff (email, etc), which was probably not great, but not the biggest deal. Client was fired over what turned out to be a miscommunication with a client. Client did a factory reset on the laptop before returning it so as to clear any personal information. In doing so, Client also wiped some company information. Company took the position that her having done that rose to the level of permanently taking their intellectual property. The case was ultimately dismissed and in a fun post script, Client was hired by the company’s client over which there was miscommunication.

    Point being there’s a lot going on here. there’s possible PHI breaches. Depending on the jurisdiction there’s a possible theft of intellectual property. If Rob had the mortgage documents notarized (which often happens) there’s a potential false swearing crime.

    Point 2 – this is a John problem not an OP problem. I think OP probably ought to stay out of it, but also be vigilant in checking her own documents/drives, etc., to ensure Rob didn’t tamper with anything she needs/touches.

  29. EBG*

    One lesson not mentioned: John needs to look for ways to protect himself and his company should an employee try something like that in future. Can the office be alarm-coded and only allow access to employees during certain hours? Can the computer systems have the same protections?

  30. anonymous73*

    Not your circus, not your monkeys. You need to let it go. This is not your responsibility to fix. Provide advice if asked. If he changes him mind, help in any way you can. But stop trying to force the issue. He’s made his feelings clear and it’s ultimately HIS business and HIS decision.

  31. yala*

    I needed some good popcorn-reading during lunch and boy HOWDY was this it!

    If this a company with access to any kind of medical records, then it seems like something needs to be done. But yeah. Not actually the OP’s problem.

  32. Formerly Ella Vader*

    When I wrote a letter to a mortgage company with employment details of one of our workers, they contacted me three times with more questions.

    Also, in terms of the “lessons learned” and wanting the owner to take on board the right lessons … if I were in the LW’s position, I’d watch for openings to point out some options to hiring other than by word-of-mouth. Like, “you know, you could try writing a job description and posting it on X or Y” … or “it might be worth working with a recruiting agency next time”. Whether it’s better to have this conversation when no new hiring is planned, or early in the process next time, I don’t know, especially if it’s not within your own mandate to suggest new procedures or do any HR or management.

  33. Texas*

    It seems like the bigger issue (and the part of the situation that could affect OP) is that the company failed to protect PHI that it was entrusted with. I just had to do my info security/compliance training for work and this sounds like a really bad scenario.

  34. Falling Diphthong*

    There is a recurring theme here that goes:
    1) Employee does Very Bad Thing that will get them fired/in jail/etc if it comes to light.
    2) Employee gets concerned about their risk and so tries to drag their manager/mentor out on the plank with them. “They won’t want to fire both of us!”

  35. Siv*

    I think what Rob did was actually not that terrible. This is coming from someone who just bought a house. In my view… He was going to find another job in the new area and needed the letter so that he didn’t get screwed over with the house. Unprofessional and dishonest? Yes. But maybe he thought of the owner as a friend and that he wouldn’t mind.

    Re deleting files what if they were just innocuous files to clean up? I’m having trouble mustering much upset at all about Rob. Lots of assumptions are being made here by OP

    1. Lizard*

      If being “unprofessional and dishonest” is “not that terrible”, I’m not sure what your standards for behaviour are.

      Rob lied about deleting any files at all. Why would he do that if they were just innocuous files to clean up? I don’t think OP is the person making assumptions here.

      1. PlainJane*

        They may have been files that were innocuous in a company sense–not sensitive material–but damning to Rob himself.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      ….I’m having real difficulties understanding how anything this egregious can be handwaved off. Lying, both about forging and about deleting files (no, I don’t buy the ‘computer power lead fell out’) is a whopping red mark against any employee.

      And if the files were unimportant, why sneak into the office to delete them?

  36. singlemaltgirl*

    like others have said, let the emotional side go. you may need a bit of time/space to process the betrayal and anger/frustration but it’s not about you and the faster you can let that go about being ‘owed’ or wanting to ‘punish’ the better. once you can, focus on the clean up and helping support john to mitigate any shit dude caused.

    i’ve had to let a lot of shit go in the past and i find it makes it easier when you take the moment to vent (maybe into the wilderness or into your pillow) and then get on with what needs to be done. there’s nothing that’s going to ‘make this right’ and some people are just shitty. focus on what you can do and don’t waste energy on someone who doesn’t deserve it.

  37. Slow Gin Lizz*

    Am I the only one here who is now really curious about what the reasons are that Rob was not allowed to keep his job and work remotely? LW said that those reasons could be a whole ‘nother letter to Alison, and boy oh boy, do I want to know what they are!

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