Mary Schaeffer
Mary Schaeffer

Emerging Issue: Verifying Business Event Travel

Four techniques for verifying conference travel

May 3, 2012
by Mary S. Schaeffer

Technology is wonderful. It has improved many accounting functions. Travel and entertainment (T&E) is no exception. Indeed, some believe T&E is the function that has benefited most from technology.

But technology has also made it easier for some employees to cheat their employers by filing false T&E expenses.

The first time I printed a boarding pass at home, it occurred to me that it would be very easy to produce a counterfeit boarding pass. It probably wouldn’t get anyone on a plane, but it would be good enough to fool just about any T&E processor reviewing expense reimbursement requests. Shortly after that, one of my readers shared the following story.

One of their employees had claimed to attend a conference in Orlando, Fla. The employee submitted an expense report for the hotel, airfare, and the conference. All receipts appeared to be in order.

Two years later, the same employee attended the same conference. This time the processor did a little digging and discovered that the “conference” was actually a webinar—an online event. What the employee had done was get the employer to make a generous contribution toward his vacation.

This story, along with the boarding pass dilemma, demonstrates why verifying business travel is so difficult.

Verifying conference travel

Here are some techniques for verifying conference travel:

  • View all the receipts in total—the airfare, hotel, and conference registration fee. In most cases this will suffice, although not in the story above.
  • Require a photocopy of the conference book cover. This will work only if a book is handed out. Today, many conferences either put the handouts online or provide a USB key with the information. Just about every event gives attendees something—a book, CD, key, or tote bag. You can ask for any of these.
  • Require a photocopy of the name badge. Most of these will have a logo or organization name in addition to the attendee’s name.
  • Check online to make sure the event was live, in the location the employee indicated, and on the dates shown.

Few employees might try to deceive their employers. But it should be the aim of every T&E policy to make it as difficult as possible for those contemplating it.

As for what happened to the employee who submitted the fake conference expenses, the outcome might disappoint: The organization demanded restitution but did not terminate the employee.

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Mary S. Schaeffer is the author of Controller and CFO’s Guide to Accounts Payable (John Wiley & Sons) and Fraud in Accounts Payable: How to Prevent It (John Wiley & Sons). She writes a free weekly e-magazine, e-AP News, and is a frequent speaker at accounts payable webinars, seminars, and conferences.