I know anyone that has any affiliation with an HOA or Homeowners Association has heard of someone stealing or trying to steal money from the Community. The scams are often as simple as writing a check to themselves, either as an administrator, treasurer or president. This is the one constant to which no one paid much attention. Now, with the vast majority of the Associations tax year ending, here’s your chance to make sure that does not, and is not going to happen. Whenever the economy takes a hit, and particulary when it both an extended and bad one, you need to pay special attention to the deep pockets, your association’s bank and reserve accounts.
First – GET AN AUDIT – not an opinion, not a compilation, but a real, honest-to-god audit. Only an audit of the CPA will unearth evidence which, in turn, could be fraud or embezzlement. Yes, an audit is more expensive, but considering the huge increase in financial crimes against associations, this is not the time to spare. Remember, every person trusted the people who were scamming from the Association funds. The fact that the treasurer is a good person, does not mean that they are not having personal financial problems.
Then make sure your insurance covers the Community Association if the money is lost. All too often association’s think that fidelity bonds that the management company has protects them – it doesn’t, it only protects the management company if an employee steals from them. Whether its a bond or crime insurance, make sure the association is covered for ANY loss, no matter who is lining their pockets. This can be done with Directors & Officers Insurance or D & O.
Always make sure the bank or any financial institution that holds your money, sends a second statement, an original for someone other than the person who writes the checks or books. The crooks got away with their scams for long periods of time because they were the only one receiving the bank statement, and then delivering a retouched statement to the Board of Directors. Someone else must have an authentic, original – that can, in fact be compared to the one presented in the financial report.
Periodically, hold a test of invoices. Ask one of your contractors to review their bills with you. A basic scam is a book of false invoices for work that was never completed, and then write a check for that amount to the scoundrel himself. Unless you’re reviewing canceled checks or verifying proof of the bill, it is quite easy for the thief get away with it. Each time you have a supplier or contractor that is going over budget or contract, this is likely to be the output.
Make sure nobody can get to the reserve accounts easily to withdraw or transfer funds. Talk to any institution that is holding the funds and ask them for the best way to ensure that nobody can reach them without going through a lot of checkpoints.
Basically, you should make sure you have all the necessary protections in place and they are, in fact, actually being followed. There are plenty of articles about how to do this, and that’s a good place to start. But remember, it is the entire process to be followed – not just a part will protect your Property Owners. For example, you can utilize the recommendation to require two signatures on checks, but in reality, banks no longer see or verify the signatures, so that alone will not protect you.
Why go through all this? I’m no lawyer, but if I were a Home Owner and someone was to abscond with a lot of money from my Association, I believe that the board would had failed in its fiduciary responsibilities and should be held accountable for that failure.