A former employee at software company Hewlett-Packard has been sentenced to almost two years in prison after using company credit cards to buy luxury clothing, Apple products and even a trip to Europe.
Holli Coulman, 45, worked as an executive assistant at Hewlett-Packard in San Diego, California from 2008 to 2012, and used her position to intercept her boss’s emails and dispose of any that questioned her expenditure.
During her time at the company, Coulman spent nearly $1 million on flights, spa treatments and clothes, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The former executive assistant pleaded guilty to wire fraud last year and was yesterday sentenced to 21 months in prison.
Coulman was also ordered to pay back the $954,000 she spent on company credit cards.
Andrew Morgan, forensic services partner at BDO Australia, told SmartCompany these sorts of cases are very common.
“This is something that comes up a lot, where you have a very trusted person in an organisation who uses that level of trust because of their position,” Morgan says.
“In traditional fraud you talk about the person who has the keys to the lolly shop, but the other very trusted person is the executive assistant to someone high up in the organisation. In a lot of organisations the executive assistant has access to the executive’s credit card details so they can make purchases on their account and they are in a position to intercept emails and that sort of thing.”
Morgan says businesses need to have proper processes in place in order to catch fraudulent behaviour and minimise the impact of it when it does occur.
“We’re not saying don’t let your EA do the job you’ve hired them to do, but you do need to put in a process that gives the organisation as a whole comfort they’re going to pick up on these sorts of things,” he says.
“This means your finance office or HR or another senior executive should be given the task of periodically oversighting other people’s expenses just to make sure there’s another pair of eyes. It’s a pretty simple thing to put in place and if a senior executive has a PA they’ve probably got enough people floating around to put something like that in place.”
Hewlett-Packard was contacted for comment but did not respond prior to publication.