Planes, Trains and Travel Schemes


April 25, 2019

The faculty and staff of the University of Kentucky travel throughout the Commonwealth, the United States, and the world while supporting the mission of UK. As more employees travel, the likelihood of improper activity through travel expenditures can increase. According to the ACFE 2018 Report to the Nations, inappropriate expense reimbursements constituted 14 percent of all fraud schemes.[1] The keys to preventing these situations are being familiar with the types of travel schemes typically attempted, as well as having prevention and detection controls in place.
 

Travel Schemes

Supervisors should be aware of the most common travel schemes and how they are perpetrated:
 

  • Multiple Reimbursements – The employee will request reimbursement numerous times for the same purchase.
  • Fictitious Expenses – The employee will create false expenditures and request reimbursement for those items. 
  • Overstate Expenses – The employee requests reimbursement for an amount higher than the original cost. 
  • Mischaracterized Expenses – The employee requests reimbursement for a personal expense but claims it was a business expense.

Below are examples of how such schemes may be committed:
 

  1. Additional Car Mileage – when an employee requests reimbursement for more mileage than they actually drove for business purposes.
  2. Unallowable Expenses –when an employee submits an expense for reimbursement that is unallowable per the University of Kentucky or the grant.
  3. Personal Expenses – when an employee purchases items for personal use, but classifies them as a business expense in order to be reimbursed. This often includes business trips that are extended for personal reasons.
  4. Out of Pocket Expenses – when an employee requests reimbursement for expenses that they did not incur by over-claiming out-of-pocket expenses, such as tips for hotel bellhops or cabs, that only take cash. Supervisors must be careful because travelers are legitimately stuck in these situations and are unable to show proof of payment.
  5. Unused Expenses – when employees request reimbursements for a conference that they originally registered for but ultimately did not attend.
  6. Altered Receipts – when an employee uses a blank receipt to create a receipt for an item they did not actually purchase – or alters a receipt to increase the cost of an item --  and asks for reimbursement for the false amounts.

 

Prevention and Detection Controls

The University of Kentucky Business Procedures Manual (BPM) contains a travel policy which defines reimbursable expenses and non-reimbursable expenses for travel, as well as the responsibilities for the Supervisor/Department Administrator. As the first line of defense in preventing improper travel reimbursements, supervisors are responsible for understanding these BPMs and conducting the following:
 

  • Ensuring all employees comply with the University travel policy.
  • Verifying the business purpose of travel.
  • Confirming that the travel expenses are the most economical available at the time(s) needed.
  • Comparing reimbursement requests against the conference or event agenda to ensure that all days requested are business-related.
  • Approving TRIP travel expense reports in a timely manner.

 
Additionally, to prevent improper travel reimbursements from happening in the first place, departments also need to have strong internal controls. Some controls that should be established are:

  • Require original documentation to be submitted with each travel expense.
  • Initiate a formal review process in which the department has many different levels of review and approval. Departments need to ensure they establish segregation of duties within the department when reviewing and approving travel expenses.
  • Train the staff. Supervisors and reviewers should know which travel expenses are allowable or unallowable per the University policy or grant agreement. 
  • Question expenditures that look extraordinary or abnormal so that employees know reviews are being performed.
  • Treat travel reimbursements consistently by having employees reimbursed through an employee expense report or by using a ProCard. Employees going between the two payment methods could allow for duplicate payment.
  • Supervisors should perform monthly reviews to ensure travel expenses are meeting the standards established by the University or the department.

 
Lastly, the tone set for the department by management is critical. If the employees see upper management breaking the rules, then employees will likely follow their actions. Leading through example is the best medicine to fight against improper travel reimbursements.
 
  
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Photo By: Johnny Lin
[1] ACFE 2018 Report to the Nations. Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, ACFE 2018 Report to the Nations, https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/acfepublic/2018-report-to-the-nations....