The Case of the Faulty Circuit
By Larry Donoghue
One of my airport clients called me asking for some help. One cashier was consistently having a lower average parking transaction fee than the other cashiers. Also, each day he worked, there would be about 10 to 12 unaccounted for tickets in that parking lot. The airport was of the belief that he was stealing, but they couldn’t figure out how he was doing it.
I made a trip to the airport to inspect the cashier booths and the revenue control equipment. This particular cashier worked the evening shift in a remote parking lot. An analog counter in the booth was activated by the reset loop located just beyond the exit barrier gate. Each time a vehicle made an exit, the counter would increase the reading by a count of one. It was working perfectly.
The cashiers were required to record on their shift reports the opening and closing numbers of transactions rung up, and the opening and closing numbers of the analog counter. I checked several of this particular cashier’s recent shift reports, and they all showed the number of exits matched the number of transactions.
There were two booths in the lot, and the suspect cashier always worked in booth No. 1. He earned this right by virtue of his seniority.
I spoke to the night supervisor about this cashier. He told me he was always on time, never failed to show up for his shift. He was personable. But he had one quirk, the supervisor said. Much of the time he worked in the booth, this particular cashier would have its interior light turned off. None of the other cashiers did that.
The cashiers didn’t have a choice of parking lots, only a choice of booths. I suggested that this cashier be assigned to one of the other parking lots for about two weeks to see if his new lot similarly had about 10 to 12 unaccounted for tickets.
After he switched lots, the unaccounted for tickets in his new lot did not increase. Those in the remote parking lot was cut to only one or two a day. With this information, I made a second trip to the airport and spent some time in booth No. 1 during the evening shift. The suspect cashier was not on duty that night.
I tested all the equipment, most particularly the counter, to see if it was working properly. Everything I tested up to that point worked properly. Then I asked the cashier if it was OK with her if I turned off the booth’s interior light. She didn’t object, so I turned it off.
At that point, I noticed the count on the counter was not increasing when a vehicle made an exit. I turned the light back on and the count increased each time a vehicle exited the lane. I reported my findings to the airport.
When the suspect cashier was confronted with this information, he said that if the airport wouldn’t prosecute him, he would tell them what he was doing and he would make full restitution. The airport agreed to his terms.
The cashier told them that when he was going to steal some money, he would turn off the light to put the counter out of action. When the next parking patron came to his booth, he would tell them to wait just a moment. He would then take a steel plate that was about 9” x 12” and enclosed in a black-colored envelope to match the dark asphalt pavement and place it on a corner of the reset loop.
The cashier would then get back in the booth and collect the parking fee from the patron. He would not ring up the transaction; he would merely wave the patron out. Because the steel plate was on the reset loop, the gate would not lower. He would then handle several more fraudulent transactions and remove the plate during a lull in exiting.
The cashier was a man of his word. He reimbursed the airport $21,500 plus interest. He had not spent the money. He had kept it all in a savings account in a bank.
This was a freak situation where the interior light and the counter were on the same circuit. However, there are many other ways for cashiers to commit fraud that requires them to exit the booth to do so:
• If the exit barrier gate housing is unlocked, they flip the switch that is inside the housing and raise the gate and leave it up for several fraudulent transactions.
• They remove the barrier gate arm using a pair of pliers to loosen four bolts and slide the gate arm out of the attachment bracket.
• They remove the shear pin that runs through the attachment bracket and through the drive shaft that the attachment bracket is mounted on. Once the shear pin is removed, the gate arm and attachment bracket can be slid off the drive shaft.
The best defense against fraud in the exit lane is to have a CCTV camera on a pole upstream of the cashier’s booth that uses an electronic recording media. Once a month, the recording for a full shift of each cashier should be reviewed.
The recording should be run at high speed until the cashier is detected exiting the booth. At this point, review the tape at slow speed so that the cashier’s actions can be readily discerned. If any improper actions are detected, the cashier should receive appropriate disciplinary action.
Larry Donoghue, President of Larry Donoghue and Associates, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.