Cut the Power, Open the Gate
January, 2009I was fortunate to chat with venerable parking legend and auditor Larry Donoghue, the other day. After graciously admiring my luxurious coat and giving me a biscuit – he always thinks of that when he knows he’s going to meet me – Larry revealed a couple of potential problems in parking revenue control that, frankly, I had never run across.
In this case, the garage manager felt there was a problem but couldn’t put his finger on it. The cashier would turn in a few more tickets than recorded on the computerized lane equipment. The tickets were taken into a vault after they were read in the lane’s automatic ticket reader, so manipulating the tickets was difficult.
After a few days of observation, the manager discovered that the cashier was turning off the power to the cashier terminal and the gate from a power panel in the booth. The gate was designed to rise automatically when the power went off, to let patrons out in the event of power failure and also to prevent damage to the gate if the employees tried to raise it by hand.
The cashier would then collect the amount due, and the patron would leave. When she turned the power back on, the ticket would be taken into the vault, but the transaction would not be recorded on the machine’s audit tape.
She could do this three or four times a day, pick up an extra $60 or $70, and none would be the wiser. Her drawer count always matched the amount shown on the tape. Of course, there were a few extra tickets, but until the manager happened to notice that the ticket count was higher than it should have been, she was home free.
There are a number of issues here.
First, according to Larry, the power panels should not be available to the cashiers. They should be locked in closets, or if they must be in the booth, they should have locks on them so cashiers can’t open them. The keys to the panels (and gates for that matter) should be in sealed envelopes and the envelopes checked daily to see if they have been opened. Larry suggests using numbered bank deposit bags that must be destroyed to be opened. This will prevent the cashiers from having their own supply of bags.
Second, you have to audit the tickets as well as the tapes. You should do this daily, but if it is a large location and that isn’t possible, you should randomly audit each lane. That way, they would have noticed the tickets didn’t have the amount due printed on them and the fraud would have been quickly discovered.
In another case, Larry reports on an area manager who was picking up the receipts from a number of “cigar box” operations with standard in/out time clocks. He dropped the tickets from three of the lots, and when he picked them up, the tickets were mixed together. Our hero noticed that some of the tickets were shorter than the others. All the short ones came from the same lot.
Upon investigation, he found that the cashier was stamping the entry time on the bottom quarter-inch of the ticket. When the person returned, the cashier didn’t clock the ticket back in but figured the fee in his head. Later, he cut the entry time off with scissors and logged a shorter entry and exit time for the ticket. The “short” ticket showed a fee less than he collected, and he kept the difference.
Once again, putting tickets in number order and checking the entry and exit times would have caught the thief. If you look at the tickets in numeric order, the entry times must be consecutive; the exit times, however, would not be. In this case, the entry times would have been out of order, and the bad guy would have gone probably not to jail, but certainly the unemployment line.
Larry is constantly looking for new types of fraud and will pay $25 to anyone who comes up with one. If it’s fraud on an automated or pay-and-display system, he ups the ante to $50. He has documented more than 360 ways to steal on standard systems, but only about 97 on automated and P-and-D systems. He hopes the additional finder’s fee will help bring in some more so he can spread the word and help you nail those ne’er-do-wells who want to become your silent partners.
I must tell you that I have met Larry a number of times over the years, and he always has a kind word, and a pat on the back. He is one of the true gentlemen of the parking industry.