Think about this: Only 10% of American workers can be trusted not to steal from their employers. What about the rest? Well, according to government statistics, 60% employ “situational ethics,” meaning if they have a need and the opportunity presents itself, they’ll steal. And the remaining 30% can never be trusted. Period.

Scary, isn’t it. Unfortunately, employer complacency is one of the major contributing factors to this problem.

In my career as an investigator and security manager, I’ve seen countless examples of internal pilferage and embezzlement. Although many of the employees were relatively new, many others were older, trusted employees who had been stealing for years without detection.

Bad employees are creative when it comes to theft. Cashiers develop innovative methods to “pack” register tills with cash sales that haven’t been rung up, removing excess cash later. Truck drivers and dock workers steal materials and divert shipments. Bookkeepers use unusual “accounting” techniques to drain funds from the company coffers without detection.

Many employees justify their thefts by believing the boss or company has been unfair to them and “owes” them something. Other common motivators are family problems and substance abuse.

In fact, employees are a greater source of theft than traditional break-ins because employees (of necessity) are in positions affording access to cash, products, material and equipment.

About the only way to avoid these problematic employees is not to hire them in the first place, and to identify, discharge and prosecute those who slip through. To keep employees honest, management must give the same care to planning internal security as that used in designing outside security measures.

Obviously, if the government statistics are correct, we should recruit the 10% honest employees, avoid hiring the 30% who will steal anything not nailed down and remove the opportunities for the remaining 60% who will steal if given the opportunity.

Effective pre-employment screening programs accomplish some of the job. Many are available, and the most effective programs involve combining different techniques.

Begin with a well-constructed job application asking for at least two former residences and three former employers. Along with requests for information uniquely important to your business, the application should include a separate sheet that, when signed by the applicant, allows you to seek information from past employers, government agencies and credit reporting companies. This sheet also should release from liability any person, agency or organization providing information concerning the prospective employee.

Always contact each reference; if references are reluctant to provide information (many of them will be), offer to mail or fax them a copy of the signed release.

Interview each applicant, asking questions about the application. Even if you are impressed, don’t hire anyone at the first interview. Tell the applicant you will contact him in several days for a second interview if he is favorably considered.

Between the first and second interviews, check the applicant’s criminal record through a reputable investigative company (expect to spend about $75) or conduct your own criminal background check at the district clerk’s office Downtown. Three computer terminals are available for public use; by following the instructions, you can review the applicant’s Dallas County criminal background, if any.

Once you call the applicant back for a second interview, consider conducting a drug screening test (expect to spend between $50 and $150). I’d also recommend having the applicant complete a psychometric evaluation (pencil and paper test; no more than 100 questions) to help analyze the applicant’s propensity for theft and substance abuse, as well as integrity and work ethics.

Several such evaluations are available (about $15 to $17 each), but make sure you use one validated by an independent agency and consistent with EEOC guidelines.

Most evaluations include another job application; have the applicant fill it out. A second application gives you an opportunity to check for inconsistencies.

Now you can make a hiring decision based upon all of the information provided, not just a “gut feel” about a particular applicant.

All of this seems like an incredible hassle just to screen a job applicant, right? Wrong! Think about the money and time that could have been saved in the past if you had simply avoided hiring some of the employees whom you now know belong to the infamous 30% group.