Guard Against Embezzlement

Advice and resources to combat a growing problem.

At first glance, the two churches don't have much in common. One is a large, historic congregation, in Washington, DC. The other, a smaller, much younger congre gation in a small Virginia town. Big differences, right? That changed in late December, when the former finance director of the DC church was arrested and charged with stealing more than $500,000 from that congregation during a six-year span. And less than a week later, the former bookkeeper of the Virginia church was accused of stealing about $300,000 over five years.

Both suspects used the money for big-ticket purchases—real estate, cars, jewelry, and furniture—according to the charges filed.

Embezzlement is on the rise in churches of all sizes. One major church insurer logged 32 embezzlement-related claims in 2009, up 12.5 percent from its recent annual averages. "Regrettably, financial misconduct tends to be more predominant in economic down times," says David Middlebrook, a Texas-based attorney specializing in church ...

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