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Making Sure Crime Doesn’t Pay: It Takes all Sorts

Like many Budapest residents, on the eve of the March 15 holiday, I was shopping for last-minute provisions. I also had to pay some bills, but I didnʼt know where the post office was in the Kőbánya-Kispest mall.

Outside the Tesco store stood a security guard. “Excuse me, where’s the post office please?” I asked, in the vernacular. The guy stared back at me, coldly, and replied, in robot-like montone: “I’m waiting for a robber.”

Frankly, I thought he was just being difficult. Whatever, I wandered on to find someone more helpful. Only then, a few meters away, did I spot another guard, who, like the first, was standing behind a pillar.

So, I moved aside to watch. Sure enough, a minute later, the security men approached a couple, around 30-ish, leaving the self check-out area. Within seconds, the man – a tall fellow – was protesting loudly, before “doing a runner” up the mall, pursued by at least one guard and two policemen, who appeared as if by magic.

The woman, meanwhile, was (firmly, if gently) frog-marched, struggling, back into the store.

By a remarkable coincidence, I was planning this column on the economic crime report recently published by PwC (and reproduced in part by Budapest Business Journal), which talks at length on the threat of fraud and cybercrime.

Interesting Trends

But this study - it’s on the PwC website – also reveals some interesting trends apparently specific to Hungary.

First, as it states on page 5: “More than a half of Hungarian organizations have experienced economic crime in the past 24 months…. a 100% increase compared to our last survey.” Wow! This is surely not a statistical error. Previous surveys were all around the 25-28% mark. Interestingly, incidents of crime have jumped in the past two years – both in Central Europe and globally - but Hungary out-jumped the lot.

Have Magyar companies gotten better at detecting fraud, or has crime gone up?

Then there is the table (page 8) showing 31% of Hungarian respondents reported the cost of crimes to be in the range of USD 100,000-USD 1,000,000.

This is far higher than the global figure (19%) – indeed significantly higher than the regional average (at 21%). So, what makes Hungarian companies vulnerable to this level of loss – when CE peers are near the global level?

These are just two points which the report does not really explain. (To be fair, PwC burnt the midnight oil to respond to my questions – but these have to now wait for space reasons.)

I doubt Tesco needs to be reminded that “Economic Crime is a persistent Threat”, and it’s clear PwC themselves don’t do all this work (71 firms surveyed in Hungary, 7,200 worldwide) merely to help catch shoplifters – that’s not the kind of crime that pays a “Big Four” professional services firm’s advice.

But, despite the PwC’s stress on “fraud” and “cyber crime”, as the report states, the largest single class of economic crime – at 42% – was “asset misappropriation”. In case you don’t know, that is consultant-speak for “stolen”. It seems the simple Tesco security guard has no need to fear for his job just yet.