Frank Halpin’s calls from clients have changed. His investigation business, the Halpin Group, helps companies safeguard their premises and all of their business assets — computer equipment to inventory to human resources data. "Before September 11," says Halpin, "calls were reactive." In other words, a shipment of diamonds was missing or someone had entered an office building illegally and made off with top secret business plans. "After September," he says, "the calls became proactive."

The tragedy gave businesses a jolt. Now owners and management want to ensure that their buildings, their people, and their business assets are as safe as they can be. Halpin speaks on "Building Security Issues" at a meeting of the New Jersey Chapter of the Building Owners and Managers Association on Wednesday, February 27, at 5:30 p.m. at the Newark Club. Cost $65. Call 201-998-6385.

Halpin sympathizes with post-September 11 angst, yet he says workplace violence by an employee is a far greater threat than a bomb planted by a terrorist. "People are seeing a terrorist under every piece of paper," he says. "You have to be careful — be aware of strange packages — but use common sense. Overreacting is just as bad as under-reacting. Terrorism is all about unnerving you as much as possible with as little effort as possible."

Halpin credits his undergraduate work in psychology (Rutgers, Class of 1984) with this insight — and many others — into the thinking of those who threaten business. "You know the fire triangle?" he asks? "You need oxygen, fuel, and a spark." For business theft or sabotage to take place, there must also be a triangle — motive, opportunity, and rationalization. The motive can be a desire for gambling money, an urgent need to pay a child’s medical bills, or a drug habit. Opportunity is provided by a lack of supervision or follow-up. As for rationalization, Halpin says most people will not commit illegal acts against their employer, even if they need money or have a loathsome boss. Those who will, he says, tend to think along these lines: "`He owes it to me. I work hard, I deserve it.’"

In the early days of his career, Halpin worked for high-end retailers, including Barney’s and J. Crew, rising to the level of senior executive director of loss prevention. He founded his South Plainfield-based company, which now has 28 employees, a little over a decade ago. The Halpin Group’s services include undercover surveillance, due diligence, sting operations, competitive intelligence investigations, travel briefing, and consulting. In 2000, the company added computer forensics. In that sub-speciality, its offerings include threat assessment, security management strategies, and information security briefings.

On its website (www.Halpingroup.com), Halpin has scrolling news headlines. They provide a glimpse into the range of crimes companies — and non-profits, including churches — face. Some of the headlines are "Another 29 indicted in New Jersey for allegedly staging auto accidents," "Employee admits to stealing $2 million," "Ex-employee in Canton arrested in crippling of computer," and "Rock Hill minister found guilty of money laundering and wire fraud."

And what about the Halpin Group itself? Has it ever been the target of crime by an insider? Halpin, a voluble man who travels the world lecturing, is momentarily silent. Finally, he says, "well, no. No one here would try anything. We all know what to look for." Any malfeasance would be detected immediately, Halpin says, the wrongdoer would be caught, and all of his employees know that.

There was no sign that Halpin was knocking on wood as he spoke, and it is his job to enable clients to make similar pronouncements with equal confidence. Here are some steps that he suggests will make such boasts possible.

Hire carefully. The person most likely to create havoc — financial or otherwise — is an employee. No contest. "Think about it," says Halpin. "Who comes in and out of your home?" The answer: People you trust. It’s the same thing with a company. Make sure the people you trust to have access to your premises, equipment, and data on a daily basis are trustworthy. "Employees can kill you faster than anybody," says Halpin. Conduct thorough background checks to weed out those with violent or larcenous backgrounds.

Choose vendors wisely. Vendors’ access is often more limited than that granted to employees, but in some cases it can be greater. "Cleaning crews work when no one is around," says Halpin. And it is not unusual for members of a crew to steal everything from the boss’s gold fountain pen to computer data. "Don’t hire just by price," says Halpin. "Hire by reputation." Choose guard services, cleaning companies, and maintenance providers based upon trusted friends’ recommendations. But don’t stop there.

"I had a situation with a very large company in New Jersey," says Halpin. The company had run background checks on its security guards, but still there were problems. Halpin did more extensive checks and found 14 of the 50 guards were using illegal Social Security numbers. Some of these people had arrest records for felonies, including possession of stolen goods. "And," says Halpin, "they were working in company headquarters."

Supervise carefully. In an English country house murder mystery it often turns out that the butler did it. With corporate crime, it is often the bookkeeper. Without continuous and thorough checks on his work, the bookkeeper is in an excellent position to get away with millions, and often does. "Just yesterday," says Halpin, "I had a guy call. For five to seven years his bookkeeper had been writing checks to himself." The bookkeeper had made off with $800,000 before being detected.

Sometimes a bookkeeper will write checks to himself, using fake vendors as a front. Another ploy is to create an account at a bank other than the one his employer uses. The account is in the name of a fictitious company with a name that differs only slightly from the name of his own company. "Maybe Halpin Associates, rather than the Halpin Group," Halpin gives as an example. Then the bookkeeper diverts incoming checks to that account, generally raising no suspicion at the bank, which assumes the person writing the check just got the company name slightly wrong.

Limit access. Many employees do not need full run of the company premises. In a warehouse, for example, Halpin says a shipping clerk should never be in the receiving area. For an easy check, he suggests taking clerks’ ID badge pictures against a red background, and receiving clerks’ photos against a green wall (or vice versa, of course). Supervisors, who typically have access to both areas, might have a yellow background.

Do keep an eye on those suspicious packages. "Before September 11, I used to say `if I have to sit through one more bomb video, I’ll blow myself up,’" says Halpin, adding, "I don’t say that anymore." Securing premises from dangerous outsiders has moved closer to the forefront, and prudent companies — and their landlords — need to have plans in place for doing so.

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