Why church fraud happens more often than you think

| February 19, 2012

MOORHEAD – As pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Wahpeton, N.D., the Rev. Alan R. Werth said he stayed far away from the congregation’s money. He didn’t want to be accused of mishandling funds.

So when Werth found out in 2001 that the church’s secretary just down the hall stole more than $160,000 over three years or more by writing checks to herself, he felt shocked and devastated.

The secretary, Melisa Lunsetter, had confessed “out of the blue” when new church procedures were to reveal the theft, Werth said.

“Everybody felt a sense of betrayal. We all considered the person a friend, and to have this happen to us was very difficult,” said Werth, who retired in 2010 after nearly 13 years with the congregation. “A trust had been broken, and it’s very difficult to repair that.”

Religious organizations can be particularly vulnerable to financial fraud, experts say. Their culture of trust, volunteer leadership and often a lack of training in financial management can create opportunities for theft and embezzlement if good internal controls are not in place.

And it may happen more than people suspect.



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Category: Church Security

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