Questions to ask yourself – Part 3 – Travel Reimbursements
by Tina Maier, CPA, CFE, CIG, Associate Director University Audit
This issue (Part 3) is the last in the “Questions to ask yourself” series. For those just now checking into the series, Part 1 focused on questions to ask yourself for approving vendor invoices and Part 2 outlined questions to ask yourself before approving procurement card (Pcard) purchases. Please feel free to pass along any suggestions for future topics or areas of interest you think might be helpful or is needed. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Now that the university is returning to more normal operations, so will work related travel requiring the need to complete those sometimes-cumbersome employee travel reimbursements. The number one thing for everyone to be aware of and to follow is that the employee’s supervisor is required to approve the employee’s travel prior to travel. The supervisor’s prior approval should also be documented in writing.
Many departments have their own internal process for approving and documenting employee travel. Some use an internal form, while others simply use an email from the supervisor. Warning – a travel requisition prepared and approved by administrative staff does not suffice as supervisory approval. In our office, we attach the supervisor’s approval email to the travel requestion prepared in PeopleSoft.
Employee travel reimbursements have always had and continue to have a higher risk for fraud. As mentioned in Part 2 with Pcard receipts, it is easy to generate fake and or alter receipts in this electronic world. Fraudsters will also submit real receipts that may have been discarded by others. Another trick used by fraudsters is to stay with family/friends and then submit a hotel reservation confirmation as an expense receipt. The goal of a travel reimbursement fraud is to be reimbursed for expenses that were not actually incurred.
The Travel department does a good job of keeping our travel reimbursements in line, but supervisors should not rely solely on the Travel department to ferret out fraudulent travel reimbursements. To help prevent fraud on your watch, please take a few moments to ask yourself these questions before approving an employee’s travel reimbursement:
- What is the business purpose of the travel? Is it reasonable for the person traveling and or does the travel align with the employees assigned job duties?
- Are original receipts or other support documentation attached/submitted for every item claimed?
- Does the type of expense make sense given the type of travel? Did the travel produce desired results and expectations?
- Does the receipt show the name, address, and phone number of the vendor?
- Did the travel dates coincide with local holidays and special events (Super Bowl, NASCAR, sports playoffs, bowl games, etc.)?
- Is per diem being abused (compare with dates and times of travel)?
- Is there an unusual volume of ‘cash paid’ transactions normally charged to credit cards?
- Are handwritten receipts appropriate and reasonable (taxis, minor meals, supplies)?
- Is this a duplicate expense? Consider expenses claimed on prior expense reports and direct bill items such as conferences.
- Will and or did the employee receive reimbursement from a third party? For example, an employee may receive complimentary hotel for presenting at a conference.
- Spot check charges that fall below the threshold where receipts are required.
- Were preferred travel partners utilized, and if not, why not?