West Midlands firms have been warned to be on their guard against corporate fraud over the Christmas break.
Jonathan Middup, head of Ernst & Young's regional fraud investigations team, said: "For some, Christmas is a time for defrauding, as financial pressures brought about by seasonal spending add to those already created by record levels of personal debt.
"Add to this dwindling pension prospects - likely to add the money worries of senior employees - and the season of goodwill could turn sour for many businesses.
"Unfortunately, these factors provide an incentive for unscrupulous employees to supplement their income with cash diverted from their employers. Organisations need to be especially vigilant and examine all the factors which might influence a prospective fraudster."
Mr Middup pointed out that Christmas is also a good time for fraudsters to be caught: "Holidays around Christmas are an ideal time to detect their activities as others covering their role are more likely to find discrepancies," he said.
There are a number of warning signs which should act as alerts to organisations, according to Mr Middup.
"Directors should watch for apparent errors which employees explain away but which may actually be part of a fraud pattern," he said.
"They should also look very carefully if there is a deteriorating cash position despite profitable trading, or if individual employees seem to be particularly secretive about emails or phone conversations.
"Often, fraudsters can be long serving, trusted employees, who work very long hours and are reluctant to take their annual leave."
As the end of the financial and calendar year approaches, companies exert pressure on their senior personnel to achieve the best possible endof-year results.
"Generally we see a rise in fraudulent activity as some seek to inflate profits, sometimes for financial gain but often just to avoid criticism," said Mr Middup.
"Businesses that operate over a wide geographical area are at a higher risk of results manipulation than those that have one location as there is often less control exercised.
"Where there is a substantial profit-related bonus in directors' and managers' pay packets, the approach to the year-end can heighten the temptation to manipulate figures."
Most well-managed businesses recognise the importance of controls, but Mr Middup argues this is not enough.
"Directors should assess the risks in the light of all the circumstances. The culture of the organisation is vital; they should have clear policies about what constitutes unacceptable behaviour and about the action they will take against fraudsters," he said.