Have you been given a company credit card? Be careful! That shiny piece of plastic, with its huge credit limit and bills that someone else pays, can be pretty tempting to even the most ethical of employees. You might think no one will notice or that you deserve a personal purchase because of your hard work, but keep in mind, if you break your company’s credit card policy, you will likely be fired. Then you can say goodbye to that pretty card, your paycheck, and a positive reference. If you have any doubt about what you should be charging, check with your finance department and read these seven things you should always avoid putting on your corporate card.
- Your kid’s education:
According to the rumors on the Internet, a woman named Betsy Collins worked in a home improvement company as an executive assistant and received a corporate card. When she found out she could charge up to $100,000, the wheels in her head started turning. She started using the card to make PayPal payments to herself, which she later said she was using to put into her kid’s college fund. Though there don’t seem to be any news stories corroborating this story, it’s still safe to say you should not charge your child’s college education onto your company’s card. Someone will eventually notice.
- Anything sexual:
There are probably plenty of people out there who get away with small purchases with their company cards because the charges blend in with the authorized purchases. It’s not right, but it happens. But who are the people who think that a trip to a sex shop is going to go unnoticed? Well, one was an anti-terror officer in the U.K. who bought sex toys with his police force credit card (and also a family trip to Euro Disney). And he’s not alone. A woman who worked at Oklahoma State University was also accused of using her university card to buy sex toys. Illegal and embarrassing.
- A new TV:
After a hard day of work, you might think that your company owes it to you to make sure you can kick back and relax, but buying a TV for yourself with the company card will never fly. Just ask Adrienne Martin. Using the Texas A&M Oceanography Department credit card, Martin bought herself a new 46-inch LED TV. She also purchased computers, home appliances, and paid to get her hair done. For someone working at a college, she wasn’t too smart with her credit card use.
- Your daily coffee:
If you have a Starbucks addiction, you know how expensive it can be. It’s best not to put that financial burden on your company, or you could be fired and find yourself applying at Starbucks. The occasional coffee on a business trip can probably be excused depending on your company’s policy, but daily personal charges for your $5 grande mocha coconut frappuccino with soy will be frowned upon, and is possibly a firable offense. One man racked up almost $8,000 by buying himself coffee, food, and other personal items over a few years. While he took the theft to a different level by also taking $28,000 for seminars he didn’t attend, it’s smart to avoid the problem altogether and buy your own fancy coffee.
You definitely want to look your best at your job, particularly if you work with clients or donors, so some companies provide employees with a stipend for professional clothing. If your employer doesn’t provide this, though, it doesn’t mean you are justified in using the company card to fill your closet. Sue Sachdeva, who worked high up in the electronics retailer company Koss, didn’t see things that way. She allegedly embezzled more than $31 million, including more than $200,000 for diamonds and $1.4 million in a single shopping trip to a famous Wisconsin boutique. Do you think she bought an extra house with the company card just to accommodate all her purchases?
- A car:
You would think that the chief financial officer at a major company like Tommy Hilfiger would know the policies on the company card. But Martin Bodner got a little carried away between 2000 and 2007, when he stole more than $19 million. Besides dozens of other illegal actions, Bodner bought a luxury car with company funds (reportedly a Jaguar, maybe two) along with apartments and decorating services. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
- Extra gas:
Gas purchases can be a tricky area for many companies because gas for work travel may be allowed, and it becomes hard to police which receipts are legitimate claims. This also tempts their less-than-moral employees to sneak some gallons into their tanks for personal use. Hey, gas is expensive! If you find yourself reaching for the corporate card at the pump, just stop yourself. If you really feel like you can’t afford your own gas, it’s time to talk to your boss about a raise — not time to fool them and hope you don’t get fired.