Jeremy Clopton, CFE, CPA, ACDA
Senior Managing Consultant, Forensic and Valuation Services
Uber, the popular travel service, is making headlines for a number of things these days — cities that won’t embrace their services, contract worker and employee disputes, challenges getting service to airports, etc. In my opinion, they should be making headlines in the world of fraud prevention as well.
Anyone who has traveled by taxi knows how the "receipt" system works. You ask for one and are handed a stack of blank receipts to fill out however you choose. Company policy requires a receipt, so your diligent employee completes one of the blank receipts and turns it in. This likely isn’t exactly the supporting documentation that was imagined when the policy was first created.
This is where Uber comes in. I used the service for the first time this past month and was impressed with the amount of detail my receipt contained. It included:
- Time of pickup
- Miles traveled
- Route traveled
- Driver information
I happened to be speaking at a conference on the topic of fraud prevention and quickly realized the value of this receipt. This is the documentation a company policy is trying to obtain. Rather than determining if the taxi fare was really $80, and if that was for the ride to the hotel or to an offsite casino, there would be few questions. I would be able to review:
- Fare amount
- Date of travel
- Starting and ending locations compared to expected travel plans
In addition to providing better documentation to combat fraud, waste and abuse in travel expenses, this example also demonstrates the power of data. All of the documentation is made possible by the data captured in the Uber app, from a variety of data sources. Pulling all of the data together in a single location provides very useful information in the form of an Uber receipt.
It’s easy to see the value of the data Uber is capturing behind the scenes. Hopefully, at some point in the future, that data can be available to corporate users of the service to help automate some of the testing around these expenses. This data, combined with data regarding hotel and airport locations, would allow organizations to electronically cross-reference known travel plans to actual trips taken with Uber. Organizations would be able to quickly identify exceptions to travel plans and investigate reasons for the deviation. With traditional taxi receipts, the closest you can get is using a fare estimator online and checking for reasonableness — all a manual process. Applying analytics to travel data would not only increase effectiveness, but also efficiency.