Half of what?
The sesquipedalian accounting company PwC has a new business fraud report, claiming that half of all NZ businesses have been victims. This is from a survey with 93 Kiwi respondents, including some businesses with even fewer than 200 employees.
The obvious problem is that large businesses have many more employees and are much more likely to have at least one case of fraud. Small businesses, of which there are many, are vastly under-represented. A more dramatic example from a few months back was the claim by the US National Retail Federation that 10% of companies it polled had been victims of a ‘flash mob’ attack. That’s not 10% of stores, that’s 10% of a sample of 106 companies including BP, Sears, and North Face.
The claim that fraud is on the rise could still be supported by the data, as long as the same methodology was used now as in the past, but the reported change from 42% to 49.5% would be well within the margin of error if the 2009 survey was the same size as the new one.
PwC’s Alex Tan explains the rise as “We’re a relatively low-wage economy but we like high-wage living.” This certainly isn’t a result of the poll — they didn’t poll the perpetrators to ask why they did it — and it sounds rather like the classic fallacy of explaining a variable by a constant. New Zealand is a relatively low wage country, but we were a relatively low wage country in 2009 as well, and even before that. Baches are expensive now, but they were expensive in 2009, and even before that. If low wages and expensive tastes are overcoming Kiwis’ moral fibre this year, how did they resist two years ago?
Thomas Lumley (@tslumley) is Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Auckland. His research interests include semiparametric models, survey sampling, statistical computing, foundations of statistics, and whatever methodological problems his medical collaborators come up with. See all posts by Thomas Lumley »