No more stuffing suitcases with cash and hauling them out the door. No messy paperwork trails for snoopers to follow.

At least, that's not where the real action is these days. The computer has simplified even the thief's job. Employees can now embezzle with one finger, shifting numbers around, quietly fiddling with inventory records or the like. "If somebody is going to fraudulently transfer money, it's much easier to do the job electronically, with wire transfers," says Joseph Wells, a certified public accountant and fraud investigator in Austin.

Take, for instance, the case of one retail operation in which an executive teamed up with a shipper. As the shipper whisked television sets out the door, the executive wiped out numbers on inventory records. Then there was the high-tech placement firm in which an executive was copying lists of its best candidates and selling the disks to a competitor.

Such crimes are adding up. Whatever employee theft is costing companies, most observers agree that the number is heading northward. "It seems like everybody's got a story about theft," says Stephen Nelson, a Seattle accountant.