Take the case of the computer bandit. It serves to highlight the extent and complexity of crimes against business today.

One small savings and loan had programmed its computer to round off interest payments to account holders to the nearest cent.

An enterprising employee with a knowledge of computers added a command: route the fraction of each penny rounded off into his personal account.

In four years, he picked up $17,000.

Theft and other crimes cost American businesses more than $30 billion last year - up 11 per cent from the year before - according to a Commerce Department study released yesterday.

Employee theft was the main crime reported by service industries, like banking and transportation, while more complex businesses generally were plagued by sophisticated swindles.

"Thefts committed by employees are behind at least 60 per cent of crime-related losses," the report said. "So many employees are stealing so much that employee theft is the most critical crime problem facing business today."

The Commerce Department accused management of not being "significantly agrressive" in its battle to reduce crime, instead of just passing costs along to the consumer.

"Management has responsibilities not only to recognize crime as an uncecessarily high expense, but also to recognize steps it can take to reduce this high expense and to take the initiative in implementing cost-cutting policies," the study says.

The report also states that the absence of comprehensive data on the cost of crimes against business leads to a conclusion that the problem is considerably larger than the reported $30 billion in losses.

The report cited several case studies of business crimes, in some cases discussing how the crimes could be prevented in the future.

In one case, the study showed how a school system, with the help of federal grant money, designed a security system that cut losses due to vandalism, theft and burglary from $250,000 1971 to $19,000 in 1975.

In the financial services industry, crimes cited ranged from a bank teller who walked out of his bank with $168,000 in a brown paper bag - telling the security guard that the bag contained his pet rabbit - to intricate internal fraud schemes involving computer transactions.

Another threat to business, especially small business, is bad checks. "The estimated total cost of bad checks exceeds $1.3 billion (a year)," the report claims. Losses to small business due to bad checks are 35 times the losses to large businesses.

The next loss from bank fraud and embezzlement rose 14 per cent in 1976 to $175.8 million. And with 110,000 computers now used by American business, the growth in computer crime in all sectors has been rapid.

"It is estimated that the loss resulting from an average computer-assisted embezzlement is ten times higher than the average $100,000 lost from traditional embezzlement," the report said. In one case, the report cited a computer embezzlement that netted the crooks $5 million.

The report called on business to set up adequate screening processes [WORD ILLEGIBLE] weed out potential employee-thie [WORD ILLEGIBLE]. It also recommends that management familiarize itself with the company computer system in an attempt [WORD ILLEGIBLE] head off abuse by employees.