By: John Hintze ~ Vice President - Commerical Banking
Identity theft is a crime that has taken the nation by storm, and has recently moved beyond the average consumer to larger targets, like small businesses. The theft of a company’s identity can be financially crippling to business owners. Criminals are stealing a company’s name and information to extract cash, data, or to open new credit as the business, often racking up thousands of dollars on merchandise that can be sold for cash. The frequency and magnitude of these crimes are growing, as thieves often use a “cyber environment” to obtain company information.
Clean up from this type of devastation is slow-going and messy. In some circumstances, victims never fully recover what’s been lost, but there are precautions that can be taken to help mitigate the threat of a stolen identity. Follow these simple steps to protect your business and its financial integrity.
- Protect company documents and sensitive information – Make sure you have secure storage options for your company records. Do not share sensitive information like bank statements, financials, or your company’s Federal Tax ID number with anyone, unless you’ve initiated contact with them.
- Shred sensitive documents – This correlates closely to step one… when you no longer have a use for certain documents, be sure that they are properly destroyed so they don’t make their way into the wrong hands. Dumpster diving is an easy and prevalent method for criminals to obtain company information. A micro cut shredder helps to ensure the highest level of security.
- Protect online company information – Since most identity theft happens via the internet, it is important to have substantial firewalls in place, as well as email and internet policies to ensure security. Passwords should be updated regularly and should only be given to select employees. Phishing and social engineering scams are common techniques used by fraudsters via email or phone to target decision makers within your company, compromising their computer systems.
- Avoid having a “Master User” – Even if your business is very small, it can be a dangerous practice to have one “master” username and password for email or other online systems or accounts. This may provide employees more access than necessary, and doesn’t allow for customized security clearances to be set on an individual basis.
- Know who has access to company information – Whether dealing with employees or vendors, it’s a good idea to use safeguarding verification methods like background checks or reviews/referrals from people you trust. Be cautious of who has access to your company and/or personal information like SSN’s, EIN’s, passwords, and personal or company financial information. Monitor and limit your staff’s access, as identity theft can be the result of an untrustworthy or disgruntled employee. It also may be beneficial to use prepaid debit or credit cards for employees as opposed to a traditional credit card to allow for easy tracking and lessened risk of unauthorized spending.
- Review accounts and credit reports on a regular basis – Closely and regularly monitor business accounts for any unusual charges or changes. Also, by keeping an eye on your business credit reports with each of the three credit bureaus, you could detect and possibly prevent identity theft. Credit monitoring services will give you 24/7 access to your records and can alert you of any new activity.
- Stay Educated and Have a Plan – Unfortunately, identity theft tactics are constantly evolving and becoming more sophisticated. It is extremely important to stay informed as to where the threats lie and how your company might be vulnerable. Regular training for you and your employees can help keep everyone aware and alert as to warning signs to watch out for. A protection plan should be developed to outline the steps you will take to ensure security. You should also develop a recovery action plan in the case that you do fall victim to identity theft.
These and other preventative measures can make you and your business a very tough target for identity thieves, if a target at all. You have worked very hard to build your business, so be diligent in protecting its integrity and identity.
If you believe you have been a victim of identity theft, be sure to report it not only to law enforcement, but also contact the credit bureaus, your bank and your credit card providers.