Identity theft has become one of the fastest growing crimes in America. Anyone can be affected, but business owners are frequently targeted. In fact, small business owners are one and a half times more likely to be the victims of identity fraud than the general population.
The traditional sources of personal information that’s used to compromise your financial accounts or make charges in your name have largely been replaced by fraudulent online activity. It’s still important to protect or destroy your physical documents and credit cards, but your online accounts have become a more common target.
Identity thieves are most interested in the personal information that would enable them pass as you. This includes Social Security numbers, date of birth, mother's maiden name and your existing account numbers at your financial institutions.
As a business owner, it’s important to take active steps to protect your personal and company information against unauthorized access and misuse.
For instance, it’s helpful to install encryption software on company computers to reduce the risk of company data from being compromised. Similarly, it’s important to restrict access to financial information and cloud accounts to workers who need that access to perform their job duties.
Adding two-factor authentication to your cloud accounts is another important step. This means a code is sent to your phone as you log in, which reduces the risk of your account being accessed by someone with your password. Because it’s unlikely that an unauthorized user would have your password and your device, two-factor authentication adds important protections.
Another important step is protecting your laptop and mobile devices while you’re conducting company business over public Wi-Fi networks. Using VPN software makes your connection private, preventing hackers from intercepting data as it flows back and forth from your device.
Physical Cards and Copies
The growing instances of online identity thefts doesn’t mean you can be careless with your physical documents and payment cards. Identity thieves will try to get personal information in many ways:
- Stealing wallets or purses with everything in them.
- Taking mail from your mailbox, especially bank statements and credit card statements.
- Diverting your mail by using a change of address form at the Post Office.
- Searching through your trash for tossed copies of statements.
- Posing as a representative of your financial institution on the phone and asking about your account.
To keep your information private, here are some of the steps to consider:
- Carry as few credit cards as possible and periodically check to make sure you still have them.
- Avoid carrying your Social Security card and passport unless it is needed.
- Never have your Social Security number on your checks.
- Shred all important papers that contain financial information before disposing of them.
- Dispose of credit card and ATM receipts properly.
- Sign new credit cards when you receive them.
- Guard your PIN (personal identification number) carefully.
- Make your PIN and passwords hard for someone else to guess. Don't use your birth date, phone number or last four digits of your Social Security number.
- Keep a list of credit card and financial account numbers with phone numbers in a safe place.
- Guard against mail theft by mailing payment envelopes from a collection box instead of raising the flag on your home mailbox.
- Never give personal information over the phone unless you made the call or you know whom you are speaking with.
- Review your financial and credit card statements carefully for unknown transactions. If you see one, call the institution immediately.
- Periodically, order credit reports from the three major credit bureaus. You may have to pay for them, but unauthorized accounts would probably show up.
While there are no guarantees that these steps will prevent credit identity thieves from attacking you, the harder you make it for them to steal your identity, the less likely you are to become an identity theft victim. Be sure to protect your business from identity theft as well.