Protect Yourself and Your Business
From Identity Theft

by Paul Davis

Identity theft is a growing problem for small businesses and individuals alike. Here are some tips from the Better Business Bureau and the FBI on preventing identity theft.

Paul Davis On Crime & Security

As last week was the third annual National Protect Your Identity Week, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) encouraged consumers and business owners to guard against identity theft.

According to the BBB, there were 11 million reported victims of identity theft last year. The BBB notes that the most common methods of identity theft in 2009 were lost or stolen wallets, pilfered mail or documents found in the trash. The stolen information can result in check fraud, credit card fraud, financial identity theft, criminal identity theft, governmental identity theft or medical identity theft.

"Small businesses aren't quite in step with their larger industry counterparts in addressing data security," Steve Cole, the president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus said in 2006. "They often believe they're better protected than they really are, because they don't have in-house experts to advise them on what else they should be doing beyond locking up their storefronts. It's for them to know where and how to access support. This makes us all vulnerable, as small businesses are a strong part of our economy. Business owners of all sizes need to be vigilant in protecting their customers, their employees and themselves."

The BBB offered the following tips for preventing identity theft:

Shred Your Documents -- Shredding hard copies of documents that have details of your personal, confidential or legal information is the best way to destroy the chances for anyone to copy or steal it.

Don't Carry Your Social Security Card -- Leave it at home in a safe deposit box until you need it. Your Social Security card alone can give ID thieves the opportunity to open loans, credit cards and accounts in your name.

Photocopy Your Account Cards -- Often if you lose your wallet or purse, you may not remember the numbers on your credit card, debit card or bank account. Keep a duplicate in case something happens and you need to know the identification numbers to freeze or close accounts.



Never Give Personal Info to Solicitors -- Unless you are the one initiating the conversation, you should not give your Social Security Number, driver's license number, bank account information, etc. over the phone or internet to someone you don't know.

Avoid Clicking on Suspicious Links -- Unsolicited e-mails and pop-up ads can be full of computer viruses designed to steal usernames and passwords from your computer. Don't give in to curiosity, just close or delete the message.

The FBI states that identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States and offers some basic preventive steps:

DO:

  • Order a copy of your credit report each year from one of the national credit bureaus and review it closely for any questionable entries;
  • Shred or cut up all credit card receipts and old bank statements and bills before throwing them away;
  • Close all unused credit card or bank accounts;
  • Remove your name from mailing lists for pre-approved credit lines and telemarketers;
  • Keep your PIN number hidden when you use an ATM or public telephone;
  • Contact your creditor or service provider if you notice odd charges or if expected bills don't arrive;    
  • Update your computer virus software, use a secure browser, and install a firewall program.

DON'T

  • Give out personal information via the phone, mail, or Internet unless YOU initiated contact;
  • Carry information like your Social Security Number (SSN) or any PIN numbers or passwords in your purse or wallet;
  • Put your SSN on your checks or any other identifiers.
  • If your identity has been stolen, the FBI urges you to take immediate action:
  • Place a fraud alert on your credit file by notifying one of the national credit bureaus;
  • Contact all creditors and financial institutions that an identity thief may have used to conduct transactions in your name and close all tampered accounts;
  • Contact your local police department, as well as your local FBI field office, and file a report.

File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), as the FBI and other law enforcement agencies use these complaints in their investigations. Online identity thefts may also be reported to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

National Protect Your Identity Week may have ended, but small business owners should take steps to prevent identity theft each and every week. 

About the author: 
Paul Davis is a writer who covers crime & security for newspapers, magazines and the Internet. He can be reached at pauldavisoncrime@aol.com

Paul Davis on Crime & Security

 
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