The Pennsylvania Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) with help from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) are reminding business owners of processes and procedures to ensure their companies are protected from identify theft and fraud.
According to the National Consumers League, reported losses from one type of mail fraud alone – fraudulent schemes – quadrupled in the last three years, and each victim of this type of scam loses an average of $4,000. The best way for consumers and businesses to protect themselves is to learn how to avoid fraudulent schemes.
Identity theft can include malicious misuse of credit card information or internet fraud. Crimes related to identity theft are reported to cost its victims about $5 billion annually; however, according to the FTC, most victims do not report the crime to authorities.
Tips on how to protect your business from these schemes include:
Develop a protection plan – While most businesses focus on developing business plans to grow their company, little attention is paid to developing a protection plan. Design a step-by-step plan to protect your company’s identity at the same time putting in place an action plan in the event that you do become a victim.
Protect company documents – Keep all your company documents and records in a safe and secure location. Dispose of any unnecessary information by using a micro cut shredder for the highest level of security. Also, never provide your company’s federal tax identification number, financials, or bank statements to anyone unless you have made the initial contact. Finally, consider using a prepaid business credit card for employees as opposed to a traditional business credit card. With these cards you can set limits, deactivate a card in real time, and even limit the merchants for which the card can be used. If a criminal happens to steal a company card from an employee, you can quickly take action.
Protect company information online – One of the surefire ways to put your company at risk is by using sensitive information such as an employer identification number (EIN), account numbers, financial documents, or personal information via email or the web. If you must provide this information for a specific reason such as applying for credit, make sure the site is secure and its security certificate is up to date.
Monitor business credit reports – One of the fastest ways to detect a possible identity theft is to monitor your company’s profiles with all three major business credit bureaus. You can accomplish this by subscribing to their monitoring services which give you access to your files 24/7. Take advantage of email alert notifications so you can be notified of any new activity occurring on your company credit files in real time.
Avoid the “master” user – You should avoid creating any type of “master” user account and password where an employee or individual can gain access to all your company information.
If you’re a victim of identity theft and the mail is involved, call the Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455 and local police, or report identity theft online at postalinspectors.uspis.gov/forms/IDTheft.aspx.
As part of its ongoing Business Continuity and Survival Services, the Pennsylvania SBDC maintains expert business consultants, experienced in preparing small business for unforeseen interruptions and responding to business needs associated with emergency situations such as identity theft and fraud, as well as more routine business interruptions. Business owners are encouraged to contact their local SBDC while preparing their business for potential hazards and to discuss preparing a business continuity plan.