Business owners who do not take protection measures to secure their information files place their employees, their customers and the success of their business at risk. They all but welcome a silent, yet very successful intruder: the identity thief. Identity theft may not be a violent crime, but its victims suffer, nonetheless.
According to the Better Business Bureau, businesses, as well as consumers, are hard-hit by the impact of this white collar crime.
- The total in losses exceeds $50 billion each year. Businesses are impacted each time an identity thief misuses an existing account or opens a new account in the name of an unsuspecting victim to purchase products or services, rent apartments and homes, obtain medical care, seek employment, obtain fake government documents or commit other frauds.
- Productivity and morale can be affected if the identity safety of employees is compromised as the victims attempt to correct their credit records.
- Businesses may unwittingly hire criminals who apply for jobs, using the names, credit and work histories of reputable workers.
- Long-standing customers may end up resenting businesses that hound them for overdue payments for products or services made by identity thieves who stole their personal information to establish accounts in their name.
- The reputation of a business can suffer if a customer or employee determines it to be at fault for providing ready access for thieves to steal their personal financial information. A recent telephone survey of identity fraud victims found that, of those who knew how their identity safety had been compromised, eight percent cited corrupt employees with access to their personal information.
The BBB cautioned that while identity theft crime has been associated with the growth of networked computers and high speed, "always on" Internet access, it cannot be blamed on technology alone. Plenty of identity thieves steal victim's names, account numbers, Social Security numbers and other vital information the old-fashioned way: by digging through dumpsters, wandering uninvited through offices to scour for unattended purses or rummaging through outgoing mail.
One of the best self-defense measures businesses can implement is to shred information before discarding it. Even the smallest business can afford an inexpensive paper shredder, and staff members should be instructed to use a shredder to destroy unneeded customer or employee records. In fact, as of this summer, shredding will be required with the disposal of certain consumer report information and records. The Federal Trade Commission finalized a provision of The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 that will impact businesses of all sizes.
The rule requires the destruction of all papers or electronic records containing consumer information (defined as any record that is a consumer report or derived from a consumer report, as defined in the Fair Credit Reporting Act) so that the information cannot practicably be read or reconstructed. In layman’s terms this means “burning, pulverizing or shredding” paper documents and “destroying or erasing” electronic media.
Additional information about the new rule can be found on the Federal Trade Commission’s Web site at www.ftc.gov. Additional steps businesses can take to protect personal information are available from the BBB Identity Theft Web site at www.bbb.org/idtheft.