Identity theft is not a new phenomenon — just ask the estimated 15 million Americans who are victimized by it each year. What is new is business identity theft, a growing threat that the Better Business Bureau, FBI, state governments and independent organizations are now publicizing in the hopes of protecting the business community.
Business identity theft is a criminal scheme that involves hijacking a business’s identity and using it to establish lines of credit with banks or retailers. Those lines of credit are then used to purchase commercial electronics, gift cards and other items that can be exchanged for cash or easily sold. This relatively new development is also called corporate or commercial identity theft.
Obviously, the potential damage to the victim’s business from identity theft is serious. A credit history that has been dinged by an identity theft can lead to denial of credit, which many businesses rely on to meet their operational expenses. And cleaning up after an episode of identity theft takes time and money, creating an added drain on the business, its owners and employees.
While there are no totally fool-proof ways to prevent business identity theft, there are certain steps that can be taken to thwart the criminals who perpetrate it:
- Have a plan in place. Just as a business plan is critical for success, a security strategy is also crucial to protecting that success. For example, businesses that accept credit cards should make it a priority to achieve and maintain PCI compliance. This is a goal that all reputable merchant services providers share and support.
- Protect business records and information. Although we may think of identity theft as a high-tech crime, information is often stolen through more mundane activities like intercepting mail, rummaging through wastebaskets and dumpsters or outright theft of paper and computer files. Keep only records that are required to run your business, and store them in a secure location. Sign up for electronic statements for bills, bank and credit card accounts where possible. For your own protection and that of your customers, never store cardholder account information.
- Keep business and financial information private. Do not reveal your employer identification number (EIN), Social Security number or any financial or personal information to an outside party unless you have initiated contact and confirmed their identity.
- Guard your finances. Report lost or stolen credit or debit cards immediately and cancel the account. Keep track of checks that haven’t been cashed and cancel them if they’re not processed in a timely manner.
- Monitor and protect your credit report. Check all bills and statements; if anything appears abnormal or is missing, contact the billing company. Sign up for email alerts for all accounts, and consider using a credit monitoring service. If you move, retire or dissolve your business, inform the credit reporting bureaus of the change and notify them that you will no longer be applying for credit in that name.
- Protect your brand. Where possible, register your business with the state where it’s based and maintain your registration by renewing when scheduled. Google your trade name or company name periodically to see what’s out there, or sign up for email notifications.
TransFirst® stands ready to work with its merchants to help keep them and their customers safe from credit card fraud. Talk to a representative today about the effective options available to you.