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Don't Let an Identity Thief Turn Your World Upside Down

July 18, 2016  - Tips for Small Business
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If you know anyone who has been exposed to identity theft, you know how it can turn their world upside down. We rely so much on our identities to conduct business, make payments, apply for a job and a whole host of other every day activities. We cannot operate when our personal identity has been stolen.

Unfortunately, the number of identity theft cases is only growing. According to Javelin Strategy & Research, $15 billion was stolen from 13.1 million U.S. consumers in 2015. This number alone is staggering, and the underlying time, energy and trouble people and businesses go through to deal with reestablishing identity and writing off bad debt associated with identity theft is virtually immeasurable. And, did you know that Florida residents have the most to worry about, with 186 identify theft complains per 100,000 in population?

There are three general types of incidents associated with ID theft according to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS):
  • unauthorized use or attempted use of an existing account
  • unauthorized use or attempted use of personal information to open a new account
  • misuse of personal information for a fraudulent purpose
All three cause significant problems, but there are precautions you can take to protect yourself or your business.

New technology is having an impact on how criminals can steal identities.
Criminals have moved beyond stealing credit card numbers and receipts. In today's digital world they focus efforts towards cybercrime. This began with hacking into personal computers or large corporations for customers' information, or data breaches, which gave them access to financial information and credit card data. Many big corporate names have been hit by these breaches and in 2015 the number of consumer records breached doubled to 169 million.

More recently, phishing attacks have been on the rise. Phishing is a more direct approach and the personalization or sense of familiarity it attempts tricks people into unwittingly handing over their personal information such as username, password, or credit card info via bogus emails, pop-up ads, or fake websites. The Retail/Service sector remained the most-targeted industry, with nearly 43% of attacks, followed by Financial Services. Latest numbers released by the Anti-Phishing Working Group indicate the number of phishing sites in March 2016 rose by 250% over the prior 6 month period.

What steps can you take to protect your personal identity and safe-guard your business?
We've seen our fair share of small businesses impacted by credit issues as a result of identity theft. There are certain best practices you should instill in your personal and business life for protection.
  • Never disclose personal information in response to an email. Legitimate businesses would never ask you to do this. Always know who you are sharing information with online. If an email or pop-up ad asks you to confirm personal information, even if it looks genuine, it is an example of phishing and should be reported to reportphishing@antiphishing.org, the attorneys at the Securities and Exchange Commission at enforcement@sec.gov, and to the Federal Trade Commission at uce@ftc.gov.
  • Spot imposters that might try to call you by phone. They typically pose as a trusted agency or company. Caller IDs are no help because there is technology that can camouflage where the call originated. Ask for their 800# and verify before calling back.
  • Install security and scanning software on your computers and devices. On a personal level, ensure you have software that updates daily to protect against the newest threats. Businesses should also make sure they have this software, as well as firewalls, to protect yourself from identity thieves hacking your business systems for customer credit card information.
  • Find a password system that works. The best thing you can do is make use of a good Password Manager, like Dashlane or KeyPassX, which allows you to easily create unique passwords for each of your accounts. If you have to create a password manually, avoid making use of your name, birthdate or other personal information, as well as standard dictionary words. A mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers and a symbol, with a character length of at least 10 characters will significantly decrease your chances of being hacked. Boston University has put together this helpful page on how to choose a strong password.
  • Make sure that the website is secure when providing personal information. Look at the first part of the web address in your browser. It should read https:// and not http://. This is especially important to check when shopping online and giving personal information.
  • Regularly check your credit card and bank statements. You can also sign up for protection through the credit bureaus, including fraud alerts, to avoid having new cards issued without direct confirmation.
  • Monitor your credit history. You are entitled to one free credit report every year from each of the three national credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Order your free annual credit reports by phone at 1-877-322-8228 or online at www.annualcreditreport.com. If you stagger the timing of your requests (for example Equifax in the early sprint, Experian in summer and TransUnion in late fall) you'll be able to monitor your credit throughout the year.
  • Consider an agency that will help watch over your identity. There are companies that specifically help protect your identity – research what might work best for you.
  • Don't forget about low-tech methods. One of the easiest ways to help protect your identity is to invest in a cross-cut paper shredder. Any documents with personal information, bank statements, healthcare provider information, credit card statements, and tax information should be shredded before being thrown away.

For more information and tips to protect your privacy and avoid identity theft, visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft or call the FTC at 1-877-IDTHEFT.

Protecting your personal identity is paramount in today's digital world.

If not done well, or if you should fall prey to a scammer or identity thief, it could affect your credit worthiness – and that can impact your small business.

Small businesses rely on small business loans and leases to fuel their growth. Many times a small businesses credit worthiness is based on the business owner. The business that succeeds is often the one that can capitalize on ideas and opportunities the fastest and not miss out because they are in the midst of clearing up identity theft issues.

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