Tips to Prevent, Detect, and Remedy Identity Theft Threats For Small Business Owners

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If you’re a small business owner, how much time and energy do you spend thinking about the threats posed by identity theft?

Did you know your personal identity could become compromised through your business?

Like most sole proprietors, you’re far too busy managing the day-in, day-out logistics of the company to spend much time keeping current on why it’s imperative to use a personal VPN, or how not to fall for phishing scams.

Indeed, the U.S. Small Business Administration says that among its 27-million members, 21 million are sole proprietors, making them ideal candidates for identity theft.

According to computer security firm Symantec, of all the companies that received at least one targeted attack since 2010, 40% were small-to-medium-sized business with under 500 employees.

The most-targeted industries were nonprofits, engineering, marketing, and recreation.

Symantec adds that attackers tend to target intellectual property, focusing their efforts on education and market research organizations, in particular.

Neal O’Farrell, the executive director at the Identity Theft Council, says small business owners tend to have very fragile firewalls between their personal and business finances, which in turn can make them exceptionally vulnerable to identity theft.

O’Farrell says hackers now have small businesses in their cross-hairs, pointing out a Visa Inc. study that suggests 95% of the credit card data breaches it discovers impact the smallest businesses.

In recognition of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, the ITC shares the following prevention and detection tips:

  • Write a security plan. A plan can be as simple as the security rules, guidelines, and goals for your business, and the consequences for ignoring them.
  • Do an inventory of your data. Data is what the thieves want, whether it’s customer account or credit card data, employee Social Security numbers, or even databases of target customers. If you don’t know what data you have in your business, or where it is, then you can’t effectively protect it.
  • Train your employees. Ask every employee “stakeholder” to protect their corner of cyberspace. Most thieves will target the weakest link, and that’s usually a careless or untrained employee.
  • Guard your business accounts well. As a business owner you don’t enjoy the benefits of zero liability, so if your account is emptied by crooks, the bank won’t bail you out.
  • Restrict employee and insider access to data. For everyone’s safety, employees should only have access to the data they need to do their job.
  • Be wary of banking Trojans. These highly sophisticated programs can easily creep onto your computers, steal banks logins and passwords, and quickly empty your bank accounts.
  • Monitor your bank accounts and credit cards constantly. These can often provide the earliest warning that thieves have obtained your account information and have started to use it. Most financial institutions provide free instant alerts to warn you about any unusual account activity.
  • Be wary of business identity theft. Business identity theft involves criminals using publicly available information about your company to pretend to be the legitimate owners of your business so they can take out substantial loans and leave you to clean up the mess. An easy precaution is to regularly google your business name for any clones.
  • Use all available technologies. As a small business owner you have many choices when it comes to protecting your employees, your computers, and your data from cyberthieves. Make sure every computer in your business is locked down with layers of security technology.
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Elaine Rigoli

Elaine Rigoli is PRIVATE WiFi’s manager of digital content strategy.