January 30/February 6, 2017: Volume 31, Number 17
By Roman Basi
(First of two parts)
As consumers, we’ve all been warned about the perils of identity theft and the havoc that it can wreak on our personal lives in the event our identity is compromised. But as a business owner, the effects can be multiplied exponentially as the financial condition of the operator of a business is inextricably tied to the business.
In part one of this article, I discuss what businesses owners should do to guard their financial lives and make sure they do not become victim to this growing trend.
First and foremost, safeguard your personal and business information. Identity thieves not only access your information through machines, but through means as simple as your trash can or mailbox. Accordingly, make sure you prevent identity thieves from gathering your information before it even comes into your hands.
Watch out for unknown callers or phishing scams. Never give out your computer passwords, credit card numbers, social security number, address or any private information about yourself to an unsolicited email. Also of extreme importance, have your virus software updated frequently. One cyber security expert even recommends purchasing an inexpensive computer to do specifically bank transactions only and nothing else. There are so many viruses, the sad truth is virus software can only catch a percentage of them.
Secondly, view your information in a private manner. Thieves have come up with ingenious, “low-tech” ways to view your information alongside you to have access to it. Sometimes looking over your shoulder when you have information opened on your computer, when you swipe your credit card through a machine, listening in when you read a credit card number or social security number over the line, etc. can be a simple way to obtain your data. Always view and speak your information in private. Locate your computer away from public viewing areas and windows. Also keep your machine off when not in use.
When using a credit card, be careful when you display it. Telephones can take high resolution photos now. If you see someone with a phone around you, be sure to cover your credit and social security cards when using them. Even if you don’t see telephones around, still cover your numbers when the card is out and never leave it in a public area.
Next, “hide” your information. No, I don’t mean under the couch. Keep all critical documents and cards in a secured location after and between viewing them. No system of hiding is fool proof, but naming computer files something other than “Here is all the information you’ll ever want to know about me and my customers” is a good start. Name the files something you would know to look under, such as your dog’s name or something else non-specific to a thief.
Finally, destroy your information. Just because you threw the information out, does not mean thieves are no longer interested in it. Trash cans can be a gold mine to thieves when it comes to robbing you of your valuables. Credit card statements, social security statements, bank statements, customer files, etc. can all be very valuable to a thief. My recommendation is to invest in a shredder, one that cuts in a cross-hatch pattern.
The same principal applies to old computers you might want to discard. Just because your 2007 IBM is obsolete to you and your business operation, it is not obsolete to a thief that wants the information off of it. Bring your computer in to a technician and have the hard drive erased or removed before recycling the computer.
Roman Basi is an attorney and CPA with the firm of Basi, Basi, & Associates at The Center for Financial, Legal & Tax Planning, Inc. He writes frequently on issues facing business owners.