As a home-based or other small business opportunity or franchise owner, you’re incredibly busy. So busy in fact that there’s a good chance you’re not minding your finances as well as you could or should. Unfortunately, identity thieves are onto you, making your business especially vulnerable to their ever-evolving and potentially devastating tactics.
According to the Javelin Strategy & Research 2010 Identity Fraud Survey Report, small business owners are one-and-a-half times more likely to be a victim of this crime than are other adults. Why? It’s because identity thieves are more sophisticated than ever, and they’ve become especially drawn to small businesses for a number of key reasons:
- Small businesses often have access to significant lines of credit.
- They have cash reserves that individuals oftentimes don’t.
- They are actively involved in trusted business relationships that can readily be exploited by a third party, and
- Personal and proprietary information often is not secured properly, making hacking and access too simple.
Add to all this the fact that small business owners like you are trying to do so much that minding the financial store may not be a top priority, and you could be in serious trouble before you know it. Fortunately, there are some relatively easy and fairly affordable things you can do to reduce the chances that your small business will fall prey to identity theft.
Here they are:
- Mind the numbers that matter most―Your social security number, your Employer Identification Number (EIN), your bank account numbers…any number that allows anyone to have access to your personal, financial or business dealings should be given out only sparingly and when you are certain who is asking for the information and why.
- Keep all of it under lock and key―Whether it’s your physical office space, your file cabinets or your desk drawers, anything that contains valuable information must be secured at all times, especially when you are out of the office. This includes doing whatever it takes to protect your computer from hackers, such as firewalls and security patches as they become available.
- Limit access―You need to password protect your computers and allow the few individuals who need access to have it only when necessary. It’s a good rule of thumb to play it safe by keeping everything on a “need-to-know” basis as much as you can.
- Shred it and forget it―Shredders are not terribly expensive and their potential payoff is tremendous. Identity thieves are notorious trash and dumpster divers. They’ve perfected the art of piecing back together everything you throw away so they can use it against you and possibly destroy all that you’ve worked so hard to build.
- Beware of “phishermen”―Legitimate companies and individuals do not send emails requesting you to send vital information back to them unless you’ve initiated the exchange. If an email contains a link for you to go to and provide this kind of information, don’t go that route. It may be a set-up. Open a new browser window and initiate contact with the company on your terms just to be safe. You never know for sure who or what is on the other end of an email.
- Go electronic―Electronic payment systems are more secure than using paper checks. These systems use encryption and passwords as a strong deterrent. Your mailbox doesn’t.
- Make weekly check-ups a habit―You’re busy, that’s for sure, but you’re going to wish you made some time to look over your bank and credit card statements if the worst happens and someone starts masquerading as you or your business. Try to make even the most cursory check-up of your financial matters a weekly or bi-weekly goal if at all possible.
The harsh reality is that when your identity as a small business owner is stolen from you, you’ll have to clean up the mess, which can take months if not years and even put you out of business. By taking reasonable precautions, you can avoid becoming a target of this kind of criminal activity. You and your business are worth it.