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Monday, March 18 , 2019, 9:03 am | Fair 52º


Karen Dwyer: ID Theft on the Rise

Here's how you can protect yourself and your employees from an ever-more inescapable attack on everything you hold dear.

Identity theft is the fastest-growing white-collar crime in the world, according to the FBI, and studies show that nearly 70 percent of all identity theft cases are in the workplace — committed by a co-worker or an employee of the business you patronize. In the United States and Canada, identity theft has cost consumers and businesses more than $60 billion in fraudulent charges in 2007 alone, according to the Javelin/Better Business Bureau Survey in the United States and Phone Busters, an anti-fraud call center in Canada.

What is identity theft? Quite simply, it’s when an individual obtains someone’s personal information such as a Social Security number or a driver’s license number, and he or she uses it to establish a false identity for personal gain. It may surprise you to know this sort of information can be easily obtained. Identity thieves rummage through garbage bins and mail boxes searching for bank statements, credit card information and any other type of documentation that contains personal information. They steal personal information from co-workers or hack into computers to access this information. It is estimated that more than 88 million individuals have been victimized by identity theft.

Several laws have been implemented in the United States and Canada that require businesses to protect consumers and employees against identity theft. These laws require business owners to secure all client and employee personal information. Noncompliance could cause you or your company to incur millions of dollars in fines and even imprisonment. For more information on identity theft laws, visit the Justice Department’s Web site.

Identity theft can happen anywhere, but with so many cases being reported in the workplace, businesses must protect themselves, their employees and clients from becoming victims of this type of criminal activity. In addition to following government and state laws, there are several other ways you and your employees can take a proactive approach to protect yourselves against identity theft.

• Implement a clean desk policy. Encourage your employees to keep all personal information or sensitive employee data in a locked drawer or file cabinet.

• Conduct extensive background checks. Make sure to conduct background checks on all employees. When selecting staffing services for temporary employees, make sure the company provides adequate screening of its employees. It’s particularly important to make sure those working in information-sensitive departments, such as human resources, personnel and accounting, are thoroughly screened.

• Shred sensitive documents. After you’re finished with personal information for yourself or employees, shred documents to keep them from falling into the wrong hands. Make sure that shredding capabilities are easily accessible for all employees to use.

• Install firewall protections on all computers. Make sure your computers, both personal and business, are protected against outside access from potential predators. Firewall protection prevents unwanted individuals from accessing your computer files while online.

• Change passwords regularly. To help prevent security breaches or hackers from penetrating your computer hard drive, make sure that you and your employees change passwords for computer access periodically. For all your accounts, create secure passwords and update them often.

• Offer credit protection programs. There are several great programs that employers can offer employees to help fight against identity theft. This not only protects you as an employer but ensures your employees’ identities will be protected in case a security breach occurs.

It takes time to undo any damage that occurs as a result of someone stealing your identity. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission estimates that it takes approximately 600 hours to recover from identity theft. And, it can be quite costly. If a client’s information has been compromised, your company will surely lose that client for not adequately protecting the information. And, considering most banks and creditors are only open while employees are at work, employees will have to take a considerable amount of time off to repair credit damage. This can prove to be quite costly for employers as it affects worker productivity and, if companies do not adequately protect their employees and clients against identity theft, they are subject to fines and potential lawsuits from those affected.

If your company encounters identity theft, there are several actions that need to be communicated to victims to ensure they begin the process of restoring their credit. These include:

• Placing fraud alerts on your credit reports. When you notify one of the major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax or TransUnion — the other two will be notified automatically.

• Closing all your existing accounts and reopen them under a new account.

• Filing a police report and contact the appropriate government agency to file a complaint.

• Ordering copies of your credit reports to make sure any unauthorized activity isn’t on your report.

The federal governments are actively involved in trying to protect businesses against identity theft. Employers must comply with these laws, and it’s in their best interest to proactively protect their clients’ and employees’ identities to keep them from being held liable. By following these tips and taking preventative actions against these predators, businesses can help fight against identity theft crimes.

Karen Dwyer
Karen Dwyer is the owner of Express Personnel, 9 W. Figueroa St., Santa Barbara 93101. She can be contacted at [email protected] or at 805.965.6900.

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