The Greater Bluffton Chamber of Commerce hosted a seminar Tuesday to provide tips on how to avoid business identity theft.
From digging through the trash for documents to driving around searching for unsecured wireless Internet connections, crooks have many ways of stealing information from businesses, according to Janny Stidman.
Stidman, a former law enforcement officer who now works for Coastal Security Services on Hilton Head Island, offered tips Monday on how a business can protect itself from identity theft, during a program hosted by the Greater Bluffton Chamber of Commerce.
Con artists can impersonate a business by using its letterhead, pretending to be an employee or accessing corporate information from public sources such as Secretary of State filings, Stidman said.
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From there, they can sign up for lines of credit or order goods and services that will be billed to the company later. Stidman said it's a "piece of cake" for criminals, who end up hurting much more than the business. Banks, creditors, suppliers and even customers can become victims, too, she said.
"In a business, there's the potential to lose a lot more money really fast than with an individual," Stidman said.
According to an annual study by the Ponemon Institute, sponsored by Symantec, the average cost of a business data breach was $5.5 million in 2011, the most recent year for which figures are available. That number reflects the hit to a business' reputation and the loss of its customers when sensitive data fall into the wrong hands.
The best defense is a good offense, Stidman said. Taking steps such as shredding all documents, monitoring credit history and reports, and securing wireless connections can go a long way, Stidman said.
Employees should be educated about how to protect business information, as well. According to the Ponemon Institute study, corporate insiders who were careless with company information were the main cause of data breaches in 2011.
In the wake of a hacking of the S.C. Department of Revenue computer system, South Carolina is offering free credit monitoring to business owners through Experian and Dun & Bradstreet.
Business owners can also monitor their credit scores for free. If they don't want to spend the necessary time monitoring their information, many insurance companies and banks offer programs to safeguard businesses from identity theft for a monthly fee, Stidman said.
If a business has already become a victim of identity theft, Stidman said, it is important to act fast. First, notify local law enforcement. The Federal Trade Commission should also be notified.
An identity-theft report number will be necessary to notify other agencies of the fraud, Stidman said. Depending on the type of information stolen, a business might have to dispute the charges with agencies ranging from debt collectors to the U.S. government.
Even Coastal Security Services isn't immune to identity theft. Owner Noreen McMullin said that on one occasion she noticed fraudulent charges to the company's credit card.
"The bank didn't catch it," McMullin said. "I had to catch it."