June 17, 2020 Last updated June 17th, 2020 919 Reads share

Why Criminals Commit Identity Theft and How to Protect Yourself and Your Business

Image Credit: DepositPhotos

Identity theft remains one of the most prevalent and rapidly- growing crimes in the US and around the world, and business leaders and owners are especially at risk. If you run your own business, you most likely have access to a number of different financial accounts, are personally responsible for a high number of transactions, and rely on colleagues and associates in the business world placing a high level of trust in you as an individual. All of this makes you a very attractive target for fraudsters. It also means that you have a great deal to lose if successfully scammed.

It’s said that a case of identity theft occurs somewhere in the world every two seconds, and thieves can make use of your personal information within minutes of getting their hands on it. According to the FTC Consumer Sentinel Network, there were more than 3.2 million complaints of identity theft in the US in 2019, and many more likely went unnoticed or unreported. 45% of those complaints involved the creation of new bank or credit card accounts in the victim’s name by an unknown party. 

How Thieves Use Your Information

The financial and personal data that identity thieves look for is broadly categorized as Personally Identifiable Information (PII). This includes but is not limited to; your name and address, date of birth, email address, social security number, passport number, driver’s license number, credit and debit card numbers, bank account details, online login credentials such as screen names, passwords and the answers to security questions, your place of birth, military and medical record, insurance information, and so on.

As mentioned above, one of the common ways that thieves use this information is to open a new bank account or to apply for a credit card in your name. They may also use your PII to take out a loan. They may then write bad checks or default on their credit or loan, knowing that you will ultimately be held responsible, rather than them. Similarly, they may use your information to obtain a mobile phone, open a utilities account or obtain false ID such as a driver’s license. 

Most damagingly to the victim, they may get access to your personal or business account and withdraw money directly, or pay for goods or services using your details. Even if you’re ultimately covered against this, it’s still another financial stress that you could really do without. 

What to Do If You’re a Victim

Robert Ryerson is an independent financial planner and CFP at New Century Planning who is also a recognized expert in the field of identity theft risk management. In 2016, he published the book What’s The Deal With Identity Theft, and lectures regularly on the subject at community colleges in his native New Jersey. Ryerson recommends that if you discover that you’ve been affected by identity theft, the first step you should take is to alert the relevant institutions. This might mean your bank, credit card company and any other businesses you hold accounts with.

You may also need to contact your medical care and insurance providers. If these bodies have a dedicated fraud department, ask to be put through to them. You should change all of your passwords and login details as a matter of course and may also want to freeze your accounts temporarily.

Once you have taken these immediate damage limitation steps, Ryerson also advises that you file an identity theft report with the FTC as soon as possible. Not only does this help to record and prevent identity theft in general, it may help them to catch the perpetrators in this particular instant. Thirdly, put a fraud alert on your credit report. This should stop anyone wrongly claiming credit on your behalf, which would adversely affect your credit rating in addition to other headaches.

Steps to Prevent Fraud

Of course, prevention is always better than cure, and there are many steps you can take to reduce the risk of identity theft happening to you. Use strong, up-to-date security software, with strong, unique passwords that are changed regularly. Within your business, treat all passwords and sensitive information as need-to-know only, and keep records of who has access to what information. Remain alert and train all employees to recognize phishing scams that seek to obtain details or download malware into your computers.

Other steps to take include checking all bank and financial statements carefully and regularly, looking out for transactions you don’t remember or recognize. Do the same with your personal credit reports and health insurance statements. Shred any documents that might contain personal information and keep track of your bills and payments.

When out and about, don’t carry your social security card if you don’t need it and protect your PIN number at ATMs. Don’t give out sensitive information over the phone when speaking in public and don’t over-share on social media. Avoid online quizzes and don’t accept friend requests from strangers.

Identity theft is a serious crime and business owners should be warier than most. Take steps to protect your information, and remember that in the criminal underworld, information is a highly valuable commodity. Keep your identity to yourself.

Social Security theft concept of identity theft -DepositPhotos

Eain Johnson

Eain Johnson

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