Protect Yourself and Your Business From Identity Theft

Identity theft is a growing problem for small businesses and individuals alike. Here are some tips from the Better Business Bureau and the FBI on preventing identity theft.

Most people don’t think about protecting their identity – at least not until identity theft happens to them. 

According to the BBB, there were 13 million reported victims of identity theft in 2015 and an incidence of identity theft happens every 2 seconds in the US. Among the ways identity theft occurs are lost or stolen wallets, stolen checks, pilfered mail or documents found in the trash, access to an authorized use of your social security number, and even fraudulent tax returns. The stolen information can result in check fraud, credit card fraud, financial identity theft, criminal identity theft, governmental identity theft or medical identity theft.

Small business owners have an added concern: Not only do they have to worry about protecting their own identity, they also must take steps to prevent identity thieves from gaining access to customer data and employee data. If they don’t they could be liable for losses. 

The BBB offers the following tips for preventing identity theft:

Shred Your Documents — Shredding hard copies of documents that have details of personal, confidential or legal information is the best way to destroy the chances for anyone to copy or steal it. Use a cross cut or micro cut shredder to prevent dumpster divers from piecing shredded documents together. 

Don’t Carry Your Social Security Card — Leave it at home in a safe deposit box until you need it. Your Social Security card alone can give ID thieves the opportunity to open loans, credit cards and accounts in your name.

Photocopy Your Account Cards — Often if you lose your wallet or purse, you may not remember the numbers on your credit card, debit card or bank account. Keep a duplicate in case something happens and you need to know the identification numbers to freeze or close accounts.

Never Give Personal Info to Solicitors — Unless you are the one initiating the conversation, you should not give your Social Security Number, driver’s license number, bank account information, etc. over the phone or internet to someone you don’t know.

Avoid Clicking on Suspicious Links — Unsolicited e-mails and pop-up ads can be full of computer viruses designed to steal usernames and passwords from your computer. Don’t give in to curiosity, just close or delete the message.

Keep Employee Records Safe – Strictly limit access to paper or computer files containing personal information about your employees.

Protect Customer Data – If you accept credit cards either in person, or online, you must take steps to be sure the customer credit data is secure and follow PCI compliance rules.

RELATED: How to Prevent Cybercrime – A Guide for Small Businesses

The FBI states that identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States and offers some basic preventive steps:


  • Order a copy of your credit report each year from one of the national credit bureaus and review it closely for any questionable entries;
  • Shred or cut up all credit card receipts and old bank statements and bills before throwing them away;
  • Close all unused credit card or bank accounts;
  • Remove your name from mailing lists for pre-approved credit lines and telemarketers;
  • Keep your PIN number hidden when you use an ATM or public telephone;
  • Contact your creditor or service provider if you notice odd charges or if expected bills don’t arrive;    
  • Update your computer virus software, use a secure browser, and install a firewall program.


  • Give out personal information via the phone, mail, or Internet unless YOU initiated contact;
  • Carry information like your Social Security Number (SSN) or any PIN numbers or passwords in your purse or wallet;
  • Put your SSN on your checks or any other identifiers.
  • If your identity has been stolen, the FBI urges you to take immediate action:
  • Place a fraud alert on your credit file by notifying one of the national credit bureaus;
  • Contact all creditors and financial institutions that an identity thief may have used to conduct transactions in your name and close all tampered accounts;
  • Contact your local police department, as well as your local FBI field office, and file a report.

File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), as the FBI and other law enforcement agencies use these complaints in their investigations. Online identity thefts may also be reported to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

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