7 Tips To Prevent Business Identity Theft

At least one VARBusiness 500 solution provider fell victim to business identity theft in the last few weeks. And if it can happen to one, it can happen to another.

Robert Siciliano, a business identity theft expert and CEO of Boston-based IDTheftSecurity.com, said there are tips that solution providers -- and any company -- can follow to help prevent identity theft, which now accounts for $50 billion in losses for businesses each year.

"Based on the way things are going, that [dollar amount] is going to climb," Siciliano said. "There is no system in place to stop this. They're looking for solutions, but there are no solid solutions at this point. Credit being as wide open as it is, anybody can get credit under any company name with little resistance."

The first thing to do to help prevent business identity theft is to secure individual identities, Siciliano said.

"The fact is that really no one has been properly identified or authenticated at this point. You have an employee ID number or a Social Security number, but those are just digits assigned to us and don't connect to who we are. Business certificates, letterhead, paperwork, that can be reproduced. Social Security cards and birth certificates are easily counterfeited as well.

The desktop PC, a scanner and printer have antiquated all forms of ID as we know it."

Siciliano recommends subscribing to a credit monitoring service. It's an added expense for many businesses, but a monitoring service can save money in the long run, he said.

"Get involved in services to see if any new accounts have been opened up with that Social Security number or EIN," Siciliano said.

Another smart tip to avoid unauthorized credit purchases is to put a freeze on your credit, which prevents anyone from securing credit in your name, Siciliano said. As of today, all three major credit bureaus now offer credit freezes and 37 states offer similar protection for individuals, he said.

"For the citizen or the small business owner, start with that to protect yourself," Siciliano said.

Be judicious with credit card payments or purchases.

"Credit cards themselves are insecure forms of payment. Anybody can make a credit card number, receive goods and skip town. Be suspect of any large order or any company you've never done business with. Check all references. Don't be so hungry for business that you become lax on security," Siciliano said.

Be very cautious with whom you share your credit or trading references.

"It's obviously difficult to protect yourselves as a company when you are giving out references," Siciliano said. "You need to protect references as much as your Social Security number. Maintain close contact with those references, say 'if anybody calls for a reference, call me back and inform me of that.'"

Beware of Web sites that look like yours and feature similar domain names. There's a chance it was set up to fool potential creditors.

"Spoof Web sites and cybersquatting is a pervasive problem," Siciliano said. "There are actually kits you can buy for as little as $100 that can make anyone into a black hat hacker."

The bad guys can download all your code and images and make simple changes to replicate a site with the ability to send usernames, passwords or credit card numbers to a botnet, Siciliano said.

"Google yourself. Take your own Web site and content to see if there are any spoof sites that have your info on them," he said. "There are software programs that will search the Net and look for pirated content. They're like Google, but a little more sophisticated. It looks for entire Web sites mirroring your Web site. Your IT security team should be doing that now."

The FBI receives up to 300,000 reports of suspicious activity per month, Siciliano said.

"They're able to investigate maybe two percent of that at best. Overall, at this point, cybercrime has surpassed the opportunity of the drug trade. It will continue to grow. And [the FBI] is completely overwhelmed. Technology has far outpaced security," he said. "They're going to come at you in any direction. They're like ants. They find a way in, around, over, under, any way they can."