QUESTION: Much has been written recently about identity theft and the hacking of individual email accounts. As a small business owner, should I be worried about my business being compromised by these cybercriminals?
ANSWERS: You definitely need to be concerned and take many of the same steps people take to protect themselves. In fact, under the Uniform Commercial Code, businesses have shorter reporting periods, fewer protections, and higher liability for fraud than with consumer bank accounts.
Some of the things you can do to protect your bank account include having both parties approve outgoing wire transfers or, if you don’t use wire transfers, have your bank block transfers altogether. Monitor your business credit card activity and reconcile your business bank account frequently and consider online banking services that allow you to view transactions on a daily basis.
Change your online banking password frequently and never log in using public access or a Wi-Fi hotspot. Also, if you receive an email ostensibly from the IRS, be aware this is a scam. Do not respond or click on any links or attachments.
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Other protections include keeping your checkbook, deposit slips, and other sensitive documents in a safe and secure place. Protect your Employer Identification Number as you would your own Social Security Number and be sure to shred any old documents that reference your EIN number.
In addition to Dunn & Bradstreet, the three national credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion provide business credit services. They also offer paid services to monitor your business credit report and notify you of changes.
You need to keep your business and personal finances separate. If you think you’ve been the victim of identity theft or aren’t planning on applying for credit, you can place a “security freeze” on your personal credit. This can help prevent thieves from trying to open new credit accounts in your business name.
Inform your employees that business computers should only be used for business purposes. Properly trained employees become your first line of defense. Use fraud prevention services for online order processing. www.Google.com/alerts allows you to set and receive email alerts for terms you specify, such as your business name.
Don’t rely on free software to protect your business. Install and use regularly updated anti-virus and anti-spyware Internet security software. Also install and use a firewall that monitors and controls external connections to your computer.
If your business uses a wireless network, make sure it’s encrypted so other people can’t access your network. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is better than cure” is truer today than ever.
Gray Poehler volunteers with the Richmond chapter of SCORE, Counselors to America’s Small Business. To ask a question or seek free, confidential business advice, visit richmond.score.org/mentors. Learn more about SCORE’s workshops on the website or by calling (804) 350-3569.