Confront the threat of identity theft at your business
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A Commentary from Ben Brancel, DATCP Secretary
You lock your business every night to protect your merchandise from thieves and you may even have cameras on site to protect the property. But what steps do you take to secure your data? Is a lock on a file cabinet or a password on a file server enough to protect the sensitive information that your business collects?
In the past you either kept information in your head or on a piece of paper. Remember when it was so simple? No one could get that information unless you gave it to them or they physically entered your premises and stole it. In today’s world of digital databases, however, criminals can electronically steal information and use it to harm your customers and damage your company. The information security demands on a business have never been higher. Between transaction data and personnel files, businesses collect and hold a wealth of sensitive personal information about their customers and employees. Names, Social Security numbers, phone numbers, addresses, dates of birth, and more – any combination of these pieces of information could give criminals the keys they need to steal someone’s identity.
For a customer or employee whose personal data is stolen from your files, ID theft could lead to damage on a credit report, a false tax return filed in their name, or job applications submitted with their information. For the business, the bad publicity, loss of customer trust, damage to the company’s good name, and costs of managing the fallout could be catastrophic.
Data security can be a complicated issue. Thankfully there are resources out there to help.
The Office of Privacy Protection (OPP) at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has a number of great educational tools available for free to your business. Your best first step is to start at the OPP website (http://privacy.wi.gov):
• download a copy of our business ID theft security tips guide,
• find fact sheets, hotline numbers and identity theft resources, or
• request a presentation by an OPP representative to your company or community group.
Another great resource for businesses is a free booklet provided by the Federal Trade Commission called “Protecting Personal Information: A Guide for Business.” In this guide, the FTC suggests five key principles for building a sound data security plan:
• Take stock. Know what personal information you have in your files and on your computers.
• Scale down. Keep only what you need for your business.
• Lock it. Protect the information that you keep.
• Pitch it. Properly dispose of what you no longer need.
• Plan ahead. Create a plan to respond to security incidents.
The guide goes into detail on each of these points, explaining your business’s data security responsibilities under federal law and suggesting steps to take toward accomplishing these five principles. The booklet also explains how to measure your company’s information protection practices and how to find where changes are necessary.
This just scratches the surface of the information available to help guide your company’s data security plans. But the first step is acknowledging the importance of protecting sensitive information and considering your business’s security plans. Take action now…your business and customers depend on you.