Identity Theft Prevention for Businesses

Identity theft related crime has been identified as the fast growing crime trend in America today.  In order to make a positive impact, law enforcement and businesses must coordinate our efforts to better protect ourselves and the citizens we serve.

The Pendleton Police Department has developed a proactive approach to this growing threat. We do several presentations annually pertaining specifically to Identity Theft.  We have established a strong rapport with our local financial institutions and work closely with the FBI, Postal Inspectors, Umatilla County District Attorney’s Office, the Pendleton Chamber of Commerce and the hotel/motel industry.

The home computer has revolutionized the ability of the average criminal to involve themselves in identity related crimes. A large majority of the offenders are being identified as having illegal drug addictions and are utilizing identity theft to further their ability to afford these drugs. 

These criminals are stealing mail in order to discover checks (routing and account numbers), credit cards and/or applications (items of mail containing personal information that can be utilized to obtain credit). By using check and ID writing software, offenders are making counterfeit checks and IDs in order to write checks for cash or to purchase retail items.

These suspects are also compromising the credit card industry by obtaining credit cards via the internet application process using stolen personal information. They are also obtaining stolen credit cards through mail theft, burglary from vehicle and other related crimes. Another form of credit card fraud occurs when the offender obtains the credit card numbers from discarded receipts, applications and other paperwork discarded into dumpsters by individuals and businesses. 

While advances in technology and the advent of the internet have made it possible for businesses to become more user friendly, it also opened the door for the perpetration of fraudulent activity under cover of anonymity. With the adoption of the below listed business practices you can help to curtail fraud while still presenting a positive user friendly atmosphere for your customers and limit your exposure to civil liability through reckless handling of your customer’s personal information.

How to protect your clients/customers

Keep all documents containing personal information of your clients, customers and employees under lock and key.

When personal information is held within a computer, ensure that it can only be accessed and tracked by authorized personnel using passwords and is protected with an appropriate level of security/fire walls. When the information has been transferred to the computer, any handwritten information should be shredded.

Shred customer personal or account information and receipts before discarding them. Consider keeping shredders within reach of those employees who handle personal/account information on a regular basis.

Create policies to restrict the handling of customer information to a limited number of employees.

Customer personal information such as credit applications, sales receipts/carbon copies should not be temporarily kept within reach of the casual observer. This will help to deter theft by criminals or corrupt employees. Provide a secure receptacle for employees and citizens to throw out applications/receipts or provide informational signs advising them not to carelessly discard these documents.

How to protect your business from fraud

When accepting credit applications or checks, require the applicant to provide a finger print directly on the application or check. This is common practice in the banking community and should be readily accepted. This aids law enforcement with identifying exactly who presented the documents.

Install video surveillance in areas where business is conducted with a “loop time” of at least one month. This will allow ample time for the fraud to be detected and the suspect transaction to be pulled for evidence. 

Video evidence along with a finger print is very good evidence and reduces the possibility that employees would have to attend court.

Require a photographic ID be presented during check and credit card transactions, along with a finger print on the sales receipt and/or check. Inkless pads are cheap and readily available for each register. Debit card transactions utilizing a PIN number need not fall into this category.

If your business retails to other businesses utilizing a business account number and company credit card listed in your computer, understand that this information is often corrupted by ex-employees of the customer business. Always require that your sales representatives call a responsible party with the company to verify the transaction.

If your business accepts telephone or internet orders, always utilize the 3-digit verification number printed on the signature line of the card. This number should not be recorded on the internet order form or receipts generated from sales. This ensures that the card itself is in the possession of the customer and isn’t being stolen from a compromised recklessly discarded document.