We’ve all gotten the message by now when it comes to safeguarding personal information available on paper records such as receipts, credit card statements and the like — shred it to protect it!
The same goes for your business information. Did you know that your Employer Identification and Tax ID numbers are as valuable to cybercriminals as Social Security numbers when it comes to business identity theft? Any printed material that has information that can be exploited by identity hijackers should never be casually discarded. It needs to be properly destroyed if you want to avoid becoming a statistic in the burgeoning business identity theft crisis.
No state is immune from the spike in business identity theft, and Nevada, where I experienced this violation to one of my companies, appears particularly susceptible.
According to a report by Experian, Nevada had the third most cases of consumer identity fraud cases in 2017, trailing only Florida and Georgia in the number of complaints per 100,000 residents. Unfortunately, states don’t track business identity theft complaints as closely. In a recent survey by the National Association of Secretaries of State, more than 80% of states responded that they do not track business identity theft cases at all!
These trends make it imperative that you take every precaution to arm yourself against business identity theft. You may believe that disposing of important records that contain personal and business information in the trash is safe because the trash containers are on your property. Or that trash hauled from your business or home won’t be stolen by identity thieves.
Wrong! As unbelievable as it may seem, the law is on the side of “dumpster divers” looking to exploit improperly discarded data. Even if that seems to violate the Constitution’s right to privacy and protection from illegal searches of one’s papers.
In the 1988 case California V. Greenwood, the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled, as summarized by legaldictionary.net, “A warrantless search of a person’s trash outside the curtilage of his or her home does not violate the Fourth Amendment because a person does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in those trash bags.” That ruling left the door open to anyone who wishes to pick through your trash.
According to the shredding firm Legal Shred, “No one ever thinks of garbage as valuable, but to an identity thief, your trash can become another person’s treasure.”
If you weren’t already convinced that shredding unneeded business records and other documents is a necessity, surely you are now. The question remains though: Use a service, take advantage of community shred events, or invest in a quality shredder and do it yourself? If you go with a service or community shredding, here’s a bit of advice: Watch as your records are being destroyed, if possible. And, get a Certificate of Destruction or other documentation for your records. Hopefully, you will never need it, but it could come in handy if a worst-case of identity theft occurs and you have to rebuild your business – and your reputation.
The equipment company Whitakar Brothers, which includes data destruction as one of its specialties, recommends in-house shredding. The firm reported that “A truck driver who worked for a shredding service company shared numerous bank records with identity thieves, court documents say. According to police, the Texan man may be responsible for a nationwide identity-theft ring, with thousands of potential victims and a total monetary loss numbering in the millions.”
These types of cases seem rare, but that doesn’t likely matter to the victims.
What needs shredding, and how?
The Federal Trade Commission recommends shredding sales and ATM receipts, credit card statements and offers, paid utility bills, canceled checks and expired warranties immediately, and pay stubs, paid and disputed medical bills and bank statements within a year, and, after seven years, tax documents such as W2s, receipts, and records used to claim deductions.
So, back to the original question: Are public shredders a safe way to protect yourself or your company from identity theft?
Although there is no definitive answer, we are inclined to say “yes,” but with a qualification. Although it is not unheard of that unscrupulous employees of shredding services harvested customers’ data, those cases appear to be rare. Like other services you consider, it’s always a good idea to check online for reviews and/or complaints about any company before putting your trust in them.
Clearly, there’s no guarantee of safety unless you make document shredding a DIY project. But with a little due diligence when choosing a company and getting the all-important documentation that your records were destroyed, you should feel relatively confident if you’ve picked a reputable firm.
The FTC also suggests subscribing to identity theft protection services like Company Alarm.
What our service offers is 24/7 monitoring of the vital business information you have registered with your state’s Secretary of State office and an instant alert by text the moment any of the information is changed. Company Alarm also can remind you when your LLC – or whatever registered structure your company has – needs to be renewed. Failing to renew leaves your company vulnerable to hijackers just waiting for the opportunity.
Company Alarm is dedicated to helping business owners protect what they have worked so hard to build. Our monitoring software is designed to prevent cybercriminals from exploiting loopholes to hijack your company and assets. To sign up for this low-cost, value-added protection, click here.