The pain of business identity theft lingers long after the criminals have abandoned your business. Believe me, I would know: Nearly four years to the day after one of my businesses was hijacked, I’m still fighting in court to re-acquire a $5 million piece of land in Las Vegas.
It’s been brutal.
Most victims of business identity theft don’t have my level of problems – but that doesn’t mean they suffer any less.
One of the most common challenges business identity theft victims face is rebuilding their business credit after their businesses were hijacked and criminals had gone on a spree, purchasing goods, like cell phones or luxury cars or commercial printers, on credit.
Below I explain the long road business owners have to take in order to rebuild their credit after a hijacking.
First things first: File a police report
The first thing every victim of business identity theft should do the moment they realize they’ve been defrauded is contact their local police department and file a report.
As we’ve talked about many times on the Company Alarm blog, local police often are unfamiliar with business identity theft and aren’t likely to show any interest in your case. (I certainly haven’t been able to get any law enforcement agency interested in my case up to this point.
But don’t let that dissuade you from filing a police report about your case! They are absolutely vital to rebuilding your business credit.
Why? If you’ve filed a police report, you can point to that when creditors come around looking to be repaid for bills racked up the criminals. You can give that police report to Dun & Bradstreet when you notify it about your hijacking. You can cite the report when you file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission and the FBI.
The bottom line is the police report you file is the critical cornerstone of the paper trail you want to create about your case of business identity theft.
Contact your banker
The second call you should make after you realized you’ve been a victim of business identity theft should be to your business banker.
You’ll want him or her to know, as soon as humanly possible, that your business has been compromised. With that knowledge, your banker can begin to see if loans have been taken out in your business name, or money has been drained from your account, or if you’ve been charged for unauthorized purchases.
But just as important your banker can begin to prospectively watch for any suspicious activity involving your business.
Continue building your paper trail
As I mentioned above, a major strategy in the early moments after you realize you’ve been a victim of business identity theft is to create a paper trail documenting what’s happened to you. The single most important component of that paper trail is the police report you file with your local police department.
But that doesn’t have to be the end of it. Indeed, if you really want to protect yourself, you’ll want to file several more reports with:
- Dun & Bradstreet, the commercial credit reporting agency based out of New Jersey,
- The Federal Trade Commission,
- The FBI,
- The IRS, and
- Your local state agency in charge of registering businesses (which likely is the Secretary of State, but could have a different name like the Division of Corporations).
As you’re filing these complaints, you’ll also want to keep track of the date and time you contacted each agency and any ID numbers associated with the reports you’ve filed.
Tackle the knowns, look for the unknowns
Once you’ve established the paper trail documenting that you’re a victim of business identity theft, you’re going to want to start addressing the illegal, unauthorized actions taken in your business’s name.
Those actions – purchases made on credit, loans take out, etc. – generally fall into two categories: Ones you know about and others that haven’t come to your attention yet.
For the ones you know about, whatever they are, you’ll want to immediately start engaging with the third parties involved, vendors, lenders, who ever they are. In those early conversations, you’ll want to point them to the paper trail you established documenting you as a victim of business identity theft.
That’s the “easy” part – although, as I’m sure you know, these sorts of interactions won’t exactly be easy, especially because Americans generally are unfamiliar with business identity theft. It may take some time to get the vendors or lenders involved to understand they were scammed.
But as difficult as that may be, it doesn’t compare to the challenges you’ll face in trying to figure out what else the criminals did in your business’s name.
As our advisory board member Ralph Gagliardi would tell you, when criminals hijack a business’s identity, they often perpetuate several crimes using its name. But, as you know, criminals don’t exactly give their victims a list of all the ways they’ve screwed them.
So, while you might know criminals have purchased cell phones on credit using your business’s name, you might not know what else – if anything – the criminals have done while impersonating your enterprise. To figure out what’s going on, you’re going to need to put on your detective hat and start investigating.
If you’ve read out blog for any length of time, you’ll know that we at Company Alarm believe an excellent source for gathering intel is the correspondence flowing into your business. If a criminal posing as your business has secured an unauthorized loan, you might accidentally receive a letter or email from the lender.
But the only way you’d catch that is if you or the staff member you have going through your mail is looking for correspondence from unfamiliar third parties. Finding these sorts of nuggets of information requires vigilance and effort. And everyone on your team needs to be looking, especially if you already know you have been a victim, because you never know who might receive the smoking gun email.
One other note: While it’s unrealistic to expect any business to track all of the unfamiliar correspondence it receives, it is a good idea to create a spreadsheet to track all of the suspicious-looking correspondence you receive – even if you’re not currently dealing with business identity theft case.
If you maintain such a file, you’ll be prepared in the event you ever find out you’ve become a victim of business identity theft.
In the end, untangling what’s been done in your business’s name is a marathon, not a sprint. You have to be incredibly patient, following each thread all the way to its end, in order to ensure that you’ve found every dirty deed done in your business’s name.
It requires a lot of work, but it’s the only way you’ll ever be able to rebuild your business credit after an identity theft breach.
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