When most people think of identity theft, they imagine an individual victim’s Social Security or credit card number being stolen. However, identity theft does not just affect individuals. Business identity theft, or corporate or commercial identity theft, occurs when a business’s identity is used to transact business and establish lines of credit with banks and/or vendors.
According to the most recent reports from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 8.6 million households were victims of identity theft in 2010, causing about $13.3 billion in direct financial losses. Like consumer identity theft, business identity theft can result in potentially ruinous consequences. Both the business and people associated with the business can be hurt by this crime.
In addition to the costs associated with any direct incidences of business identity theft, many corporations may also have to deal with legal ramifications, such as defending their trademarks, copyrights, patents or other property in court.
The Ohio Secretary of State’s office provides a free, easy-to-use Business Filing Notification System that allows businesses to track any changes and updates to business filings with our office. Businesses or individuals need only submit an e-mail address and business charter, registration or license number for each filing, which can be found through a simple online business search (click here for the Secretary of State's Business Name Search).
Please note that if in addition to a regular business filing a company also has a registered trademark or service mark, businesses will need to know the numbers for each of those filings. Once subscribed, an e-mail will be sent automatically the day after any document is filed. The e-mail will serve as notification of all changes to that business record.
Take the following initial steps to protect your business from business identity theft:
- Subscribe to the Secretary of State’s Business Filing Notification System.
- Periodically check your business information on the Secretary of State’s website.
- Obtain a commercial credit report for your business.
- Sign up for electronic notifications with your bank, other creditors, and service providers.
- Monitor accounts and bills and immediately report any suspicious activity to the originating company.
- Protect your EIN (employer identification number), account numbers, and other personal information.
- Create and follow a policy for carrying, using, and reporting a lost or stolen business credit card.
- Inventory documents you maintain.
- Store only those documents you must keep, and keep them in a safe and secure location.
- If you plan to discard documents, shred them using a cross cut or “confetti” shredder.
- Do not share any sensitive information over e-mail or on any web-based service.
If you believe your business is a victim of business identity theft, you should immediately take the following steps:
- Report the theft to your local law enforcement agency.
- Contact banks or credit providers and report the theft.
- Contact the largest credit reporting agencies and speak with the fraud department to report the crime and view your business credit report.
- Place a fraud alert on your business accounts.
- Contact creditors where fraudulent accounts were opened, and request copies of all documentation used to open or access the accounts.
- Visit the National Business Identity Theft Resource, Better Business Bureau or Federal Trade Commission websites for more resources to protect against business identity theft.