According to a recent report by the research firm Javelin Strategy & Research, identity theft affected more than 8 million people in 2010. While identity theft has often been considered a crime targeting just consumers, business identity theft has become an increasingly alarming trend.
Business identity theft—also referred to as 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. This could include establishing temporary office space and/or merchant accounts in a company’s name, or ordering merchandise or services with stolen credit card information. Like consumer identity theft, business identity theft can result in potentially ruinous consequences for the victimized business as well as those individuals associated with the business.
December is Identity Theft Prevention and Awareness Month. As the guardian of business filings in Ohio, I am encouraging all Ohio companies to take some time to evaluate and address any vulnerabilities they may have, and also to sign up for the Secretary of State’s business filing notification system, which adds another level of protection against identity theft.
There are many things to consider when deciding to establish a business. After completing the necessary steps to register a business entity with the Secretary of State’s office, a company should focus on protecting against identity theft. Helpful tips are available in the Business Services section of the Secretary of State’s website at www.OhioSecretaryofState.gov and both the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau offer best practices for prevention whether for new or existing business. These include:
- Periodically checking the state business filings, filing on time and keeping records up to date.
- Monitoring credit reports and business accounts.
- Being diligent in safeguarding your company’s sensitive information, including account numbers and passwords, and encourage employees to do the same.
- Ensuring that computer systems, networks and website are secure.
In addition to following these best practices, the Secretary of State’s office provides a free, easy-to-use 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 email address and business charter, registration or license number for each filing, which can be found through a simple online business search at www.OhioSecretaryofState.gov. Please note that if in addition to a regular business filing a company also a registered trademark or service mark, for example, businesses will need to know the numbers for each of those filings as well. Once subscribed to our service, an email will be sent automatically the day after any document is filed. The email will serve as notification of all changes to that business record.
Education, information and readiness are the best defenses against potential threats to a business’s identity. I encourage all business owners to use the Secretary of State’s filing notification systems and other helpful tools during Identity Theft Prevention and Awareness month to make sure their business’s identity is as safe and secure as possible.