By Piers Chapple, founder of Galvo Shredders

Everyone is familiar with identity theft. Whether you’ve learnt about it via a government prevention scheme or a dramatic tabloid headline, the chances are you understand the risks of not keeping your personal information personal.

Corporate identity fraud on the other hand has never received quite the same level of press. This is alarming considering around £2.7bn is lost to identity thieves each year, with a large percentage of this money taken directly from the bank accounts of small businesses.

Unfortunately, there appears to be a belief amongst many business owners that they won’t fall victim to crimes of this nature. According to the fraud prevention service, Cifas, a phenomenal 56% of SMEs had either never heard of corporate identity fraud or didn’t feel they had much to worry about. Since understanding a crime is a key part of preventing it, the sooner corporate fraud is brought to the attention of the public the better.

So what exactly should I be looking out for?

Business identity theft is not simply the loss of company information due to a data breach. Instead, it relates more specifically to the misuse or falsification of these details, in order to impersonate an organisation. Fraudsters will look to replicate key company credentials, such as trademarks, web domains and statutory documents in an attempt to fool suppliers into believing they are the real deal.

Once they are in possession of these credentials it simply becomes a case of charging as many purchases as possible to the company account, before disappearing over the horizon with the goods. The only way to counteract this level of efficiency is by tightening your own methods of data protection.

How can I protect myself?

It is essential to take steps to reduce your likelihood of becoming a victim.

Integrate preventative procedures

First you need to highlight where a breach may occur. Although most corporate transactions take place online nowadays, there will still be important documents on file in your office. In fact, recent surveys have shown as many as 20% of small business owners are letting their employees take sensitive information home with them. With so many hands involved in the data handling process, the chances of them falling into the wrong pair increase dramatically.

By limiting the handling of these documents to certain employees, you can ensure they are only viewed by the necessary people. Companies should also introduce internal policies which regulate storage and disposal practises, in order to reduce the amount of time documents are unaccounted for.

Implement strict shredding routines

Encourage employees to shred all surplus documentation, regardless of the risk it poses. Operating in this manner reduces the chances of human error, as there is no need to judge a file’s importance. Whilst many business owners may look to outsource their paperwork, keeping data destruction within your company means you can oversee every aspect of the process.

Ensure all electronic data is disposed of properly

Everyone is accustomed to the necessity of document shredding, but this isn’t where a shredder’s capabilities end. With the right machine, hard drives and CDs can also be destroyed, furthering a business’s dedication to data protection. These shredders come at a price, but it is nothing compared to the losses a company can experience from a single case of identity theft.

Protect your assets online

The digital age has seen a change in the way we conduct business affairs, but, unsurprisingly, this has led to more opportunities for identity thieves. Phishing is a practise where hackers target a company’s personal records through employee’s internal email accounts.

Teaching your staff to recognise a suspicious email will stop a hacker gaining access in this way. Because thieves will often attempt to mimic official members of your team, avoid clicking on any links that haven’t been verified by that employee either on the phone or in person. Encrypting all sensitive information will also minimise the risk of phishing.

By understanding the ways in which identity thieves operate you can facilitate the transition towards a safer workplace. Not only does it lead to a streamlined, more efficient working environment, there is also far less chance of you seeing your hard work and earnings erased by a few avoidable mistakes.