identity thief

Javelin Strategy & Research released their annual survey of identity theft and the results are scary. The number of reported cases of identity theft is the highest since they began their survey in 2003. The growth was largest for “new accounts fraud”. These are bogus accounts set up using a stolen identity. This type of identity theft is the most difficult to uncover.

Everyone knows about the problem but how do individuals and organizations prevent all the theft? An obvious answer is to stop it at its source; prevent personal information from falling into the wrong hands. The most common sources for thieves to obtain personal information are still old fashioned paper. It is stolen from wallets and mailboxes or simply taken out of the trash.

The recession has only increased the problem of exposed information. The housing crisis left a tremendous number of mortgage brokers out of business. With no money left, document shredding was their last priority so it was just put out with the trash. Many times they simply abandoned their offices with all of their customers’ financial information to be thrown out by the property manager.

Many companies also reduced staff over the last two years. Employees are stretched thin and it is always easier to throw sensitive documents into the trash rather than wait at the shredder. Expired files are also piling up unlocked in empty offices. The cleaning staff and unauthorized employees have access to take sensitive information for use or sale to identity thieves.

Another effect of the recession is the increase in the number of people looking through your dumpster. They may have good intentions to find recyclables for some extra money. These people are likely to just notify the news and authorities of businesses who fail to shred. But they might also be meth addicts searching for information to sell to identity theft rings. The business is left with a PR nightmare at best but it may also turn into stiff FTC fines.

The solution for business owners is simple. Don’t ignore your document shredding program. If you don’t have employees assigned to shredding and set aside time for the work then you are on course for trouble. To remove the threat many business owners outsource their shredding. This avoids the headaches and guarantees that the job is done well.