5 Ways Accountants Need to Protect Their Identity
In my last article, I made the case as to why accountants were uniquely qualified to educate their clients about fraud. As a trusted advisor, you are respected for your knowledge of all-things accounting, which includes helping clients detect and prevent fraud.
Another area of concern that, in many ways, is even more invasive than fraud, is identity theft, which affects us on a much more personal level. I’m not advocating that fraud isn’t as severe as ID theft, but everyone should know more about identity theft and the ways you can protect yourself. You can also pass along this information to your clients; again, they should be looking to you for this kind of advice and guidance.
Here’s what I refer to as the top five ways to protect your identity:
#1: Get a Security Microcut Shredder
Shredders are common in today’s workplace and at home, but most people think they can get by with an ordinary, big-box store shredder. As long as the page is shredded, it’s OK, right?
Wrong! There are three types of shredders: straight, cross cut and micro cut. A straight shredder cuts a page in ribbons, while a cross cut shreds it up and down. If an identity thief were to go through your trash, it wouldn’t take the thief any time at all to reconstruct a straight-shredded page. By using a software program, it would take just a short time to put back together a cross-cut page.
Individuals and companies who want to maintain complete protection from ID theft must buy a security micro cut shredder that turns paper, CD-ROMs and even credit cards into confetti. It’s impossible to reconstruct a page with this kind of shredder. No matter who the manufacturer is, make sure the machine is labeled “security microcut shredder.”
#2: Scrub or Encrypt the Copier Hard Drive
Few people I run into know that all office copiers have internal hard drives; in fact, they’ve had them since 2002, so if you previously disposed of a copier for your firm or business, and did not keep the hard drive, you’ve just released all the information that was ever copied on that machine.
Identity thieves are just waiting for you to buy or lease a new copier. They are standing in line to buy used machines from refurbishers. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this CBS segment – I guarantee it will open your eyes.
It will cost you some money, but consider using software that scrubs or encrypts the information on a hard drive prior to releasing the copier. When you dispense personal computers, encrypt those hard drives as well or take them out of the computers and keep them in a safe place. Isn’t a small investment better than the risk of releasing sensitive client information?
#3: Get a Credit Monitoring Service
Everyone knows about the big three credit bureaus – Experian, TransUnion and Equifax – but how many of you maintain a “credit monitoring service?” The best kind of service is the one that monitors all three credit bureaus 24/7/365 and alerts me in real time when someone is attempting to use my information.
#4: Don’t Write a Lot of Checks
Check fraud is rampant all across the word. Let’s say you innocently wrote a $9 check to CVS. Now, anyone looking at that check has access to your name, address, phone, the bank’s name and address, the routing number, and your signature, not to mention your date of birth and driver’s license number the clerk wrote on your check. Anyone who sees the check can now draft off your account and order new checks online.
Yet, don’t make yourself crazy over writing a personal check; no one can get away from writing one now and then. Just think about what you’re putting on that check and who it’s going to; it’s not a good idea, for example, to write a check off of a private banking account with a large set of funds.
In the workplace, firms and businesses should get smarter about the checks they write, in order to ensure they are protected as much as possible from anti-counterfeiting technology. Years ago, the technology integrated into a check was expensive. Today, it is relatively inexpensive. Buying checks through a company such as Intuit that has 4.5 million customers, for example, brings the cost of the check way down; even the smallest business can afford checks with built-in anti-counterfeiting technology.
#5: Use Credit Cards Instead of Debit Cards
There are two reasons debit cards aren’t good. First, It’s easy for hackers to access your information through debit cards. Second, why not spend someone else’s money instead of your own?
Every time you use a debit card, you’re giving someone access to your money. Moreover, the funds come directly out of one of your bank accounts. If you were to use a credit card, the money sits in your account until you pay the bill. You also incur no liability if someone steals your card.
In addition, a debit card does nothing to improve your credit score. If you have college-aged kids and provided them with a debit card, it would be wiser to give them a supplemental card on your own account. Of course, you’ll pay the bill, but what this does is build credit in their name that they’ll be able to put to good use after college.
There Are No Excuses!
If a check forgery or other kind of theft were to occur, you would not be aware of the problem until it’s too late. Implementing all five of these methods to prevent ID theft is probably the cheapest insurance you’ll ever purchase.