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Hundreds of people, businesses, and organizations including government agencies are the victims, each year, of identity theft. It can happen to anyone - including you and your business.

The most seemingly innocent data, such as names, addresses and employment histories, are at risk. Every office is filled with potential hazards, from unshredded reports to computers left logged into private networks and sensitive documents that end up in the trash.

Sensitive data can provide a windfall to crooks, with targets including bank account numbers, credit-card information, customer data and employee records. Intellectual capital, ranging from a family restaurantís secret recipe, to a firmís client list, is valuable to thieves.

Where are you vulnerable? From unshredded financial statements to out-of-date antivirus programs to stolen laptops that donít have software encryption. Documents left on your desk overnight may fall into the hands of an unscrupulous member of the cleaning staff. Armed with just names, addresses and phone numbers, thieves can often con or compute their way into enough information to register credit cards, run up bills and otherwise wreak havoc in your businessís name.

These incidents can be costly. The average cost to a business of recovering from a data breach is high, including loss of productivity, good will or brand equity. You could spend hundreds of hours recovering your good name, your business name and rebuilding your credit history.

There are several strategies to guard against data loss:

  • Conduct employee background screening and reference checks, including researching the credibility of references.
  • Be sure to encrypt all computer equipment that your firm uses, including, hard drives, laptops, USB keys and smartphones. Each should be encrypted with a password.
  • Shred sensitive documents Ė donít just throw them in the garbage
  • Create an office culture that supports preventive measures. Offer employees basic training that clearly illustrates the risks of not taking regular precautionary steps, and make it simple and convenient to take part in the process.

Most times, you donít even think about what you are throwing away, however, check to see if the information contains sensitive material that could be used against you.

Be ever cautious of unsecured Wi-Fi hot spots which hackers can monitor and clever cons. Have a healthy fear of unsolicited emails and calls. As the commercial sector is now moving towards wireless solutions, a healthy dose of paranoia can be a good thing.

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