One of the truly sinister aspects of identity theft is that you can never know when the theft occurred or from what source. Protecting yourself before the theft happens is ideal and the steps below can be modified to be preemptive strikes against potential defrauding. If the theft has already occurred, the steps below lay the groundwork to getting through the process as effectively as possible.
If your business is a victim of business ID theft, you need to take quick actions to minimize the damage and stop thieves from devastating your business. Every case is different, so not every action listed here may apply to your situation. Some states have specific reporting procedures, so be certain to also review the resources for your state or territory.
- Protect your business’ existing accounts by immediately notifying your bank’s fraud department. Your business’ cash accounts are the most vulnerable and should be your first priority. Please note: Businesses and commercial banking customers have shorter reporting timeframes and increased potential liability for account takeover and fraudulent transactions, especially in the form of wire transfers and ACH transactions. Your bank may be able to stop or reverse fraudulent transactions and recover stolen funds. However, be aware that traditional consumer protections do not apply to your business accounts, and there is no guarantee that the financial institution will be able to recover any of the stolen funds. Timely reporting is of the essence!
- Notify your credit card companies. Contact the fraud departments of each of your credit card companies for any accounts that have been compromised, or that you suspect may have been compromised. If you are aware of any fraudulent transactions that have already occurred, you should provide that information when you call.
- Notify the check verification companies. If thieves have committed check fraud in your business’ name, or fraud involving your business’ checking account (such as using stolen, altered, or forged checks – or even just your business name and information), your business may be reported to the check verification companies used by merchants and financial institutions. Inclusion in these databases can cause your business to be denied check writing and/or checking account privileges.
- Notify your key suppliers and other creditors.
- Notify the Appropriate Government Agencies. Report business identity theft to your local law enforcement agency for criminal investigation. Any information you have can be used as part of the police report and can help to put a stop to similar thefts in the future. Be certain to obtain a case number, as it is likely to be requested by your financial institutions and creditors. Carefully follow the officer’s or detective’s instructions. If thieves have fraudulently filed or changed your business registration records, contact your Secretary of State Corporations or Business Services Division. Be certain to also obtain certified copies of any fraudulent business filings from your Secretary of State’s office. The certified copies of the fraudulent filings may be needed in the event of later civil or criminal proceedings against the impersonators.
- You will have to remain very vigilant to catch all of the ramifications of identity theft. Monitoring your accounts, disputing newly opened fraudulent accounts, contacting – in writing – any entity or creditor that has a fraudulently account opened in your business’ name and requesting that the organization immediately close the account, conduct an investigation, and remove any and all references to the account from your business credit reports, as well as from your personal credit reports, if applicable. Also, request copies of any and all available account documentation, including account applications, order and transaction history, account notes, communications, etc, as these will become part of the police case you have begun.
Protect Your Business Credit. You will have to request copies of your business credit reports and review them for accuracy and suspicious activity. If any is found, contact the credit bureau’s fraud department. You may also consider requesting a fraud alert be placed on your business credit file.
Protect Yourself and Your Personal Credit. Request copies of your personal credit reports and review them for accuracy and suspicious activity. Companies such as Credit Karma will alert you to suspected fraudulent activity. You might also consider placing a fraud alert or a credit security freeze on your personal credit file to help prevent thieves from opening new credit accounts in your name or using you as a guarantor for new business accounts.
Be organized and keep accurate and detailed records. Document all of your contacts with each organization, and take careful notes of each conversation. Capture the date and time, name and title of the person you spoke with, their department, telephone number and direct extension, and employee number (if applicable).
Follow up promptly and frequently. Ensure that the organizations have received all of the information they have requested, and that any actions that were supposed to be taken have been completed (by both the organization and yourself). Do not rely on verbal promises of action. Be cognizant of dates and deadlines – your rights and liability protections can be negatively impacted by missed deadlines.
Obtain a Letter of Clearance and keep all of your records. Each time an account or fraudulent transaction(s) has been resolved, and you and your business have been absolved of the debt, request a letter of clearance from the organization to formally document this fact, in writing. Without it, you may find yourself fighting the battle again in the future if the organization is acquired by another company or sells its debt, or through old-fashioned human error. Don’t throw your notes and records away – keep them in a safe place because you may need them again.
You will get through this!