Protecting customers against identity theft

Even the most dedicated customer would think twice about your business if her private financial information is stolen from your business.

“Identity theft is a crime that impacts the lives of more than 10 million consumers every year-and the numbers are increasing,” business blogger Marco Carbajo writes. “It’s hard to imagine that one out of every 20 consumers is at risk of being a victim this year alone.”

According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, 61 percent of small businesses have never sought out information about the proper handling and storage of customer data. Don’t fall into that category! Protect your customers’ identities by following these tips:

Put your data on lockdown. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act (FACTA) Disposal Rule requires businesses that possess consumer information to dispose of the data once it is no longer needed. This process should include shredding physical documents and using a wiping program to permanently remove information from your business’s computers.

Protect existing data. Lock up physical documents when they are not in use. Install online fraud protection software that prevents financial malware infections and stops phishing attacks from stealing your credentials and data. We partnered with IBM® Security to offer Trusteer Rapport™ – it’s free for Northwest Business Online Banking customers! Visit for more information or to download today.

Assess your password policy. Use password-activated screen savers, change passwords frequently and refrain from using names, social security numbers or words that can be easily guessed.

Make security everyone’s responsibility. Make sure data safety responsibilities are effectively communicated to every employee and that they understand the consequences of failing to follow that policy.

Minimize opportunities for information abuse. Limit the number of employees who have access to sensitive customer data. Before hiring employees who will handle secure data, make sure to contact their references or do a background check. When an employee leaves your business, make sure to change all of their work-related passwords. And make sure they turn in their keys to the building!

Work with vendors that share your standards. Check security policies when working with vendors for services like payroll and website hosting. Make sure they are reputable companies with high standards. You can also include a clause in your contract that requires them to inform you if any of their data is compromised (even if it’s not yours).

Be proactive – have a response plan in case of breach. Even the most cautious business owners can experience customer identity theft. Having a plan in place will allow you to handle the situation efficiently and reduce careless mistakes. Seek legal counsel and check who should be notified (customers, government, law enforcement, etc.) if information theft does occur. Make sure the plan is shared with the entire management team to ensure everyone is prepared.