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Christmas is coming! While many businesses are busy decking halls and fa-la-la-ing all the way to the bank, this is the time of year when you should turn your thoughts to the very real risk of identity theft, how it effects your customers, and steps you can take to reduce their risks.  

Businesses today have access to more information than ever before about their customers. From EBT processing to credit card processing, mailing lists, and banking information in between – it’s a smorgasbord, for identity thieves keen to take advantage of every snippet of information they can pluck from the far reaches of the World Wide Web.

It can be a financial and public relations nightmare for you, though. Not only do you have a personal stake in protecting the personal information of your customers, but you have a legal obligation to do so as well. No business owners wants their customers to experience the headaches, hassles, and potential financial hardships that go along with identity theft.

As the holidays approach and would-be identity thieves kick their efforts into overdrive, there are small and large steps you can take to reduce the risks to your customers and protect your business at the same time. These are a few of the steps you can take and the potential benefits they have to offer.

Personally Identifiable Information, or PII, is information that helps to identify your customers. It can include a variety of details that by themselves mean little. When you combine them, though, with other bits and pieces of information about the person, it makes the act of identity theft easier for thieves to carry out.  Highly prized information among hackers and thieves include:

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• Banking Information
• Dates of Birth
• Social Security Numbers
• Credit Card Numbers

This information, when stored on standard computers with minimal encryption can be simple for hackers to sneak right in and run off with in the middle of the night, the evening rush, or the light of day. It can take weeks or even months for you to
know a breach has occurred. If one delays, it can take even
longer to sort out the pieces to discover the severity of the
breach and what information hackers accessed during their unauthorized visit.

Most payment processors offer more sophisticated levels of encryption that many merchants are able to afford on their own. This service is included as part of the fees you pay for the processing services and helps you help your customers by making it more difficult for hackers and thieves to get their hands on their personally identifying information.



Upgrade to an EMV Chip Credit Card Reader

thief_cards.pngMagnetic strips on credit cards are notoriously vulnerable for people to counterfeit. With one misplaced swipe, hackers can have all the information from your customer’s credit cards – and they can use your devices and readers to steal that information. Chip readers are more secure options that prevent the more common card cloning processes that can empty customer accounts quickly.

If you’ve failed to upgrade to the new smart chip credit card readers you could find your business on the hook for those fraudulent charges. Not only does making the upgrade protect customer information, data, and security; but it also offers very real financial protection to your business from bearing the brunt of the costs associated with retail fraud.

Create Policies that Protect Customer Privacy

There are many things you can do as a business that will help improve the security of your computer network while protecting your customers. Some of these policies involve staff, others involve equipment, and almost all of them involve a heightened respect for and awareness of privacy.

Adopt Policies about Email, Devices, Security, and Passwords
Each one of these topics represents a potential, and even likely, entry point for hackers. Hackers will use any possible tool available to them to get their hands on information about your employees and your customers. Remind employees who are reluctant to comply that they are not only protecting customer information, but their own information as well.

Everyone in your organization from upper management down to the janitors have a vested interest in updating passwords, installing security updates, and following simple email and social media protocols that offer another layer of protection for your business.

Use Technology to Your Advantage
Consider cloud storage of information and limiting access to personal information to only those employees who need access to this information to do their jobs. The fewer people who have access to sensitive information, the lower the risk of that information falling into the wrong hands.

Also secure hard copies of personally identifiable information about customers. Many people forget about this concept in the digital age. Failing to do so can be a critical error, though. One way you can do this is by securing sensitive data in certain areas of your business and requiring key card access and electronic verification of who
had the information at any given time. Again, you should only provide access to this information to those who
need it in order to do their jobs.

The threat of identity theft is very real in today’s business world. Every step you take to secure the personal data
of your customers – all of your customers – is a wise investment for your business to make. These are a just a few steps you can take that will help safeguard the identity of your customers and the reputation of your business.
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