While most Mainers are aware of the dangers of personal identity theft, many business owners remain in the dark about the growing threat of corporate identity theft. The term “business identity theft” describes various fraudulent or unauthorized uses of a company’s identity and, according to Dun & Bradstreet, has been reported in at least 26 states. In 2011, the Federal Trade Commission received 503 identity theft complaints based in Maine, many of them involving corporate identity. In response to this threat, I am launching a seminar series to educate business owners on how to prevent being victimized and what steps to take if their company falls prey.
Criminals seek to gain access to bank accounts, credit cards and other sensitive company information, then secure lines of credit in the name of the victim entity. Once the theft is discovered, businesses are faced with the difficult task of repairing the damage to their credit and reputation, and banks and retailers are often left with major financial losses.
The following are examples of this type of activity, as reported by National Association of Secretaries of State:
Large companies such as eBay, Microsoft and VISA have dealt with business identity theft carried out through phishing schemes where fraudulent emails purporting to be from legitimate, recognizable businesses seek personal or financial information from recipients
An identity theft ring in New York used financial information obtained from corrupt bank employees to cash counterfeit payroll checks that were designed to look like they belonged to the victim organizations, which included corporations, hospitals and government agencies
In Nevada, a man claimed that the identity of his business was stolen after a company changed the name of the businesses’ officers through filings with the secretary of state’s office, then sold the business to a third party
In Tennessee and other states, criminals have been creating phony web sites that impersonate the identity of legitimate car dealerships and advertise low prices in order to scam people into making deposits for vehicles that do not exist
In Georgia, criminals purchased a cell phone, registered it under the name of “Georgia Powers” (which showed up on caller ID), and convinced a number of elderly people — who thought they were speaking with the utility company “Georgia Power” — to divulge their credit card data.
The Department of the Secretary of State serves as a repository for all records relating to over 80,000 business entities and nonprofit corporations operating in Maine. Identity thieves often attempt to use state business registration websites to gain access to online business records that they then use for nefarious purposes. As Secretary of State, one of my priorities is to ensure the security of business records filed with this office.
To this end, I have developed a series of corporate identity theft education seminars in partnership with the U.S. Secret Service. These one-hour seminars are open to the public and free. Attendees can learn about the threat of corporate identity theft, how to prevent it and what to do if they discover they are a victim of this crime. At each seminar, we will seek input from business owners and managers to determine how to further strengthen our laws to make it more difficult for thieves to obtain sensitive information.