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Business Identity Theft – Three Keys to Protection

Imagine discovering you are the co-owner of your business instead of the sole owner, or that you have a satellite business you didn’t know about operating in a different state, or there is a business with a similar name using a similar address to yours pretending to be your business. How would any one of these scenarios impact your business? This is what business identity theft looks like. It can happen to any business large or small. It could happen to yours, too.

Most small to mid-sized businesses don’t understand what identity theft can do to their business until it is too late.

Business identity theft doesn’t target individuals, instead, criminals look for ways they can take valuable information fro legitimate businesses. They are looking for bank accounts, credit card numbers and passwords, and sensitive intellectual information.

These looters gain access to key accounts and drain them, many times, before the bank is aware of the act. The cost of business identity theft can be enormous. It could take hundreds of hours and a large sum of money to repair the damage. Some businesses never recover and go out of business.

Business identity theft is still a relatively new type of crime. Most business owners haven’t heard of it. So there is a temptation to ignore it. Steve Cox of the Better Business Bureau says, “Business identity theft is a very real concern in today’s marketplace. From a criminal’s perspective, it’s significantly more cost-effective to steal business identities than consumer identities.:

The criminals act quickly. They know they only have a short period of time before the act is discovered. The Ponemon Institute says that 84 percent of the cases money was stolen before the fraud was detected by the bank.

Many small business owners don’t think they have much that a thief can take from them. But the truth is that you don’t have to have more than a good name. The thieves can use it to get loans, order products and ruin the businesses good name. Dun and Bradstreet’s Senior Risk Analyst Robert Strezze states, “What is particularly disturbing about this trend is the significant dollar amount involved. It’s not unusual for the losses to be in the mid-six figures by the time the criminal activity has been detected.”

The unfortunate truth is that most businesses don’t take the time or steps to safeguard against the crime. Most are too busy doing the daily activities to keep the business going. It isn’t until the damage is done that a business realizes the trap it fell into.

What are the keys to business identity theft prevention?

There’s good news for businesses who are willing to put some time and effort into business identity theft prevention. Many times preventative measures can mean big savings and a better image in the community. There are three keys where a business can lessen the likelihood that identity theft will happen:

The first key is to establish a position on the leadership team that is in charge of monitoring for business identity theft, establishing procedures for data breach prevention, and protect against other criminal activity. This officer could be called the Chief Security Officer, for example, and should have the power to check banking, credit card and other key accounts. The officer would be wise to establish “best practices” for information security including employee training, password protection and more.

The second key is to set up monitoring services that watch your back for you. A businesses personal information is everywhere. It is nearly impossible for one person to keep an eye on every aspect of the business. A business identity theft protection service that includes business credit monitoring and internet surveillance, identity theft alerts, and whole business recovery can be a valuable asset for identity theft protection.

The third key is to set up credentials monitoring in the Dark Web. This is where criminals do their business buying-selling-trading stolen information. Credentials monitoring will alert a business when stolen credentials, IP addresses and, for banks, BIN card numbers appear. Businesses can take proactive steps to prevent the stolen information from harming them, their employees and/or customers. Millions of stolen credentials, email and login information, show up every month. Stolen credentials is a major player in all forms of business fraud.

Business identity thieves are clever and determined. They can take advantage of businesses and business owners that do not take precautions to protect their business.

I ask nearly every business this question: “If someone started representing himself as an owner or officer in your business, how would you know? How soon would you want to know?

Are Small Business Plans Really Needed?

Writing a business plan or even thinking about doing it drums up feelings of dread. It is a bit tedious and takes some dedicated time. You may even think it isn’t really needed for your small business. But, you are wrong!

Your business will not reach its full potential if you don’t know where you are headed. You need to have your business goals written down so you can see how far you have come. It is so satisfying to look at your business plan (or goals) one year later and say, “WOW, I surpassed all of my goals!” If that is the case, it’s time to write a new business plan with bigger goals. It is an evolving thing.

Most of the time, the only reason small businesses prepare a business plan is out of necessity. They need to show it to their banker or investor to raise funds for their small business. That is fine, but this report should be a priority when starting your business. You have to AIM for something and make a plan on how to make it happen. That is what all successful entrepreneurs do.

This applies to all small businesses. You can be a blogger, an independent home consultant for one of the many companies out there selling essential oils or beauty products, an auto repair shop, or a professional attorney or accountant. It doesn’t matter which business you create, you need to have a plan in place for your growth.

What is a business plan? It is simply a list of answers to questions that people might have about your small business. It is also a forecast of where you hope to be financially within the next year, two years, and five years from now. Your business plan should include a description of your service or what products you will offer. Once you know what your business will do, the next thing you need to know is whom you are going to be doing it for. What makes your business different? You need to explain what makes your business different from other businesses in your market. How do you plan to make the business succeed? You will need to forecast expected income and expenses. This will be a bit easier if you have solid financial numbers and have been in business for a while already. It is a lot harder if your business is brand new.

This has been a brief overview. If you need more help with your business plan, doing a quick search on the Internet will bring up several ideas and templates to use. The Small Business Administration has this great tool to use. Remember, if you are truly determined to build a successful business then you must have a business plan written and in place to help you measure that success.

What Yogi Berra Can Teach Small Business Owners About Estate Planning

According to baseball legend Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.” Yogi’s one liners often make me laugh, but they also make me think. His quip reminds me of the importance of having a plan when engaging in any endeavor that will impact our personal situations beyond the immediate here and now. That includes the process of estate planning. Now, I will grant you that Yogi probably wasn’t thinking about estate planning when he offered this particular slice of wisdom. Nonetheless, his words are absolutely spot-on insofar as the importance of planning for that day which we will not live to see. As important as having an estate plan is for all of us, it is of even greater importance for the small business owner. I think it is no exaggeration to say that thoughtful estate planning is an essential component of every small business owner’s overall business plan.

I think of a successful small business owner as someone who recognizes an opportunity to provide a needed product or service, and then invests the time, devotion and energy to developing and implementing a plan to seize that opportunity. I admire those thoughtful risk takers who harness their vision, business acumen and moxie in order to create, nurture and guide a sustainable business venture. I have found the small business owners I counsel to be thoughtful, deliberate and attentive to detail in how they go about the work of managing their businesses; i.e., they plan for the future. However, what I have also noticed from time to time in otherwise prudent and successful small business owners is a lack of any plan for their business when they die or are otherwise unavailable to manage it.

It is easy to understand how even successful small business owners who are otherwise consummate planners might prefer to avoid estate planning as it concerns their business operation. In at least one respect, these successful business owners are a lot like most people; that is, they are not accustomed (or inclined) to ponder their own mortality. It is a subject, even if not loaded with angst, which easily lends itself to defer consideration for “another day.” Yet, the stubborn reality remains that absolutely none of us will get out of this life alive. For the small business owner, Yogi’s wise counsel merits some thought, and action.

If you are a small business owner and have yet to start the estate planning process, let me suggest some relatively easy first steps to get you started. First, locate and then review your company’s organizational and governing documents. If your business is incorporated, these would include the corporate bylaws, shareholders’ agreements and those other documents your lawyers drafted when the business was getting started. If your business is a limited liability company or partnership, you will want to look at the company’s operating agreement or partnership agreement. Review these documents with the following questions in mind:

- How will your death (or permanent incapacity) affect the company’s existence?

- How will your successor be chosen, by whom and how much say do you presently have in that decision?

- Will your death trigger a buy/sell provision by which a co-owner, or the company itself, is allowed to purchase your interest in the business, notwithstanding the wishes of your own family members?

A brief review or discussion with your lawyer of questions like these may then prompt you to begin thinking about your vision for the company’s future when you are no longer able to guide it. A next step might be to consider how you would want the business operated in the event of your temporary incapacity or unavailability. A durable power of attorney will allow you (as the “principal”) to designate someone else (the “agent”) to make business decisions during your incapacity, while allowing you to retain the ability to withdraw or revoke the POA when you are ready to resume control of the business.

The POA itself might serve as the genesis of a comprehensive succession plan, by which you map out a plan to reduce your own involvement in the business and allow others to assume greater management and decision making responsibilities. An orderly transition plan is apt to increase the company’s odds of survival when you are gone. And, such a plan may help you to “let go” of control and devote more efforts to mentoring those who will eventually run the business you created.

Ultimately, you will want to focus your planning on what you want to happen to the business when you have died. Here, a well-designed trust agreement will allow you a great deal of flexibility, both in terms of retaining a degree of control while you are alive, and identifying your intentions with respect to the business after you die. The trust agreement enables you to select those who will administer your stated intentions when you are gone. You can, for example, provide for the sale and/or dissolution of the business over time, or provide for its eventual transfer to one or more family members. A trust agreement allows the owner a great deal of flexibility and for that reason makes it an extremely helpful tool in the business owner’s estate plan.

The bottom line is that you, as the small business owner, have the ability to ensure that with careful planning the company you created will survive your passing. This is a process that can be tackled incrementally over time. Given the uncertainties of life, however, the estate planning process should become a component of your overall business plan. There is no time like the present to start this process. Don’t be lulled into putting this task off for “another day”. None of us know how much of a future we will have. Or, as Yogi puts it, “It may be getting late earlier than you thought.”

© 6/16/2015 Hunt & Associates, P.C. All rights reserved.