Individuals have long been warned about personal identity theft and advised to keep information such as passwords, their tax file number and bank account details as closely guarded secrets.
However, the ATO has recently warned that thieves can target unsuspecting small businesses and the information that is stolen can be used to commit various crimes.
Once a business identity is stolen it may be used to commit tax fraud, create other fake business entities, lodge fraudulent GST claims, and take out loans. The identity thieves might then have access to a business entity's information, and through this, gain the opportunity to further employee personal information, tax file numbers, bank details from payroll data, super fund details and personal addresses.
The ATO says considerable time and effort is required to restore a business's identity, amend credit profiles and sort out financial arrangements, so the best protection is prevention.
The following steps be used to protect your business from identity theft (and of course you personally as well):
- secure your business files and employee information when these are not in use
- regularly change all passwords (and don't use passwords that may be easily guessed, such as the business name itself)
- ensure that the business's principal and staff log out of systems and lock computers when they are not in use
- make sure that your computers and other devices have up-to-date security and anti-virus software. If in doubt, consult an IT expert. Clarke McEwan recommends that the cost of a small IT consulting fee may significantly save you the repercussions of identity theft.
If you are concerned that your identity may have been compromised, the ATO would like to hear about it (Call the Client Identity Support Centre on 1800 467 033).