By Randy Fredlund
High-profile data security breaches, such as Equifax and more recently Capital One, serve as good reminders about the vulnerability of our personal information online. Unfortunately, small businesses are a prime target and, therefore, must be especially vigilant. According to Juniper Research, a leading digital market- research firm, small businesses make up to 13percent of the entire cybercrime market. While there will always be bad actors with malicious intent fueling what has grown into a $300 billion cybersecurity industry, there are steps you can take to protect your financial records. As the ChiefCompliance and Security Officer at Peoples Bank, I am laser-focused on ensuring that we’re staying ahead of the latest scams, and that we’re employing the best online security practices to keep our customers safe from fraud. As a small-business owner, here’s what you can do to ensure your information is safe and secure.
Understand there’s no quick fix. Some business owners mistakenly think, “I’ll do these two things so I can stop worrying about it,” but that’s not an effective approach. Online security must be viewed as a persistent, ongoing commitment. This doesn’t mean it has to be a major time investment, but you should plan to review your payment processes, as well as your online accounts, bank statements, credit card records, and other personal information on a regular basis to make sure there are no anomalies.
Use available resources. You don’t need to be a technology expert to implement security measures in your organization. There are many terrific resources that can walk you through, step-by-step, how to protect yourself against scams, ID theft, data breaches, and other online threats. Resources I recommend are the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Information on Privacy, Identity & Online Security, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s How-to Guide on fraud and scams. Peoples Bank also offers online banking security best practices on our website.
Establish protocols to help detect and prevent fraud. A common scam is to trick small-business owners into remitting invoices to illegitimate recipients. These scammers are becoming increasingly sophisticated – to the point where they can mimic your regular, trusted vendors. Having protocols in place, such as a dual- control process, can help accounts payable departments detect fraudulent requests and prevent funds from being misdirected.
Find a trusted partner. In my job, I’m constantly learning, and it helps to engage with other industry experts to stay ahead of the latest scams. We regularly bring in external auditors to examine possible vulnerabilities, and we study well-known security breaches to ensure that we have best practices in place to help inoculate ourselves from similar threats. It’s important to find a banker who can help you prevent unauthorized transactions and be an advocate for your overall financial security needs.
Use common sense. Always trust your gut. If you find a discrepancy, question it. If something is out of context, feels off, or doesn’t make sense, there is likely a reason for it. Remember, scammers are counting on the fact that small-business owners don’t usually have the time or resources to detect their scheme.
As a lifelong member of the Bellingham community, it is important to me to serve as an advocate for local business owners. I truly enjoy helping them find peace of mind when it comes to their financial security.
There’s no such thing as perfect security, and these steps only scratch the surface of what can be done to protect yourself online. Countless articles have been written on this topic, and the dizzying array of solutions available to help small businesses can be mind-boggling. What we ask customers to do is to educate themselves on the risks, step up their vigilance, and put themselves in the best position possible to outwit the bad guys.
Randy Fredlund is Executive Vice President and Chief Compliance and Security Officer at Peoples Bank.