According to a recent article in the Palm Beach Post, the Internal Revenue Service estimates it will send out $26 billion in fraudulent tax refunds in the next five years. This is just one way that thieves are profiting from the vital information that’s often too easily available.
All an identity thief needs in order to file a tax return is a Social Security number and a date of birth, a combination of numbers that can be found in many business and personnel files in many offices across the country. Ensuring safe storage and destruction of those confidential documents is of utmost importance to protect your staff and customers from identity thieves.
Shredding of all paper files that contain personal information is standard practice today, but it is not unusual to see bags of shredded paper outside commercial offices awaiting trash or recycling pickup. While companies may feel secure that those shredded documents are safely destroyed, that feeling of security is misplaced. Shredded confidential documents can be reassembled, and new computer programs and technologies that aid in the process are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
High-tech software is not always even required to glean valuable information from shredded documents. In an admittedly extreme example, shredded police documents found their way to the 2012 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade as confetti, according to USA Today. Because the documents were shredded horizontally, entire lines of text were readable right from the strips, including Social Security numbers and phone numbers.
Even cross-shredded files can be recompiled, as was proven by a DARPA shredding challenge, where companies were challenged to reassemble multipage documents that had been shredded into more than 10,000 pieces. The winning team used a combination of software and human verification to assemble the documents and extract the information in only 33 days.
It’s not just the danger to your corporate and customer information that you need to be concerned about. Fines for noncompliance with state and federal privacy legislation can bring hefty penalties that can damage your company’s financial situation. The loss of business that can result from a publicly revealed leak can be catastrophic to a small company.
So, how should a small- or medium-size business secure confidential documents before and after shredding for maximum security?
Documents headed for secure disposal should be placed in locked boxes before they are shredded. This will keep prying eyes and hands of staff, visitors and third-party contractors away.
Companies concerned about document security should not let their document destruction practices begin or end at the process of shredding. Creating a companywide plan that identifies confidential documents and ensures they are safely disposed of can save a company’s secrets, its reputation and keep it in compliance with all the laws relevant to the industry in which it operates.