Q: I read somewhere that the majority of identity theft originates from a source in the workplace. If this is true, what steps should my employer be taking to protect my personal information, and what can I do if they are being lax about it?
A: As an individual, if you are trying to protect yourself against identity theft at work, there’s a lot you can do. However, those efforts might be in vain if your employer isn’t also safeguarding your information. As you mention, the percentage of identity theft originating at work is estimated to be anywhere from 30% to 50%. Obviously, while many employers do a good job at safekeeping employee information, many could do better.
Employers DO have a legal obligation to effectively safeguard personal information provided by employees. In fact, they could be legally liable if they are careless or don’t take reasonable precautions and an employee’s identity is stolen. So, it’s in everyone’s interest that best practices be followed.
These are some of the safeguards employers should be practicing:
- Not using Social Security numbers (the most attractive and useful piece of info for thieves) on employee IDs, insurance cards or paystubs.
- Asking applicants for SSN only after an offer is made.
- Maintaining hardcopy records in a locked cabinet inside a secure area
- Performing background checks on anyone (employee, vendor, contractor) with access to personal employee information. And reviewing the list periodically to avoid disgruntled, dishonest persons from having access.
- Providing training to those handling sensitive information Untrained, careless staff are a common source of information leaks.
- Not allowing sensitive personal info to be stored on laptops or other mobile devices which may be lost or stolen. Lost or stolen laptops have been the source of some large breaches.
- Ensuring all electronic data is encrypted and stored in secure databases with the proper access controls.
If you’re not sure what safeguards your employer has in place, and want to ask without ruffling feathers or implying they’re doing it wrong or are being too “lax”, you can bring up the topic as something that you are curious about or that you heard on the news and interests you. Most employers would be open to improving in this area, if given the suggestion in a helpful manner.
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