Soaring sales during the holiday season can give your small business the boost it needs to end the year on a high note. Unfortunately, scammers and fraudsters are eager to grab their share of your profits. Last year, VeriSign—an Internet security and web domain company—noted that fraud grew in proportion to e-commerce growth with fraud reducing a merchant’s bottom line by 3 percent to 4 percent. Don’t let these thieves turn an otherwise prosperous holiday sales season into a nightmare.
Follow these simple steps to protect your small business this holiday.
Encrypt your payment information
If you sell goods over the Internet, be sure to use address verification (AVS) and card verification code (CVC)—an effective first line of defense to flag thieves who are using stolen credit cards. It’s vital to fully encrypt all points of payment (using end-to-end encryption) to ensure that your company and customer information doesn’t get hacked.
Be on the lookout for suspicious sales
Be wary of unusually large orders placed online without any contact from the customer, or rush orders for large quantities, or for expensive goods, warns Janet Attard, author of The Home Office and Small Business Answer Book.
Other red flags: orders shipped to a different address than the billing address; orders from foreign countries; and billing addresses that don’t match the information on file with the credit card company. While any one of these things alone doesn’t point to a stolen credit card, if several factors are present, it’s wise to be suspicious and investigate the legitimacy of the purchase, Attard advises. Call the customer to verify the order if suspicions do arise — and don’t ship the merchandise if you can’t reach him/her.
Watch and educate your employees
Employees with the best of intentions could bring a malware attack into your business while holiday shopping at work or by opening an infected email attachment. Malware can also be attached to free demos or free online services.
To help protect your business, ensure that anti-virus software is installed on any business computer and that employees use a virus scan before opening new programs or files. Of course, it is also critical to change passwords often. Consider offering an internal refresher course on safe Internet use and make sure to cover what to look for in suspicious emails.
Thieves can tamper with your company’s credit card terminals to steal credit card information by attaching a card skimmer — a small device that steals payment card information — to the terminal. Be attentive and train your employees to be vigilant in regularly inspecting credit card terminals to spot any extraneous devices.
Be sure to shred
The holidays can be a frenetic time, as you hustle to buy gifts for your family members, employees and vendors. December is not the time for security shortcuts, no matter how busy you may be. Any gift receipts, bills or banking statements should go through the shredder to prevent thieves from sifting through your business’ garbage to find the personal or business information they need to commit fraud.
Keep your wallet and credit cards close
Your company credit card will undoubtedly get quite a workout during the holiday season, as you stock up for the annual holiday party and buy gifts for employees and vendors. If you intend to share your credit card with an employee to make purchases, make sure they clearly understand the company financial policies. When you hit the stores, never leave your wallet or purse unattended. It only takes a few seconds for a thief to steal your wallet and all the personal information it contains. Also, never let your credit card out of your sight or let a salesperson take it somewhere you can’t see it, since handheld “skimming machines”—which record your card information—can be hidden in a hand or under a counter.
Step up your vigilance
Monitoring your company’s bank and credit card accounts regularly is more important than ever during the holiday shopping months and just after. Look for activity you didn’t initiate and keep a frequent eye on your account balance.
Protect your password
It’s a good idea to change your company’s passwords and PINs before, during or after the holiday season, in order to throw off thieves who may have gained access to them. Also, make sure each member of your staff uses a different password to access company data—in the event of a security breach, the password can then be used to trace the fraud.