Business owners are being warned to shred all confidential documents this National Identity Fraud Awareness Week.

Running from October 12-18, National Identity Fraud Awareness Week (NIDFAW) aims to educate businesses and consumers on identity fraud prevention by highlighting the importance of destroying hard copy documents containing personal information, such as bank statements.

NIDFAW spokesman Zach Pote, National Sales & Marketing Manager for security products company Fellowes, said documents containing personal and financial information can provide fraudsters with potential to paralyse entire business operations.

“Small business owners’ legal obligations to the Privacy Act are not just about avoidance of potential fines in the event of a breach. It is also about protecting the business brand,” warns Zach.

“Any breach of security that compromised customer sensitive information has the potential to destroy a brand and cripple long term customer trust.

“Small business owners are encouraged to remain vigilant in taking every necessary step to protect themselves with strong consideration for both hardcopy information and online information.”

Under the Privacy Amendment Act 2012 passed in March 2014, individuals found to be in breach of the Act can now be fined $340,000, with penalties of up to $1.7 million for an organisation.

The Identity Crime and Misuse in Australia online survey, conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology for the Attorney-General in May 2013, found the personal information of almost one in 10 people has been misused in the previous year.

Of these, more than half were victims of theft of credit/debit card information, name, bank account information and address.

The survey which interviewed 5000 people also found that more than two-thirds of Australians are concerned about becoming a victim of identity theft and fraud in the coming year, up from 60 per cent in 2007.

While there has been a growing emphasis on protecting online identity in recent years, paper-based crime is still rife in Australia, according to Zach.

“Your personal identity is as valuable as money – all it takes is for somebody to go through your rubbish or steal personal documents from your unsecured letterbox or desk to obtain details such as your full name and address, which can then be used for criminal purposes.”

NIDFAW, supported by Fellowes, suggests these simple and cost effective security methods that business owners and consumers can put in place to help reduce the risk of identity theft:

  • Shred all personal and financial information before placing it in the bin
  • Avoid sharing personal details or sending money online to people you don’t know or trust
  • Lock all personal documents in a safe container when not in use
  • Ignore suspicious mail and emails
  • Lock your mailbox or use a Post Office Box
  • Avoid storing personal information on mobiles and laptops
  • Check your billing and account records carefully
  • Choose strong passwords and never select the ‘remember my password’ option
  • Install anti-virus software on your computer
  • Check your credit history annually to make sure there have been no major changes to your credit rating