Business Identity Theft: Increasingly Commonplace Yet Incredibly Obscure

You wouldn’t know it from reading the news, but business identity theft is becoming an increasingly large concern for small business owners, according to a report filed by NPR’s Yuki Noguchi today on Morning Edition.

You wouldn’t know it from reading the news, but business identity theft is becoming an increasingly large concern for small business owners, according to a report filed by NPR’s Yuki Noguchi today on Morning Edition.

Noguchi tells the story of Scott Burnett and the Memphis-based company he and his family have operated for the last 40 years or so, AAA Termite & Pest Control. Burnett claims that when he opened the Yellow Pages last year, he was dismayed to see that there were three “me-too” listings affiliated with his business.

None of those numbers were actually affiliated with Burnett’s businesses. When he looked up their addresses they either pointed to vacant lots or gas stations. When Burnett called the numbers and asked to speak with a manager, the person on the phone hung up.

So, Burnett hired a lawyer, but the phone company reportedly refused to divulge any information about who was behind the fraudulent listings. He then called the National Pest Management Association, but they didn’t know what he should do. Apparently the only person Burnett could find that knew anything about business identity theft was a local locksmith who was also the victim of business identity theft. This is the problem: business identity theft, despite the fact that it could be quite commonplace, is so obscure that no one knows what to do about it.

Colombia University’s Hugh Thompson (also affiliated with the RSA Conference), however, does know about business identity theft and he says it is severely under-reported. Among the reasons this sort of identity theft flies under the radar, Thompson claims, are the facts that there are no federal or states stats or tracking of the problem and, as is the case with data breaches, companies don’t want to report for fear of besmirching their brand.

Things may be turning around though. North Carolina secretary of state and chair of the National Association of Secretaries of State, Elaine Marshall, says the number cases like these involving falsified documents in her state is increasing.

The sophistication of many instances of business identity theft has led Thompson to suspect that organized criminal syndicates may be responsible for these scams.

AAA isn’t alone. In fact, Noguchi claims that 103 phony pest control businesses popped up last year.

It is unclear whether these are pure scammers, masquerading as legitimate companies to steal credit card information from consumers or if they themselves are offering a service and are merely piggybacking on the success of already established businesses. The fake-businesses could even be attempting to steal the identity of the legit ones in the way cybercriminals steal an individual’s identification. It appears as if no one really knows.

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