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Protect Your Small Business From Crime

Small businesses face a lot of challenges - larger, more established competitors; costs; attracting and keeping good employees. Probably the last thing they want to think about is crime. Unfortunately, anyone who comes in contact with a business - employees, customers, and others - may potentially victimize it with criminal activity. Taking steps to prevent crime will help a business succeed.

Preventing employee theft starts with making good hiring decisions. Running background checks on prospective employees and contacting their references is especially important when hiring people who will handle company funds, expensive merchandise, and sensitive information.

Once employees are onboard, the business should implement controls to prevent internal theft. For example, an outside accountant should audit financial records annually. The business should limit access to digital financial records and accounting systems. Only those with a business need to have them should have access to the safe, alarm codes, and keys to certain areas.  When an employee leaves the company, change computer and alarm access codes.

Credit card fraud committed by customers and thieves can be a major problem. Small business owners should separate personal and business banking and credit to limit their exposure to fraud. Be cautious about giving out credit card numbers, both to vendors and employees. Monitor online banking records and business credit reports frequently. With customers, verify that the signature on the charge slip matches that on the card. Be on the lookout for cards that appear to have been altered.

Special attention to computer networks is essential. When hackers can break into the systems of major political parties, the networks of small businesses may pose little challenge. Every business network should include firewalls, anti-virus software, intrusion detection systems, and software to detect spyware and malware. Even these precautions may not prevent all cyber attacks, so data should be backed up regularly for access afterward.

The business should also have a stated password policy for employees to follow. Networks should force all employees to change their passwords at least quarterly; more often for those with access to confidential information. There should also be requirements for complexity of the passwords, such as number of characters, requirements for both upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, special characters, and so forth.

Some threats, such as shoplifting, are old-fashioned. Shoplifting can be reduced through simple measures such as keeping shelves full and orderly, so employees can quickly spot empty spots; hanging mirrors so employees can observe customers in all areas; keeping cash registers locked and monitored; watching dressing rooms at all times; and keeping merchandise away from exits where thieves can grab it and leave quickly.

Even the most vigilant business may suffer the occasional crime loss and crime insurance can partially offset those losses. A professional insurance agent can explain what this insurance does and how much it will cost.

Most employees, customers and computer users are honest, but small businesses must prepare themselves for those who are not. By taking these precautions, a business can avoid becoming a victim of criminals. 

Frances Zettl