With more than 11 million Americans falling victim to identity theft each year, individuals can't be too careful about guarding their personal information. While at home, most Americans know to shred their bank statements, ensure their computers are updated with anti-virus programs and shy away from revealing personal information to strangers. But the risk of identity theft may be higher in their work environments. According to Consumer Affairs, digital copiers are underestimated as an identity theft risk.
Digital copiers are used in most offices and industries nationwide. What many do not realize is that they store all scanned or copied documents on their hard drives, Consumer Affairs reports. This means that employers who make a copy of their worker's employment or billing forms, which often contain names, addresses, Social Security numbers and bank account information, may be putting them at risk. Additionally, most digital copiers are linked to one central network, making it easier for other employees to access the information, according to Consumer Affairs.
Most states have laws in place that require businesses to protect employee data, but even those with tight security may overlook copier hard drives.
"Business owners are required under Maryland's Personal Information Protection Act to take steps to protect consumers' personal information," Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler told Consumer Affairs. "Without taking necessary precautions, copier hard drives could be resold to third parties, possibly in a foreign country, where identity theft is harder to control," he commented.
There are a number of steps that businesses can take to better protect their workers from identity theft. Software, such as disk scrubbers, can be purchased to remove the stored data from the hard drive, the website reports. Employers also have the option of purchasing encryption software, which may prevent any information from being stored in the hard drive at all, the website added.
Security breaches have become more prevalent as society transfers information normally kept in filing cabinets and archives to online storage databases. Medical theft, the fastest growing type of identity theft, has increased as more hospitals and medical offices are transferring patient data to national healthcare databases. One study shows that more than 40 percent of hospitals report 10 or more data breaches annually, according to Healthcare Technology News.