Identity theft: Are you really protecting your clients?

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Jun 01, 2007
By dvm360.com staff

Imagine this: Mr. Gold, one of your clinic's best clients, walks up to the reception counter to check out after a routine wellness examination for his pet Labrador Retriever, Sonny.

After some small talk and a few stories about Sonny's recent escapades, Mr. Gold hands the receptionist his check to pay for today's services.

Today was an exceptionally busy day at the clinic. It's already 8 p.m., and the floor-cleaning service is waiting to go to work. Your staff decides to leave Mr. Gold's check in the unlocked drawer next to the computer for deposit the following day. It's happened before, and everyone wants to get home for dinner.

Unfortunately, the floor-cleaning service just hired a man named Joe who has a questionable background. After finishing the floors in the waiting room and reception area, Joe finds Mr. Gold's check in the unlocked drawer. Using his cell phone camera, he snaps a picture of the check. Information is power. With the pertinent data about Mr. Gold, Joe orders a batch of checks to be sent to a new address. He obtains a new driver's license using Mr. Gold's information.

A year later, the real Mr. Gold isn't paying much attention to Sonny's yearly reminder card from the veterinary clinic. He has more pressing concerns. On his way home from work a few nights ago, he is stopped for speeding. When the police officer runs Mr. Gold's driver's license in the state database, he finds a warrant issued for Mr. Gold's arrest.

He's hauled off to jail, all the while protesting his innocence. The truth is the real Mr. Gold is innocent.

You see, Joe the floor cleaner obtained a fake driver's license with Mr. Gold's information. Joe used the driver's license to elude a DUI charge a few months ago. He never showed up in court, so a warrant was issued for Mr. Gold's arrest.

While Mr. Gold was in a fight to prove his innocence, Joe already executed the next assault on the victim's bank accounts. They were all overdrawn.

While the story may be fictitious, it is far from implausible. Identity theft racked up some $36 billion worth of losses last year, according to the Better Business Bureau.

The paper trail

These problems extend into veterinary practices. Privacy issues are a concern in almost every area of life. All personal identification data – Social Security, driver's license and bank account numbers – leave a trail, showing where we have worked, how much we have spent and where we have spent it. These numbers define us in the legal and medical systems.

In this technology-based age, digits in the "system" often determine whether we can get a loan, insurance coverage and even a job.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recognizes the growing number of problems resulting from identity crimes. The FTC also knows that individuals are put at risk because businesses fail to protect private information. Inadequate security measures, lax privacy policies and uneducated or negligent employees give criminals easy access to non-public data.

In recent years legislation has been passed to help protect consumers against identity theft. These laws hold businesses accountable for the information they allow to fall into criminal hands. Now lawsuits, stiff fines and even jail time befall executives, not to mention bad business publicity stemming from a data breach.

As a veterinarian and small-business owner, you know a good reputation is critical. Positive word-of-mouth advertising can drive people to your doors. Negative word-of-mouth has the opposite effect – especially among the friends and neighbors of those who are damaged by a lapse in your security.

"If you experience a security breach, 20 percent of your affected customer base will no longer do business with you, 40 percent will consider ending the relationship and 5 percent will be hiring lawyers!" (CIO magazine, The Coming Pandemic, Michael Freidenberg, May 15, 2006)