Office ID Theft: Are Photocopiers a Risk?
A lot has been said about the importance of safeguarding computers and using strong passwords and good encryption and firewall software in order to protect yourself from identity theft. But few people realize that there is another electronic device in their offices that could pose just as much risk. And this machine is significantly less guarded. What is it? The photocopier. Because a high volume of documented identity theft cases begin in the office, it’s important that you constantly remain on guard against identity fraud.
Your office copier (or even worse, the copier at the local copy center down the street) just might be the weakest link when it comes to identity theft protection. Think for just a moment about all of the documents you photocopy (or someone else photocopies on your behalf). Medical records, tax returns, birth certificates, student records, marriage licenses, driver’s licenses, social security cards, etc…Office expense reports with photocopies of credit card receipts can even put you at risk if you aren’t careful. If the wrong person got his or her hands on the information you copy, it could lead to credit card theft, bank fraud and identity theft as a whole.
How Copiers Put You at Risk
Many copiers that were made in the last five to seven years contain hard drives that record the information that has been copied. These files are stored unencrypted until the hard drive becomes full and old files are overwritten. But, some experts claim, many files may never be overwritten. Since photocopiers use a modem, many of them are connected to the office network and many companies don’t use passwords to protect their copiers. Or, if they do, the passwords are generic or easy for someone to guess or get a hold of.
So, all an identity thief would need to do is hack into the office copier’s hard drive and harvest the wealth of information that has been stored there. Your risk factor goes up if you routinely (or ever) photocopy sensitive information at a library, public copy center or in shared office space rented to more than one company. Identity thieves have been known to dig through people’s trash to get the information they need. So, if a big part of identity theft protection involves safeguarding your trash, you should approach the copy machine with even more care.
While this risk may never be completely eradicated, there are things you can do to minimize your vulnerability to identity theft and to prevent identity fraud. Here are five quick tips to help increase your photocopier safety.
1. Make sure the data modem and the fax modem are different. Doing this prevents someone from being able to take the information stored on the copier and easily transmit it to another location through the open phone line. If you photocopier is connected to a fax modem, it could easily set a thief up to engage in something similar to online identity theft where he or she steals information from your copier without even being on site.
2. Purchase an overwriting or encryption component for your copier. If your office uses a copier that is more than a year old, you should check online and see if a component kit has been created by the maker of your copier to prevent information from being stored either at all or in unencrypted form. Both Xerox and Sharp created add on components once they realized that the existing technology left people vulnerable to identity theft. If preventing identity theft has become a priority for them, it should become one for you too.
3. Don’t use public copy machines for sensitive information. Whenever possible, only use copy machines you are familiar with and where you have some element of control when it comes to monitoring the security risk. Using public copy machines is much like using shared computers or Wi-Fi. They leave your personal information exposed to any hacker that knows how to get to it. Make every effort to protect yourself from identity fraud.
4. Buy your own printer or fax machine with photocopying capabilities. If you routinely photocopy sensitive information either for personal or business purposes, consider purchasing your own miniature photocopy machine and make sure it is outfitted with sufficient security features that either eliminate or encrypt stored information. And don’t hook your machine up to a community server. Not using shared servers greatly reduces your risk of identity theft.
5. Use passwords that protect the information you copy. Password protected copy machines may require those same passwords to retrieve information stored on the hard drive. So, create a password for the office copier in the same way you would create an ATM pin code. Guard your password and don’t share it with anyone. If you give your password to one person (even if you trust him or her) he or she may share it freely with others thinking it is no big deal. If you want to prevent identity theft, you can’t rely on other people. You must be proactive on your own behalf.
Identity theft is becoming a far more intricate crime, and savvy thieves are looking for new and easy targets all the time. Since copy machines are relatively simple machines to operate, they can prove to be a fairly easy payday for identity thieves. If you make a conscious effort to constantly have identity theft protection on your mind, you will greatly reduce the types of fraud you are exposed to. So, safeguard the information you copy and think twice before you hit that green button.