6 Steps to Help Secure Your Business This Holiday Season
Is Your Business Ready For More Customers–and More Risk?
While the holiday season provides a boon to many small businesses, all that hustle and bustle can also give criminals an opportunity to prey on shoppers and business owners.
Shoplifters blend into the big crowds. Extended holiday hours can leave businesses susceptible to crime. Frazzled cashiers may be less likely to spot fraudulent transactions or protect confidential information.
But there are simple steps you can take to protect your business, not just during the holiday season but throughout the coming year.
Step Up Basic Security Measures
Security cameras can help deter criminals, but security guards may be better, says William J. Birks, Jr., CPP, a security expert and consultant in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He cautions that forgoing security staff to save money can backfire. "This creates a security vulnerability for the store," says Birks. “What they think they save in manpower, they lose in inventory. Properly trained security officers can be one of your best and least costly deterrents to shoplifting loss."
Take Care When Hiring Seasonal Employees
Many business owners overlook "insider threats" – the potential risks posed by their own employees, experts say. This is especially important during the holidays, when businesses often hire seasonal staff to handle increased traffic and extended hours. Birks says seasonal employees "may not have the same loyalty that your full-time employees tend to exhibit." After all, they know they won't be working there in two months.
Conduct thorough background checks when hiring seasonal staff, and remind your year-round employees to alert management if they notice anything amiss, Birks says.
Make Security a Group Effort
As security risks increase during the holidays, encourage your employees to keep an eye out for red flags. Remind them that theft, fraud and data breaches can put a serious dent in your company's bottom line, which could affect their jobs down the road.
"Talk to all your employees and let them know to watch each other, to be vigilant," says T. Casey Fleming, chairman and CEO of BLACKOPS Partners in Washington, D.C. "Security is a team sport. It's not just one person's job. It's everyone's job in the company."
Be On The Lookout For Fraud
The holidays can be a prime time for fraudulent transactions because employees may be overwhelmed or under-trained, or both. "Thieves look for employees they can con, confuse or misdirect," Birks says, so train your employees to verify transactions and be on the lookout for anything suspicious. "Require ID with checks, and employ a check verification service if possible. Make certain that credit cards are signed; if not, require secondary ID."
Don't Invite Hackers In
Insider threats don't always come from workers with bad intentions. "A lot of times it's not the malicious employee. It's the careless employee," says Fleming. A brief lapse in judgment can wreak havoc on your business, so practice what Fleming calls basic "security hygiene". For instance, don't valet-park your car at the company holiday party with your laptop in the backseat. Don't store important documents in an unlocked file cabinet or keep your password on a sticky note on your monitor.
And beware of doing business over public Wi-Fi. "There's no such thing as free Wi-Fi," Fleming says. "All your transactions, all your emails can be easily accessed and tracked. You're paying a tremendous cost by accessing that."
Use Data-Centric Security
When protecting against data breaches, many businesses don't realize they're relying on outdated cybersecurity measures like antivirus or firewall software. "They're basically protecting the perimeter of the company's data," Fleming says. "The analogy is digging a deeper moat or building a higher castle wall. It's ineffective because every smartphone, every app, is a new penetration through that wall. So the castle wall is just full of holes."
Instead, protect the data itself using data-centric measures like encryption and limiting which employees have access to sensitive data. And if you regularly accept mobile payments, consider a payment processing system that offers built-in encryption.
Most importantly, don't let your guard down once the holidays are over. "The holidays are a great time to take a step back and reevaluate," Fleming says. "But it shouldn't just be the holidays that people are aware of. It's 365 days a year."
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Kara Wahlgren is a full-time freelance writer based in New Jersey. She specializes in health writing, entertainment coverage and personal finance. Her work has appeared in Women's Health, HGTV, Fine Living, Good Housekeeping, Yahoo and more.