Identity Theft Is on the Rise: How a PEO Can "Vaccinate" Against It


As companies across industries have established hybrid remote or fully remote operations, many have become even more vulnerable to cybercrime. Many businesses already had glaring holes in their organizational security before the pandemic, such as inconsistent network monitoring or anti-virus software updates. But one of the biggest corporate cybersecurity vulnerabilities has been the failure of employers to provide current cybersecurity awareness training to their employees regularly. And with many employers not having taken the proper security precautions in their haste to implement remote work, cybercriminals have escalated their efforts to target employees to access their personal financial information, their employers, or both. 

Unfortunately, they've been quite successful. 2020 saw a 69% increase in reported cyberattacks on businesses and individuals. Criminals not only compromised business networks, but they also have aggressively engaged in identity theft. According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), identity theft cases more than doubled between 2019 and 2020. 2020's numbers were also triple 2018's figures. 

Human resources departments and systems often provide lucrative targets for cybercriminals. By obtaining access credentials and other vital information from HR personnel, criminals can acquire sensitive information from other employees. HR departments, especially those using standalone HRIS and other relevant systems, usually don't have the time, expertise, and resources to secure their systems from intrusion. Partnering with a PEO can help small and midsize businesses secure their HR operations, protecting their organization and employees in the process. 

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Why You Need to Worry about Identity Theft 

Besides their rising rates, cybercrimes like identity theft occur at businesses of all sizes, in all regions, and operating across industries. Many small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) mistakenly assume that cybercriminals will exclusively target large corporations. However, criminals target any entity that appears vulnerable as long as the potential payout is lucrative enough. 

So, if you're willfully ignoring the fact that your IT department consists of one or two overworked generalists for whom cybersecurity is not at or near the top of their to-do list because you think you're too small, stop. Start shoring up your network security by ensuring that your anti-virus and anti-malware software is up to date. Make sure you have a comprehensive data backup and recovery plan and that your organization's emergency response plan includes responses to a full range of cyber incidents. 

To help mitigate the risk of identity theft, you must also provide your employees with frequent cybersecurity awareness training that helps them identify suspicious online activity and act on it. Your training should be updated frequently to keep it aligned with ever-evolving best practices in cybersecurity. And each course should include knowledge checks to help ensure that your employees are absorbing the information. After all, your business's cybersecurity partially depends on each employee who accesses your network, files, or devices. 

How a PEO Can Help Safeguard Against Identity Theft 

Designed to provide HR support to SMBs, PEOs recognize the dangers SMBs face from cybercrime and identity theft. And PEOs can now help SMBs with: 


PEOs can do far more than help your HR department provide employee cybersecurity awareness training. They can help HR staff develop a comprehensive set of policies and procedures to deal with cybersecurity threats in coordination with your IT department. Often businesses fall victim to identity theft through employee fraud or human error. You need policies, procedures, and practices that minimize this risk to the greatest extent possible. These policies might include anything from physical safeguards on IT assets to security measures in the procurement process. 


With cybercrime, it's not a matter of if but when. Organizations must have a robust incident response program that helps them mitigate the damage, implement business continuity plans, and communicate with key stakeholders. When an incident occurs, organizations without such a plan lose valuable time trying to figure out what steps to take. And the longer it takes for you and your team to respond, the more damage a cybercriminal can inflict. PEOs can work with your SMB to ensure that existing disaster plans include a comprehensive incident response plan tailored to your unique organization. 


Once a data breach has occurred, SMBs have certain legal reporting responsibilities to comply with the law. Failing to disclose a breach can result in stiff penalties on top of the damage a cybercriminal inflicted. Concerns that disclosing a data breach could put your reputation at risk and result in expensive litigation from customers and investors are valid. However, small business HR staff often don't have the expertise to help guide your organization through your options.  


In the wake of a breach, you'll have immediate expenses that you may not have the cash to cover. Insurers offer cyber insurance for this very purpose. Insurance carriers typically educate, inform, and sharpen management’s focus on the areas of risk and identify vulnerabilities. This provides significant value to SMBs that often lack the access to expertise in data security and risk management. 

Cybercrime rates are rising, including identity theft, and SMBs must take aggressive action to inoculate themselves from exposure. Partnering with a PEO and using their secure HRIS helps you prevent employee data breaches and mitigate risks, protecting your workforce and your business in the process.  

Should Your Business Be Partnering with a PEO?