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Whether you’re a florist or a lawyer, shred documents

Regardless of how innocuous a document may seem, all business owners are being warned to shred all paper-based confidential documents ahead of National Identity Fraud Awareness Week (October 12-18).

Spokesman for the campaign, Zach Pote, said documents containing personal and financial information can provide fraudsters with sensitive information that has the potential to paralyse entire business operations.

“Business owners have a legal responsibility to protect their staff and client’s confidential information,” Mr Pote said.

“Whether you manage a florist shop or work in the health industry, your business holds confidential personal or financial information. If you fail to store or dispose of this information safely and it falls into the wrong hands, you risk prosecution under the Privacy Act for breaching client confidentiality and you could lose your business,” he added.

Under the Privacy Amendment Act 2012 passed in March 2014, individuals found to be in breach of the Act can now be fined $340,000, with penalties of up to $1.7 million for an organisation.

Mr Pote said businesses must ensure they have a process for receiving and disposing of documents that may contain sensitive personal information relating to business operations.

His warning comes as an Attorney-General survey found the personal information of almost one in 10 people has been misused in the previous year.

Of these, more than half were victims of theft of credit/debit card information, name (40 per cent), bank account information (31 per cent) and address (24 per cent).

The Identity Crime and Misuse in Australia online survey of 5,000 people, conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology for the Attorney-General in May 2013, found that more than two-thirds of Australians are concerned about becoming a victim of identity theft and fraud in the coming year, up from 60 per cent in 2007.

Mr Pote said while there had been a growing emphasis on protecting your online identity in recent years, paper-based crime was still rife in Australia.

“Your personal identity is as valuable as money – all it takes is for somebody to go through your rubbish or steal personal documents from your unsecured letterbox or desk to obtain details such as your full name and address, which can then be used for criminal purposes.”