Business owners should be aware that a trend of fraudsters stealing the identities of business is increasing. There are variations on the scheme, but typically the good name or credentials of a business are used to obtain credit, merchandise, or sales. One common vulnerability is where a business provides documentation through an association or trade group.

In one example, a trucking firm was a member of a computerized shipping cooperative network. The network provides a directory of cargo loads available to be picked up and shipped which truckers can select from. The trucking firm looks up loads in a location where they will be available and selects one based on weight, size, and type of cargo. The trucking firm contacts the shipper and arranges for the pickup based on the posted rate or negotiates a higher price if possible. As part of participating on the network, the trucking firm posts their company information along with their insurance certificate for verification by the shipper. The shipper views the information and verifies the insurance and schedules a time for the truck to take the shipment.

The criminals apparently used this system to take a shipment using the identity of a legitimate trucking company. They obtained all of the company information from the shipping network, and printed off a copy of the insurance form. The other key to this theft was using an online phone service provider to create a virtual phone line. There are several communications company which will issue a number in any area code and create a custom greeting in any company name. Incoming calls are forwarded to a number provided by the customer. Phone trees, voicemail, and a complicated extension system can be set up as well. In this case the criminals created a virtual phone line which answered in the name of the legitimate trucking company. “Thank you for calling _____ Trucking, press 1 for……”.

The calls were forwarded to a pre-paid cell. So the criminal calls the shipping firm and agrees to take the truckload for delivery. They fax over a legitimate looking letterhead with the new phone number and attached the insurance form. The shipper calls the number to verify and is given the go ahead to release the cargo to the truck driver.  A pickup time is scheduled and the criminal leaves with a six figure load of cargo, never to be seen again. The shipping warehouse did get a copy of the drivers CDL but it turned out to be a forgery.

In hindsight, the shipping company could have insisted on calling the numbers listed within the computer network for the company, but they simply went off of the faxed letterhead. The investigation now hinges on tracking down IP addresses used to visit the website for the virtual phone company, and possible logins to the shipping network website. These are thin leads at best.

The message for company owners is to watch out where your company information and credentials are posted. You may have license information and personal information listed on trade groups, industry associations, marketing forums, and sales organizations. An identity thief can gather a great deal of information about the company from combining this information. The same technique could be used to create phone accounts, obtain credit, or buy services from vendors.