Small businesses can be especially vulnerable to crime, with 3.8m incidents of business crime – such as shoplifting and criminal damage – reported each year according to 2019 research by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). It found that nearly half (49%) of all small businesses in England and Wales experienced at least one business crime in the previous two years.
Crimes that affect small businesses range from burglaries – such as a shop or warehouse break-in – to employee crimes such as fraud or theft. According to the Home Office, one in five crimes (20%) in the UK is committed against businesses. If your start-up is a victim of crime, the impact can be significant with the average cost of crime for an affected business in England and Wales averaging £14,360 over two years according to the FSB.
Small businesses aren’t just affected by physical crime. Cybercrime, such as phishing, malware and processing fraudulent payments is as prevalent, with an estimated 3.9m incidents affecting small businesses each year according to the FSB.
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10 ways to help protect your business from crime
The good news is that protecting your business can be cost-effective, relatively easy to do and simple to integrate into your day-to-day start-up activities. While adding layers of security to your new business won’t entirely eliminate the risk of crime, it can help remove some of the worry and minimise losses if a crime does occur. That means your start-up can be back on its feet quickly.
The trick is to make committing a crime against your business difficult and not worth the effort by criminals. Introducing layers of security – both physical and digital – can make targeting your business less attractive.
1. Carry out a crime risk assessment
If you’re opening a shop, storing stock in a warehouse or launching an e-commerce store, it’s worth taking time to think like a criminal. Invest a few hours in brainstorming all the ways a criminal could target you, such as a night time burglary or stealing credit card details from your website. Look at where opportunities exist for criminal activity, such as a blind spot on the shop floor or leaving a till unattended. Write each one down, along with an action you can take to reduce the risk, such as installing security cameras or encrypting credit card details and storing them offline.
2. Secure your premises
Unless your premises are occupied 24-hours-a-day, chances are your shop, workshop or office could be vulnerable to a break-in. Make sure you use high-quality locks and that someone is responsible for locking up at the end of the working day. Consider installing security lighting, CCTV and a monitored alarm. You’ll need to put up clear signs about video recording and ensure you meet data protection rules when storing images of customers and staff. Shops can install shutters, but check planning restrictions with your local council beforehand. Be careful where you park company vehicles and avoid leaving tools and other equipment in vans overnight.
3. Secure your data
With online transactions and customer data a normal part of modern businesses, don’t leave cybersecurity to chance. Cybercriminals can operate from anywhere in the world and use sophisticated techniques to steal data. Invest in commercial firewall software and ensure your website uses Secure Socket Layer technology to encrypt customer data.
Install and maintain antivirus security software on office computers, and educate employees on tactics used by cybercriminals, such as phishing emails, and what to do if they suspect an attempted cybercrime. Ensure your website and customer data is regularly backed up – daily if possible – and stored offsite to prevent data loss in the event of a crime or premises fire.
4. Train and protect staff
Employees can be your eyes and ears in helping keep your business secure. Train staff in how to spot suspicious activities, such as email that may contain malware or how to check counterfeit banknotes. Ensure staff follow security procedures, such as not letting unknown people into premises or leaving a shop floor unattended.
Training staff in personal safety and how to handle conflict in the workplace is essential. Look for Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) approved workplace conflict training courses from accredited providers such as Praxis42 and BritSafe. Support employees in learning how to spot and defuse potentially violent situations, such as angry customers, and limit activities such as working late and travelling home alone.
5. Prevent employee theft
It’s a sad reality that some employees may be tempted to commit criminal acts. According to the FSB business crime survey 2019, theft by employees accounted for 12% of all business crime, with employee fraud accounting for 5%.
Prevention is better than cure, so ensure you robustly vet new employees including checking references. Be careful about sharing passwords and access codes with employees, and ideally introduce different layers of access. Keep a careful record of cash in tills, and it’s a good idea to separate roles where possible, such as having a different employee reconciling receipts to staff handling payments. Put in place clear policies about employee crime, and regularly train staff on how to spot suspicious activities from other employees.
6. Dispose of documents securely
Small businesses can be a treasure trove of sensitive information that is highly useful to criminals. From financial records and customer data to confidential information and intellectual property, information that gets into the wrong hands can open your business up to fraud and identity theft. Buy a high-security cross-cut shredder and routinely shred paper documents rather than toss them into the bin. Many banks and utilities companies will allow you to switch to paperless digital documents.
7. Buy business insurance
Carefully check your business insurance to ensure it covers all the potential risks to your start-up, such as cybercrime. Look for cover such as emergency repairs to replace broken windows or doors caused by forced entry and cover for securing your premises. Most property insurance policies won’t cover losses resulting from crime or fraud, so look for specialist business insurance relevant to your sector.
8. Design for crime
If you’re opening a shop or restaurant, work with fitters to design with crime in mind. This means eliminating blind spots that present opportunities for shoplifting, fitting security sensors and using security tags on clothing and high-value products. Install mirrors or CCTV to monitor floorspace when staff are absent, and post warnings that shoplifters will be prosecuted.
When setting up, arrange to meet with your local police constabulary to get any local crime prevention advice, and get advice from the National Business Crime Centre.
9. Control inventory
Keep tabs on inventory. Use regular stock takes to reconcile against sales to get sight of stock discrepancies. Ensure damaged stock is recorded and not simply discarded and note any unusual amounts of stock being written off. High-value stock should be secured, and access given only to trusted employees.
10. Control access
No matter if you’re running a shop or working in an office, opportunistic criminals can wander in unchallenged and make off with computers, personal belongings, stock and cash. Ensure all visitors sign in and are met by a member of staff. Ideally, provide employees with key fobs or access cards that grant access to your premises.
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Disclaimer: While we make reasonable efforts to keep the information on this page up to date, we do not guarantee or warrant (implied or otherwise) that it is current, accurate or complete. The information is intended for general information purposes only and does not take into account your personal situation, nor does it constitute legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. You should always consider whether the information is applicable to your particular circumstances and, where appropriate, seek professional or specialist advice or support.