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Protect your ministry against identity leaks

Everything you need to know you probably learned in preschool

You may have heard about the 1,000-member church in California whose offerings were stolen during the church service — out of the trunk of a deacon's car. Not only did the thief get $20,000 in cash and checks, he got the names, addresses and tracking and account numbers printed on church members' checks.

There was also a ring of identity thieves who attended a church wedding and, through petty theft, stole personal and financial information from the wedding guests as well as checks payable from the church's account.

Church employees and members alike need to be aware that identity thieves don't stop at the church doors. What can you and your members do to protect yourselves? Some of the things you can do to keep your ministry safer, you probably learned in preschool.

Look both ways before you cross the street. In other words, be on your guard. Look out for situations that might create risk.

  • Don't leave buildings unlocked.
  • Warn members not to leave purses or wallets unattended.
  • Ask members not to leave cars unlocked, nor to leave anything in their cars that might be of value.

Don't spread germs. Keep your ministry's computers secure:

  • Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and keep them updated.
  • Use anti-phishing software and account protection.
  • Keep your browser updated by installing all security patches as they come out.

Remember, business and membership information may be accessed if there is a breach in security. Keep your computer technology as current as possible to avoid being vulnerable. To learn more about how you can keep your data secure, read "Is Your Data Safe?"

Don't talk to strangers. Never give personal information about church members to anyone you don't know and trust. Churches might easily fall victim to pretexting, where criminals pretend to be government officials or family members and request that you verify personal information about someone in your congregation.

Don't accept candy from strangers. Never download anything — email graphics, screen savers, free software, etc. — from a source you don't know.

Don't leave your stuff lying around. Use a locked mailbox or post office box. Keep employee, member and financial files in locked file cabinets. Keep buildings locked when not in use.

Clean up after yourself. Don't toss your documents in the dumpster where “dumpster divers” (thieves who sort through business dumpsters to find documents with personal financial information) can get it. Instead, shred it.

Don't allow identity thieves to target your ministry. Talk openly with your members about the need for greater security — even within the church. And work together to proactively stop identity leaks before they occur. Identity theft may be a relatively new threat, but defending your church and members usually just requires good old-fashioned common sense.

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be construed as legal advice. Readers should use this article as a tool, along with best judgment and any terms or conditions that apply, to determine appropriate policies and procedures for your church's risk management program.