Employees Remain Businesses' Biggest White-Collar Crime Threat

VISALIA, Calif. -- While white-collar criminals wield creative tools such as antennas made from Pringles cans and electronics disguised as pink duckies, these innovations are not businesses' biggest threat.

Employees are still the No. 1 vulnerability to companies when it comes to high-tech white-collar crime, computer and law enforcement experts say.

"Get to know your employees, and don't give people too much freedom," warned Lt. Bob Lozito, operations commander of the Sacramento Valley Hi-Tech Crimes Task Force.

Lozito and other computer and law enforcement representatives spoke Tuesday at a seminar on white-collar crime sponsored by the Tulare County District Attorney's Office.

The forum -- designed to raise public awareness -- covered new developments in cybercrime, identity theft and hacking and information on what to do after a business has been attacked.

"You certainly wouldn't leave your business place with your door wide open and your alarm not set," Lozito said about educating employees and taking preventive steps.

Not all crimes will be committed by employees, but workers ignorant of dangers do provide access to friends or strangers, experts said.

For example, one criminal entered a romantic relationship with an employee because the worker took home confidential credit reports from the company, said Robert Holman, a Fresno-based special agent with the U.S. Secret Service.

Experts suggested simple steps for protecting businesses big and small:

--Adopt uniform policies and procedures.

--Educate employees.

--Assess what types of information the institution keeps, and plan ways to protect it.

--Back up computer files, and restrict records access to those who need it.

--Create a no-tolerance policy, and be willing to prosecute.

--Establish relationships with law enforcement before a crime occurs.

--Be willing to share stories of crimes to warn other businesses.

One message repeated throughout the seminar was to contact law enforcement soon after a crime is suspected, despite how much was stolen or how embarrassing the theft.

Employers should not search for computer evidence themselves, experts said.

"If you do, you've tainted some of the evidence that we're looking for," said Barry Silva, criminal investigator with the Tulare County District Attorney's Office.

Many at the conference conceded that high-tech crimes will continue to overwhelm the resources of law enforcement.

"It's going to be the drug problem of the future. It really is," Lozito said.

Marilyn Rankin, assistant superintendent with the Tulare County Office of Education,believes the best way to combat these crimes is to focus on citizens' values.

"Where does the solution lie?" she asked. "Go after the character."