Car dealerships and their service centers can be hot spots for identity theft.

Identity theft is a crime in which the thief obtains key pieces of customers’ personal identifying information, such as their driver’s license numbers, social security number, credit cards, medical records, etc. The process starts with a lost or stolen wallet and mail, a computer virus, a data breach or even a dealership. Yes, a dealership.

Every year, many fall victim to identity theft due to poor data security practices by businesses, retailers and even pharmacies. If it can happen to the U.S. Government and large corporations like Target and Home Depot — all of whom have recently experienced security breaches — it could easily happen at your dealership.

How are you protecting your customers’ identities when they come in to fill out items like car loan applications? Simply making a copy of their driver’s license when they come in for a test-drive and then tossing it into the trash puts customers at risk.

The Red Flags Rule, created by the Federal Trade Commission, along with other government agencies, requires many businesses and organizations to implement a written identity theft prevention program designed to detect “red flags” of identity theft in their day-to-day operations, offering steps to prevent crime and mitigate the damages.

You can help your employees spot suspicious patterns and prevent consequences by training them on what to look for and what questions to ask. Are they prepared to answer inquiries that customers might have such as “What is this information being used for and how will you dispose of it?”

If you encounter a customer with concerns, encourage them to request a credit report from a nationwide credit reporting company: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. They can do this by visiting annualcreditreport.com or calling 1-877-322-8228. If they find something that looks off in their credit report, the FTC has put together a step-by-step guide on what to do if someone suspects their identity has been stolen.

Being the dealership that people can trust and rely on goes a long way. Be upfront with customers about the measures your dealership goes through in order to protect them from having their accounts drained and their credit damaged. Peace of mind is a great selling point.

By Jenny Hammond, DOM360 Social Media Coordinator