According to the most recent statistics released by Cifas, the UK’s fraud prevention service, identity fraud reached record highs in 2018, with plastic cards taking the hardest hit. This follows a 2017 report which revealed that company directors are at greater risk of identity fraud, emphasising the importance of maintaining your privacy as a business owner.
As more services and information become available online, it’s now easier than ever for fraudsters to access the data required to impersonate other people and commit identity theft. Whilst many individuals take great care to protect their privacy on social media platforms, less consideration is given to sharing sensitive data with government agencies like Companies House.
Whether you’re a sole trader, a company director or shareholder, or a partner in a business, it’s important to minimise access to sensitive personal data by taking measures to protect your privacy.
Whilst there’s no getting around the information required to register a new business and comply with statutory reporting requirements, there are a number of simple ways that you can minimise the visibility of personal data and protect your privacy.
1. Do not use your home address as a registered office
To register a limited company, you have to provide a registered office address. Serving as the official correspondence address for communications from Companies House, HMRC, and other government agencies, this address is a matter of public record and appears online.
To maintain your privacy as a business owner, do not use your home address as a registered office. If you work from home or do not have commercial premises, you can simply set up a Registered Office Service. This non-residential professional address will be added to the public record and used for the delivery of statutory correspondence, enabling you to keep your home address private.
Blue Square Offices provides a prestigious Registered Office Address in Glasgow City Centre, which is ideal for limited companies and LLPs incorporated in Scotland. Available for only £39.99/year, our Glasgow address will appear on the public record. All statutory correspondence will be delivered to your registered office in the first instance, before being forwarded to an address of your choice.
2. Do not use your home address as a service address
Before the Companies Act 2006 came into effect on 1 April 2009, directors’ home addresses were published on the public record. To minimise the security risks associated with the publication of such sensitive data, directors can now provide a service address for the public register. Residential address details must still be given to Companies House, but this information is kept on a private register.
Some people still choose to provide a home address as a service address, perhaps being unaware of the potential consequences. Ideally, you should use a non-residential address as your service address. If you do not have business premises, you can simply set up a Professional Service Address to ensure that your home address remains private.
3. Do not use your home address as a business address
Whilst information about sole trader businesses is not published on the public record, it’s easy to inadvertently disclose personal data that can be used by fraudsters.
Providing your home address and personal telephone number on business websites and stationery could lead to copious amounts of junk mail, cold calls, unsolicited visits at your home, phishing scams, and identity theft.
Setting up a Professional Business Address is an extremely beneficial preventative measure, which will help you to maintain your privacy, establish clear boundaries between your home life and work life, and add credibility to your business image.
4. Avoid using a personal telephone number for business purposes
It’s common for many small business owners to use their personal mobile or landline number for business purposes, especially if they work from home or on clients’ premises. Whilst this may seem like a logical and cost-effective option, it is advisable to have a dedicated business telephone number.
One option is to get a second phone that is used exclusively for business purposes. Alternatively, you can set up a Business Telephone Answering Service that provides an exclusive business telephone number with calls forwarded to your existing mobile or home phone number.
Aside from enhancing your professional image and helping you to establish clear work-life boundaries, a business telephone number will minimise the exposure of your personal information and reduce the risk of falling victim to social engineering scams.
5. Improve online security
Improving online security will help you to protect yourself and your small business, making it more difficult for cybercriminals to hack into your email or social networking accounts and gain access to sensitive data and financial information. Important measures to improve online security include:
- Choosing secure passwords and using a different one for each account
- Not oversharing on social media networks
- Checking your privacy settings on social media accounts
- Not sharing or storing private data on file-sharing services like Google Docs and Dropbox
- Using a different email address for business purposes
- Not transmitting sensitive data, including logins, passwords, and credit card data, over public WiFi
6. Ask Companies House to withhold your personal information
If you have ever used your home address as a service address, it will be stored on the public register at Companies House. Anyone can access this information free of charge. The good news is that you can ask Companies House to remove your address from the public record. You can also ask for your home address to be withheld from credit reference agencies, but only if you meet certain criteria.
Unfortunately, you cannot ask to remove a registered office or SAIL address from the register, even if it is your home address. If you have ever used a residential address for such purposes, the information will remain on the public record. It is for this reason that a non-residential address should always be used as a registered office or SAIL address.