I have been advocating personal service provider audits and oversight for some time now knowing full well that high target identities including celebrities and affluent wealthy are great targets of identity fraud not only by common identity fraudsters but also by some of their service providers they so much trust. I describe in the article why I think some identities are high target identities and at a much higher risk of identity theft than others but I’d like to briefly mention an old story that caught my attention. First, it was reported that an employee working for a business management company that provides various services to their list of very famous clients, was charged with forging the signature of a check belonging to Mr. Charlton Heston. It appears that Mr. Heston was a client of this company, which had been providing personal services and business management services to its clients. While doing additional search on this case, I discovered that additional celebrities have been the target of identity theft and fraud committed by their personal assistants and close entourage.
As we know, there is no shortage of personal services these days. Most of us commonly request and use the assistance of professional service providers to help us better manage our busy lives in the hope of finding some free time for the things that matter the most to us like spending time with the family and playing with the kids. We typically use professional services such as pet sitting, home care for the elderly, gardening, car wash, laundry, food delivery, and much more. In fact, we can decide to never leave our homes again and still be able to lead a “normal” life by using these personal services. Most of us use some of these services very frequently such as gardening services, window cleaning, home cleaning and oil change to name a few. However, as individuals become busier and wealthier such as celebrities and corporate executives, they tend to surround themselves with more professional service providers as their needs and affordability grow. Many celebrities and high profile identities require the assistance of professionals to help them with various tasks in their overscheduled and busy lives. Such personal services used by the rich and famous that most of us in the society might not commonly use include a personal chauffeur, personal cook, personal assistant, body guard, personal shopper, personal organizer, dedicated CPAs and attorneys, business manager, full time travel agent and much more.
As we increase the number of people around us to assist and provide personal services, we also increase the risk of identity fraud. Some people may blindly engage a company or a person to help them with their tasks without taking into consideration the possibility and existence of identity protection risks. For example, how do we know that we can trust the people that we let into our homes for cleaning, organizing or pet sitting purposes? How do we know that we can trust the people we entrust with our personal information to manage our finances, book a trip or manage our businesses? There are only three best ways to ensure highly trustworthy individuals manage your personal information and your most precious assets, including your children and pets; they include a) extremely trustworthy references, b) background research, and c) personal service provider audit.
The degree to which we determine the needed level of trust assurance depends on the type of service and frequency by which we use the services. By service type, I mean the services that either require our personal information such as tax preparation services or business management and services that inherently gain access to our information assets such as house cleaning which provides cleaners access to our house and every thing in it. Obtaining references for routine services is very common and inexpensive to reach a basic assurance level, however, as the criticality of the services increases requiring additional trust level, we need to consider additional assurance approaches such as background check and independent audits. Independent audits provide the highest assurance levels because they’re independent and provide much deeper insight into the personal service provider practices than a background check. Independent audits must be selected carefully because these audits are not cheap if performed by certified and qualified individuals and thus must be well targeted. However, if we commonly do business with a personal service provider and frequently share personal information, we need to know how the service provider manages our information and what their hiring practices and information management processes are. I specially like the audits because they will uncover weaknesses in their practices that references or background investigations will not, because a not occurred event does not guarantee the absence of such event in the future. Typically, a reference or background check will provide past problems and complaints regarding a certain service provider but will not indicate potential future risks due to their sloppy practices.
In order to minimize the cost of independent audits, two approaches may be taken. First, individuals using the services of the same personal service provider may share the cost of obtaining the same audit information. From a business standpoint, the professional auditor doesn’t care how many people may review the audit report as long as all parties agree to the distribution process of the audit report and cost structure. Second, the audit may be focused based on existing concerns, common risks or the results of the background investigations to further reduce the audit costs.
Such personal service provider audits can be very valuable in protecting privacy, avoiding fraud, and prevent sale of personal information that can be leaked on the Internet and other Media. Knowledge is gold and a personal service provider audit report can give you the information and knowledge you need to decide how much risk you are willing to take and who deserves your business the most.