Keep Your Eye On That Fax !

My client, a corporate director of security for a Fortune 250 Company, called me to investigate and determine the authenticity of a claim by a whistle-blower. The individual (we'll call him Frank.), surprisingly, was blowing the whistle on his own company (that was not my client's!) Frank stated in his phone call to my client that he was just fired by his employer from his position as a sales manager for an environmental services company. Frank went on to say that he and his superior, a VP, had never agreed on management styles and he knew his time was short. Apparently the reasons for his termination were trumped up because he claimed that his performance was well above average, ".. but, they were out to get rid of me." "I probably wouldn't be doing this if they had treated me with respect and my boss hadn't laid his hands on me!" Frank continued, "So, I hope that you will be able to confirm my claim of what happened."

The sales manager related that one of his salesmen, who had just recently been hired walked into his office waving a sheet of paper and stated "Look what the VP just gave me. "It's a copy of a fax sent by an environmental consultant to a major corporation in the midwest about a dumping problem they have." The salesman said "Now I've got the name of all the players involved and the type and location of problem they are going to have to correct. All I have to do is contact them and let them know what we do and tell them we can take care of the problem for them." "If I get lucky," he continued "they'll give us the project without putting it our for bid!"

Frank then asked the salesman how the VP had come to have this fax in his possession and the salesman responded, "He said he has an arrangement with a desk clerk in one of the hotels near this corporation. He told the clerk to pay attention to any incoming or outgoing faxes that guests send on the hotel fax machine. If he (the hotel clerk) sees a fax that relates to our business, he (the VP) will pay him a finders fee for copying the fax and sending it to him!"

Whether I resolve this problem or not is not the reason for this article. The possibility of having identified a new method of breaching the security of proprietary information is the reason for waving the red flag. All companies should immediately review policies and procedures for their traveling employers (and contractors, as well). If there is no mention of safeguarding faxes or their originals, then consider writing and implementing one.

  1. Maintain possession of original documents as much as possible.
  2. Maintain control (observation) of original documents at all times.
  3. Wait for the completion of the fax transmission by the person providing this service and demand the immediate return of your original.
  4. If this service is paperless and includes preparation of your document on a word-processor or PC, make sure that the file (document) is not written to a hard-drive disk but to a floppy (your own!). That way you can demand its return upon completion of the fax transmission.
  5. Don't forget to ask the preparer to "wipe" the fax from the directory of the (internal) fax/modem program.
  6. If you are awaiting the receipt of a fax at your hotel (or other location), have the transmitter of the document call you in advance and schedule the time of the transmission. That way, you can be waiting for its arrival. The clerk won't let you in the back office where the fax machine is?  Complain to the manager that it is vital you be present. That will work in most instances, especially when you are a corporate or regular guest .

James M. Dallas, CPP, , Nov., 1995
Reprinted from Risk Management Newsletter

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