The state attorney general's office has filed a lawsuit against a California man accused of stealing eight Alaska businesses' identities.

The case is a first in the state, according to Assistant Attorney General Cynthia Franklin.

"Most people have heard about identity theft of an individual," Franklin said. "But this is identity theft of a business."

Under state law, corporations in Alaska are required to register online with the Alaska Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing. They are also required to update the information every two years, also online. The information is open to the public.

The state alleges that in June, Christopher Webb of California visited the state website and changed the ownership of the targeted businesses to shell corporations that he had recently created. Franklin says the change was caught by one of the business owners before any serious damage was done, but in other states scammers have used businesses' identity to apply for loans, credit and licenses in their names.

"We've seen some pretty significant harm coming from it in other states, companies feeling a financial hit from having their identity stolen," Franklin said.

According to Franklin, the website is designed so that people can easily register their businesses and make legitimate changes when necessary. She said the site has so far relied on the honor system.

"You really have to have a level of trust in people, and so far up until now that's been fine," Franklin said. "But it is important that people understand that there's sort of this new game in town, where somebody's found a way to kind of mess it up."

Franklin said business owners can protect themselves by checking the website frequently to make sure there are no unauthorized changes.

"In the same way when your personal information is stolen, sometimes you don't know for a while," she said. "So you keep an eye out for signs that something fishy is going on, and it's the same for business owners."

Franklin said there are no immediate plans to change the website. The state Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development is looking into a notification system, however, that would let businesses know when changes have been made to their information.

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