According to a Holiday Survey conducted by Generali Global Assistance, three in four holiday shoppers are concerned about their financial or personal information being compromised due to a data breach this season. This is unsurprising as 2017 is shaping up to be another “Year of the Data Breach” with the number of data records stolen crossing two billion in October, surpassing the 1.9 billion in 2016. With this rising fear, 58 percent of consumers plan to purchase identity protection services in the next two years.
Yet others are adopting a wait and see attitude towards identity protection services. One reason could be the fact that if consumers are victims of a massive data breach, they will usually be offered free identity protection services by the affected company. So, the common thinking would be that you need it only when you are a victim. Is this putting yourself at unnecessary risk?
Identity protection needed before you are a victim?
We spoke to Paige Schaffer, President & COO at Generali Global Assistance’s Identity and Digital Protection Services Global Unit, who offers her opinion on this:
“It is critical for consumers to proactively have their own comprehensive identity protection service in place before the inevitable happens. In a lot of breaches we see – and Equifax was a really good example of this – the breach is not disclosed to the public until weeks, or even months, after the actual breach of data took place. This is also when notifications go out to victims and when free identity protection services are offered to them. During this time, however, hackers are able to sell the compromised information on the dark web (black market) and/or commit acts of fraud with it. Identity thieves are well aware of this window of opportunity, and they likely take advantage of that lag in time regularly. Needless to say, by the time a breach victim has activated the free identity protection service that is being offered to them, the hackers could have already done damage.
“Along the same lines, when a breached company offers complimentary identity protection services to victims, they are typically only available at no cost for a specific amount of time (usually one year post-breach). This timeframe is well publicized, which means that hackers are also well aware of when these victims will no longer have protection. Identity thieves are far from impatient so to wait a year, or even two, to utilize that specific compromised data is a no-brainer for them.
“Lastly, almost all free, post-breach identity protection services are purely monitoring-based. Much of the time, these services are essentially just credit monitoring, which means the user would be alerted if there is a new credit inquiry, a change in their credit profile, etc. But what happens if they find out there’s a new loan in their name showing up on their credit report? That would unfortunately be up to the breach victim to resolve on their own. Resolving identity fraud is the scary, frustrating, time-consuming piece – and that’s what all of these free identity protection services are missing.
“The fact remains that these free services are far from adequate, which is why having a comprehensive identity protection plan in place to begin with is most optimal for consumers. At this point, we all should assume our information is already out there and that it’s only a matter of time until some sort of incident occurs impacting our identities. For consumers to wait until they’re notified that their information was part of a breach is reactive rather than proactive, to say the least, and this can mean the difference between effective and ineffective identity protection.”
Opportunity for businesses to be proactive about identity protection
In the same survey, more than half of all Americans expressed more confidence in companies that are offering identity protection services. And naturally, confidence engenders greater trust which leads to the consumers doing more business with the company.
There’s no doubt that consumers are now more fearful of identity theft. And as the holiday season approaches, this is the perfect opportunity for businesses to demonstrate to customers their commitment to identity protection.
Schaffer recommends that:
“Companies should always proactively inform their customers that they take the responsibility of safeguarding data very seriously, while also making consumers aware of all the steps the organization is taking to further protect their information. That mindset should be reflected in all aspects of the business so that it becomes ingrained as a part of their corporate culture. This means all departments within the organization – and not just IT – see customer data protection as a top priority.
“Not a lot of companies are doing that today, which is unfortunate, and is likely one of the reasons that we’re seeing such low consumer confidence levels regarding the ability of businesses to protect their data.
“The truth is, no matter how stringent and robust a company’s security mechanisms are, there is nothing they can do to make their organization 100% immune to a security incident. Therefore, because an organization can face cyber threats even with the latest and greatest security measures in place, offering identity protection to their customers is just one more precaution to help safeguard their information. And that’s exactly how it should be communicated. Companies that offer identity protection to their customers should position the service as a strong example of how they care for their customers and their financial wellbeing. There are so many identity theft and identity fraud threat vectors today, and having comprehensive identity protection just makes sense.
“Top-level identity protection solutions, such as those offered by Generali Global Assistance, include proactive benefits such as access to education and tools to help make the user a more informed consumer, which has the added benefit of making them feel more empowered in protecting their own identity. We take a holistic approach to identity protection – the foundation is education and we build upon that with our monitoring and alerts services. We also offer 24/7 access to our multilingual, U.S.-based Resolution Center that will assist our customers every step of the way in restoring their identities to good health should they ever become a victim of theft or fraud. Our expert Resolution Specialists will take care of all the stressful, time-consuming steps involved with restoring an identity, while also providing compassionate care to help put their mind at ease.”
Identity theft is a frighteningly real concern during the holiday season as consumers shop more and cyber criminals get busy. Without adequate identity protection, the consumer who is victimized will face the full impact of a data breach.
Companies that proactively offer identity protection will reap the benefits of trust and loyalty from their customers. As Schaffer puts it, “Ultimately, being offered this kind of protection will only provide customers with more peace of mind – and in today’s world of data breaches and cyber threats, that is especially valuable.”