Data breaches at major organizations have been reported with increasing frequency recently, and in the last few months there have been several high-profile breaches impacting millions of people in the U.S.. So consumer confidence in the ability of businesses to protect their data has been shaken.
In fact, a vast majority of Americans say their willingness to do business with a retailer during this holiday shopping season would be impacted if the retailer experienced a data breach in the past, according to a recent survey by Generali Global Assistance.
The survey found that while most Americans (91 percent) plan to do holiday shopping this season, most are skeptical that businesses are doing all that they can to protect their personal information. Over half of shoppers (57 percent) believe a data breach of an online merchant will pose the biggest identity theft threat this season, while 22 percent consider a data breach of a brick-and-mortar point-of-sale system to be the most acute risk. A sign of their growing concerns, 84 percent of Americans say their willingness to do business with a retailer would be impacted if the retailer has experienced a data breach in the past. And, over half of all Americans (55 percent) would have more confidence that businesses are working to protect their data, and reduce their risk of identity theft, if these businesses were to offer identity protection services, whether for free or at a cost.
Paige Schaffer, President and COO, Generali Global Assistance’s Identity and Digital Protection Services Global Unit, sat down with Inside Counsel to discuss the findings. Per Schaffer, the current climate is one of skepticism even for those organizations that have not suffered a breach in the past. Those that have experienced a data breach are even less trusted by consumers, so an incident demonstrates to the average individual that an organization is not equipped to protect their information.
“‘Company X has already suffered a breach, so why would I trust them to protect my data going forward?’ Whether fair or not, this perception is gaining prominence,” she explained. “As such, businesses that suffer a breach increasingly suffer from reputational damage impacting consumers’ willingness to do business with them, in addition to the countless consequences in other areas.”
As high-profile data breaches continue to occur at a record rate, consumers are hesitant to believe that businesses are adequately protecting their personal information. Identity fraud cost consumers $16 billion last year, up $1 billion from 2015, per Javelin Strategy & Research. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), in 2016 nearly 30 million records were exposed from over 700 data breaches, affecting companies across the country.
“As a result, worry about identity theft and cybercrime is now on par with other common concerns such as illnesses and car accidents, and more people are becoming concerned about identity theft year after year,” Schaffer said.
For instance, 31 percent of U.S. consumers are worried about being a victim of identity theft, while only 22 percent are worried about their home being robbed. Thirty-two percent of consumers expressed fear of becoming an identity theft victim in the next five years, compared to 20 percent in 2014. Fear of becoming an identity theft or cybercrime victim is on the rise, and consumers are concerned with the impact these crimes can have on their lives. According to Schaffer, organizations can take steps to showcase that they are adhering to data security best practices.
“One of the simplest ways to accomplish this is for businesses to ensure that their security certification logos are shown prominently on their website,” she said. “These seals are crucial for online retailers, as they reassure customers who are inputting their credit card data that a given site is secure. Similarly, organizations that accept credit cards for online payment should be sure to highlight that they are PCI compliant, which is another method that should instill confidence in consumers. Requiring multiple layers of verification before a customer can retrieve forgotten login information is also critical, as it demonstrates that a company will not carelessly share their information with someone who is not qualified to access it.”
Today, offering comprehensive identity protection services is one of the most effective ways that an organization can portray its commitment to keeping customer data secure. Consumers are more worried than ever about their personal information being compromised, but an identity protection solution can quell these fears. With so much uncertainty surrounding identity and cyber issues, consumers want to purchase their identity protection solution from an organization they already trust, including banks, insurance companies, credit unions, or credit card companies.
Over half of all Americans would have more confidence that businesses are working to protect their data, and reduce their risk of identity theft or fraud, if these businesses were to offer identity protection services, whether for free or at a cost. Similarly, retail businesses that offer identity protection services, or that plan to do so in the future, instill greater confidence in 56 percent of Americans. Offering identity protection services to consumers not only significantly increases confidence in retailers, but more importantly ensures that shoppers’ identities and financial well-being are protected.
So, how can Americans keep their personal information safe while shopping this holiday season? Schaffer advises limiting the use of public Wi-Fi networks as cybercriminals and identity thieves often use these unsecured connections for easy access to consumers’ information. These networks are often set up by nefarious parties to dupe the public. Even if you must connect to a public Wi-Fi network, it is crucial not to access your financial accounts or any other password-protected sites.
She added, “This is especially true during the holidays, when many consumers will find themselves at airports, malls, parties and other crowded locations. These areas are ideal for pickpockets, as individuals may often find themselves distracted by their surroundings and therefore less likely to notice a thief stealing their wallet. Consumers should therefore remain especially alert in public areas, particularly when traveling, and should keep all their items including sensitive information locked away somewhere safe.”
Additionally, consumers can enable fraud alerts from their financial institutions, monitor all statements for unauthorized activity, be cautious when using ATMs and be on the lookout for charity scams, among other best practices.
Schaffer said, “One of the easiest ways that consumers can protect their sensitive information this season is by purchasing an identity protection solution that offers credit monitoring, online data protection and resolution assistance before, and after, an incident happens.”
Amanda G. Ciccatelli is a Freelance Journalist for Corporate Counsel and InsideCounsel, where she covers intellectual property, legal technology, patent litigation, cybersecurity, innovation, and more.