Consumers Think You Are Responsible For Their Online Identity: Are They Right?

Online Identity Fraud

Online crime comes in different forms, and online identity theft is a major concern for many consumers. Also, the truth is that people only become aware of their identity theft when a criminal tries to conduct a transaction or open an account using their stolen personal information – and by then it could be too late.

Online identity theft is just as dangerous for you the service provider as it is for the customer, with recuperation from identity theft requiring huge amounts of effort, time and money to put everyone’s mind at piece.

What do your customers think?

The recent Experian Consumer Identity Risk Report 2013 shows that 36% of UK consumers expect to be a victim of online identity theft at some point in their lives. Moreover, our own data from 2012 highlights that the amount of personally identifiable information being traded online by criminals is constantly increasing – in the first six months of 2012, over 20 million pieces of data were traded online, and that was more than the whole of 2011.

Criminals are getting more and more sophisticated and it is easy for consumers to be duped by their tactics. Add to this that everyone is sharing more information online than ever before through social media and it is perhaps no surprise consumers are quite pessimistic about the chances of avoiding online identity theft.

Accountability concern

Despite over a third of consumers expressing significant concerns about the risk of identity theft, the survey results suggest that many still do not implement well established best practice online security measures, such as using different passwords for online accounts.

Two-fifths of respondents (40%) believe that online service providers should be responsible for protecting their online identity with just under a half (47%) believing it is their personal responsibility. The research also highlights that victims of Internet crime are slightly more likely to allocate accountability to service providers than non-victims (43% compared to 39%).

This is a very confusing picture of consumer perceptions, and it may be surprising to see that 40% believe it is your responsibility as a service provider to protect their online identity. It is no longer acceptable to say customers have control over what they share publicly, and admonish responsibility. All service providers need to proactively educate customers about the risks of online identity theft, and provide clear processes and consistent guidance on what customers can do at a time when they feel extremely vulnerable.

The word is ‘proactive’, not ‘reactive’

All companies of course have firewalls, anti-virus and other security measures to protect themselves from unwanted intruders, but what would you do if a customer came to you saying that their identity had been stolen and they needed advice, even if you were not the source of the theft? It will only take an e-mail address to expose a customer to huge risks, and potential access to all the information, passwords and logins that may be stored in the folders of that account.

Let’s be clear though, it is not just your responsibility. The truth is that both consumers and online service providers have a role to play in protecting personal information shared online, as a lapse by either party will result in an increased risk of online identity theft or fraud. Some online service providers are already rising to the challenge and providing services to help protect their customers.

However, all online service providers should be asking themselves what their role is in helping to protect consumers from identity theft and educating their customers proactively on good security practices, not simply making sure they use a strong password.

Taking a proactive approach to the protection of customers’ online identities enhances customer relationships and builds trust in brands, which is extremely valuable. Customers want to know that the processes and support exist, should they ever need to call on them. Companies that do this will find themselves among the most trusted in their markets and if we all get behind it, we’ll be making life a lot harder for the criminals, and that benefits everyone.

Andy Thomas

Andy Thomas is Managing Director for Market Development at Experian Consumer Services, which offers a suite of identity protection products to help businesses and consumers manage the risk of data loss and identity fraud.