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By Karen Wheeler, UK country manager of Affinion

ID theft is on the rise with latest figures from fraud prevention agency, Cifas showing that cases of identity theft are on the rise in the UK. In 2016, there were 172,919 incidents of identity fraud, 88% of which were online and up 68% since 2010. Perhaps most surprisingly is almost 25,000 of the victims were aged under 30, the people who, in theory at least, are more clued up on online activity.

Over the past five years, we’ve seen countless sensational headlines exposing the theft of personal data and so awareness of the issue is at an all-time high but that doesn’t appear to be translating well into the number of fraud instances. Given how sophisticated businesses’ defences are, fraudsters are having to become more creative. That means we are seeing a shift where criminals are instead focusing on stealing and using ‘real’ people’s details. Consumers are often viewed as the weakest link in the security chain, largely because they’re not properly educated about phishing campaigns, mistakenly give credentials to unauthorised users, download malicious software, or use the same password for all of their online accounts. In an age where consumers are increasingly the gatekeepers for cyber security, is there a responsibility for businesses to play a larger role in educating and helping their customers protect themselves?

The spectre of data theft and protecting personal identity

Keeping their data safe is a big concern for European consumers, according to Symantec’s 2015 The State of Privacy report, with 57% saying they “are worried their personal information is not safe,” yet “49% of consumers exhibit at least one risky behaviour which puts them at higher risk of financial fraud,” according to Aite’sGlobal consumers: losing confidence in the battle against fraudreport.

The inconsistency stems from the challenge consumers face in balancing the use of digital tools to make their lives easier with the need to avoid exposing themselves to cyber threats. Having to secure multiple connected, mobile, and Internet of Things devices, could make anyone’s head spin and consumers are often at a loss to understand how to manage all this.

The financial cost of cybercrime can be significant for both the victims and companies but people store more and more on digital devices, which are more susceptible to be hacked. The toll then can be highly emotional, as irreplaceable memories and personal information are under threat. It can also be professional and affect one’s reputation if important contacts are stolen, used to spread malware, or even worse, for criminal purposes.

Our online presence is now closely linked to our reputation and the repercussions of identity theft can be far reaching and have lasting consequences on our ability to trust, to communicate, on relationships, and even career prospects and advancement.

Keeping the family safe in a digital world

Protecting their family is, understandably, a top priority for parents. Young people are increasingly accessing online content and immersing themselves in all things tech. This creates a myriad of worries for parents, who are often ill equipped to understand how to protect themselves and their children in a fast-evolving digital world. Protecting one’s family from negative cyber exposure is a highly emotional issue for already busy parents who are stressed and anxious as a result. Many feel overwhelmed with the responsibility and potential ramifications. As a result, they are looking for guidance on how to be cyber-savvy from sources they trust.

The multiplication of connected devices, which can be used as entry points by cyber criminals, complicates matters even more for families who want to protect themselves while continuing to enjoy the benefits of a highly connected environment.

It’s no surprise that businesses that offer protection solutions have a more engaged customer base – and according to our latest research, The Connected Customer, people who take out products that help them alleviate their cyber concerns tend to be more engaged and, ultimately, more loyal. Most consumers are aware and concerned about the threat of cyber theft and fraud, but many have neither the time nor the knowledge to become cyber security experts. As a result, they look to sources they trust for reassurance but also education and guidance in navigating these dangerous waters.

While corporate security is a constant battle for businesses of all sizes, they also need to pay attention to the solidity of the front door, in this case, the consumer. As the Cifas report sadly notes, ID theft isn’t going away. Threats are increasing and becoming more complex and customers are looking for a safe haven and an extra layer of support. Companies have a great opportunity to connect with customers over cyber security and those who do, are bound to reap the benefits. By placing their organisation at the centre of more areas of a person’s life, businesses can, in turn, prevent customer churn and foster deeper, longer lasting relationships.

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