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Why Holiday Security Tips Might Be A Waste of Time

by Neal O'Farrell on December 2nd, 2013

letter_to_santaEvery year around this time, the only thing as certain as sales is the same worn out old list of holiday safety tips being trotted out by a whole gaggle of security experts, wannabe experts, and people peddling products. And while these tips are important, especially around this time, I wonder if they work anymore. Or even if they ever worked.

I think the answer is yes, but only to generate some exposure for their authors. I have to admit, I was part of that posse. I started offering holiday security tips back in 2000 when I was the Director of Education for ZoneAlarm (killer firewall!). More recently, it was an annual tradition for me to dust off and tune up my own set of holiday safety tips, beautifully packaged as “The 12 Thefts of Christmas and How You Can Grinch them!” They’re retired now so don’t even ask.

In spite of the same predictable collection of tips on how to avoid identity theft and other scams, I don’t see much movement in the consumer awareness needle. I still do plenty of town halls and community presentations, and get daily calls from victims, and I see little improvement in consumer commitment to self-defense.

Consumer awareness is at an all-time high – there are very few consumers who are not aware of identity theft. But the key ingredient in awareness – vigilance – doesn’t seem to have caught hold. Awareness means knowing there’s a risk and how to avoid it. Vigilance means remembering those rules at precisely the moment it matters – right before clicking on a link, before opening an attachment, before visiting a website, before taking an unprotected laptop home and so on.

A study from Transunion a couple of weeks ago highlighted just one of the problems. In spite of more than a decade of relentless consumer education and wall-to-wall media coverage, the Transunion study found that a third of adults in the U.S. have never checked their credit reports.

And if you look at all those tips that all those experts have been sharing for all those years, the net result seems to be that all those bad old habits are still there.

So what’s the problem? Where’s the disconnect and why is the message not getting through? The fundamental problem, and the reason why identity theft continues to climb every year, is that consumers just don’t care enough. There’s a very common assumption, mainly as a result of good marketing, that zero liability means as a victim you have absolutely nothing to lose. Zero liability has been interpreted to mean zero risk, zero loss, and zero responsibility.

And even if it sounds counter-intuitive, now might not be such a good time to be talking to consumers about identity theft. At least in their eyes :

  • They’re too busy with the holiday hassle to stop and think about identity theft.
  • This is supposed to be a time of good cheer, so don’t bring them down with bad thoughts.
  • Repetition has a dark side, as consumers just tune out the same tips they see everywhere every year.

From → Safety Tips