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By Christina Czeschik

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A friendly holiday reminder: Time to ho – ho – hold tight to your identity.

Hackers know that many of us are in online shopping-frenzy mode, submitting our payment card information over and over, sometimes several times a week. And they are poised to take advantage of this increased activity.   Consumers are at risk of losing more than just a sizeable chunk of their paychecks this season, they also could lose something else: The sovereignty over their personal data. Identity theft is on the rise, and online shopping is one of the top ways in which consumers expose themselves.

The Risk of the Deal

Michael Bruemmer of credit reporting agency Experian recently told Salon.com that about 15.6 million individuals experienced identity theft in 2016. If you think that this is a staggering number, wait for the next statistic: According to a 2016 survey by Experian, 23 percent of respondents said they would risk becoming a victim of identity theft for a good Cyber Monday deal. Yes, I also had to read that twice.

Although IT security and safety issues have always been topics most consumers don’t think too much about, this carelessness becomes increasingly dangerous as more and more of people’s lives take place online. While identity theft online 20 years ago may have consisted of someone taking over your e-mail account and posting a fraudulent message on some bulletin board, nowadays much more is on stake: Consumers may have their credit card data abused, may be the victim of tax fraud or even have their lives endangered by medical identity theft.

The Cost of Theft

To say that you would want to risk all of this for a good deal on the web seems like an overly carefree attitude – maybe because the risks are abstract rather than tangible. But what if people took into account that – according to Bruemmer – it takes the victim of an identity theft an average of 42 hours of their own time to sort out the consequences? Not to mention the grey hair caused by all the stress.

Identity theft is in fact so prevalent that the Federal Trade Commission has streamlined the process of reporting an incident – consumers may even download ready-made recovery plans and pre-filled letters to merchants and banks. The desperate pleas for help of identity theft victims in the comment section, by the way, should be required reading for anyone who has ever put their information online (that is, all of us). These comments show that the repercussions of identity theft transcend space and time, so to say: People report dealing with the fallout for several years, and others report getting invoices and dunning letters even from as far as Europe.

The Time is Now

What to do? Well, while popular media give their readers good advice on how to protect their personal information and avoid identity theft, we all know that the chances this advice will be followed are slim at best. The question for companies is: How do we protect our customers and clients from identity theft – in the holiday season and beyond?

We know: Having a solid and user-friendly identity and access management system is the foundation of any data security strategy. This does not only protect customers and clients – employees as well can become the victims of identity theft by malicious outsiders or disgruntled ex-colleagues. If you are wondering how secure your customers and employees are this holiday season, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us right now.

Dr Christina Czeschik is a writer and consultant specialized in information security, digital privacy, and Blockchain. Originally a doctor, she has slipped into the infosec pool by way of cryptoparties, and never quite been able to climb out again.

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