Be informed about the product before someone pretends to be you
You file your federal income tax return, only to receive a letter from the Internal Revenue Service that someone else beat you to it and has received your refund. Someone with your name and credit identification has bought a car in a town where you have never lived. Money is missing from your bank accounts.
If you have ever experienced any case of identity theft, you know it rocks your world, whether you are an executive or any insurance industry professional. Until you resolve the confusion over who is pretending to be you, productivity disappears along with your peace of mind.
As a result, identity theft protection is becoming one of the fastest growing voluntary benefits, endorsed by employers who want to support their employees’ security and financial wellness, says Ingrid Tolentino, senior vice president and chief executive officer of group legal plans for MetLife, located in Cleveland.
“The problem of identity theft has been increasing year after year; everyone knows at least one other person who has been a victim,” she says. “And everyone knows what an episode of identity theft does to an employee’s productivity.
“Cybersecurity risks are very real and insurance providers should inform their customers about them, but the aim should be educational, not ‘scaring’ people just to coerce them into buying a product.”
President and Chief Operating Officer
Identity and Digital Protection Services Global Unit
Generali Global Assistance
“It’s important that employers take action and offer their employees benefits that help them maintain their engagement and productivity at the workplace,” she says. “But interest in identity protection is also part of a real increase in the way employers value their employees’ financial well-being.”
Tolentino says that MetLife research indicates that more than 60% of employers feel responsible for their employees’ financial well-being, leading to their increasing interest in benefits that address those needs.
MetLife does not offer stand-alone identity protection but bundles the coverage in its comprehensive group legal plans, which can be used for a variety of personal legal services including wills and home closings. Identity theft resolution services are also bundled with MetLife’s personal property/casualty insurance programs that cover home, renters and auto risks, and travel assistance benefits that include emergency medical assistance and lost documents recovery, and emergency medical assistance, as well as identity and data loss issues.
When an employee experiences identity theft, the coverage assists the employee in freezing credit reports from the top credit agencies and provides a recovery specialist to help the employee get back lost funds and credit.
In addition to MetLife, identity theft protection benefit products are available from several other providers, including OneAmerica in Indianapolis, InfoArmor in Scottsdale, Arizona, Generali Global Assistance in New York and Lifelock in Tempe, Arizona.
Originally sold directly to consumers, identity protection products are now marketed to employees as voluntary supplemental benefits sponsored by employers as part of their benefits program. However, some employers are providing the coverage to employees as a paid benefit as part of their risk management and productivity program.
The coverage is packaged in several ways as stand-alone insurance products or components of the benefits. Lifelock, for example, provides an employer-sponsored version of its individual consumer protection plan. OneAmerica provides the coverage through its Employee Assistance Plan provider ComPsych in Oak Brook, Illinois.
Generali Global Assistance polled consumers during the holiday gift shopping season and the results indicate a growing concern with identity theft and data security, according to President and Chief Operating Officer Paige Schaffer.
The survey found that, while the majority of Americans—91% of those surveyed—shopped as usual during the holidays, most are skeptical that businesses are doing all that they canto protect their personal information.
Forty percent of the surveyed consumers say businesses are not doing all they can, while 38% are unsure if businesses are doing enough to safeguard their information. Consumers expressed concern about their financial or personal information being compromised due to a data breach, with 75% indicating that they are either very or somewhat concerned about such a breach.
More than half of shoppers—57%—say they believe a data breach of an online merchant posed the greatest identity theft threat this past holiday season, while 22% considered a data breach of a brick-and-mortar point-of-sale system to be the most acute risk.
“With data breaches at major organizations occurring so frequently and impacting literally millions of people in the United States alone, consumer confidence in the ability of businesses to protect their data has been shaken,” says Schaffer. “Therefore, identity protection is so essential in this day and age.
“The problem of identity theft has been increasing year after year; everyone knows at least one other person who has been a victim.”
Senior Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of
Group Legal Plans
“Offering identity protection is an effective way for businesses to help restore trust in their commitment to protecting customer data, as well as provide more peace of mind to consumers so they can focus on what matters most to them during the holiday season,” she adds.
Consumer concern has been growing in line with the frequency and size of data breaches, she notes, with 79% of consumers reporting that they are worried about becoming a data breach victim. Additionally, 58% of consumers plan to purchase identity protection services and 46% of those reported that they will look to purchase it from one of their trusted insurance providers.
The research also revealed that 55% of Americans would have more confidence that businesses are actively working to protect their data and reduce the risk of identity theft of fraud if these businesses were to offer identity protection services, whether for free or at a cost.
Generali provides a proprietary platform of services, including a library of prevention resources, online data protection services, access to certified identity protection experts, identity and credit monitoring, suspicious activity alerts, resolution services, and $1 million in identity protection insurance.
InfoArmor, founded in 2007, was launched exclusively as an employer and employee benefits service and now markets directly to employers through agents, brokers and third-party benefits administrators. The company has been promoting its services as part of a comprehensive approach to the risks of identity theft and data loss for both employers within their businesses and employees in their personal lives.
Senior Vice President of Product Ammon Curtis says the data and identity exposures of both employers and employees are linked and should be addressed together. Curtis points to a poll of hackers that indicated that humans are businesses’ biggest vulnerability, either in the workplace or in their private lives, where they constantly interact with personal information.
“Businesses share their vulnerability,” he says. “Employers bear the responsibility for their employees’ personal information in payroll, benefits, and other work activity, and can be the source of a data breach that affects an employee. If an employee is a victim outside of work, the loss of productivity directly affects the employer.”
Dustin Hofstein, InfoArmor senior vice president of employee protection solutions, says the best answer is an employer-paid identity protection benefit that protects employees and reduces employer liability. He says the company can develop customized benefit programs that not only respond to information breaches but provide threat identification intelligence to both employers and employees.
Interest in employer-paid benefits is growing, Hofstein says. For example, the company recently announced a partnership with Baird Corp. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to offer identity protection services to its 3,400 employees.
Most identity theft insurance companies provide enrollment and employee benefit communications for agents and brokers, including brochures, videos and online resources to facilitate enrollment. However, the best sales tool continues to be the powerful narratives of individuals who have been victimized, providers say.
One effective method to promote the benefits of identity protection services is to highlight the ever-expanding cyber threats that exist today, and how identity protection can help to keep customer information secure, says Schaffer.
“The caveat here is that ‘scare tactics’ should never be used in attempting to frighten a consumer into purchasing identity protection—or anything, for that matter,” she says. “The tactic is misleading and unethical. Cybersecurity risks are very real and insurance providers should inform their customers about them, but the aim should be educational, not ‘scaring’ people just to coerce them into buying a product.”
Len Strazewski is a Chicago-based writer, editor and educator specializing in marketing, management and technology topics. In addition to contributing to Rough Notes, he has written on insurance for Business Insurance, Risk & Insurance, the Chicago Tribune and Human Resource Executive, among other publications.