We’re all guilty of it. I must admit, it’s tempting to use the same login credentials across all of the online services that I use, for the sole purpose that it’s what is most convenient and easy as a consumer. However, subscribing to this mindset is exactly what gets us into trouble. In a fast-paced world and an increasingly digital age, consumers are more concerned with getting things done quicker online than they are with getting things done safely and securely.

From Yahoo! to Bell to WannaCry, we’ve seen no shortage of major data breaches targeting consumers across the globe as of late – with each new attack getting more sophisticated and affecting more people. The associated risks are alarming, yet consumers are still willing to share heaps of information online as they don’t understand the full risk. We need to shift the consumer mindset to stop thinking that data breaches are harmless – and that hackers will just be provided with a password, or access to an email, for example – to understanding that crooks have the ability to steal our entire identity.

Managing our digital identity online is one of the best opportunities of this digital generation. Whether you value your identity at $1 or $1 billion, it is without a doubt the single most valuable asset we own. If it’s stolen, we have nothing, while hackers have the ability to take everything.

In fact, the financial loss that we incur on an annual basis rapidly increases each year. According to the Canadian Competition Bureau, from January 2014 to December 2016, it is estimated that Canadians lost over $290 million to fraudsters, while online scams accounted for more than $40 million in losses in 2016 alone. And while these seem like massive financial loss, it’s estimated that only 5 per cent of fraud actually gets reported to authorities.

Alarmingly, as financial loss due to data breaches continues to increase, the fear consumers have of being hacked is going down. According to the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, the number of consumers admitting they are concerned about identity theft has gone down from 74 per cent in 2016 to 66 per cent in 2017. At the same time, almost four-in-ten (39%) of Canadians fear that someone has personal information about them that they should not have possession to.

These staggeringly high numbers should be a reality check to us all – it’s time to place more value our identity. We need to re-evaluate where our personal information is being stored. How easily accessible is your personal information? Is your credit card number, financial details or even your phone number available somewhere online? How “safe” is the service holding this information?

The answer to the above questions is often concerning. So, how can we prevent hackers from stealing our valued identity?

  • Manage your passwords. Don’t use the same password for all of the online services your accessing and ensure you are using difficult passwords for websites holding your sensitive data.
  • Tier the online services that you are providing information to. Only provide your sensitive personal information to the websites that are vital that you have access to.
  • Do your research. Do the websites that hold your data have cyber insurance? Are the companies invested in their cybersecurity and protecting against breaches? Before providing any sensitive data online, the answer to both of these questions should be yes.
  • Be cautious with what you share on social media. Don’t share any information that could be used to guess your passwords or security questions.
  • Monitor your financial accounts. Check regularly for suspicious activity and notify your financial institution and/or the company that you have detected potential fraud from immediately.

To learn more about the value of identity, come see us at the IdentityNORTH Conference from June 6-7 in Toronto. You can find us speaking at the An Ecosystem Approach to Identity for the Digital Age panel on June 6 from 1:00-1:30 p.m., where we will discuss the value of creating an online identity ecosystem, as well as at the BlockChain Breakfast panel on June 7 from 8:00-9:00 a.m., where we will talk about applying blockchain and other technologies to continue the success of the Canadian story for trusted digital identity.