Study Reveals Online Member Confusion About Identity Theft

While the majority of online members report taking some action to protect against identity theft, many are confused about existing threats and protection according to a recent survey from Callahan’s Survey Consortium


While the majority of online members report taking some action against identity theft, their varied responses reveal confusion regarding the most effective steps and protections. In a recent Survey Consortium survey of more than 18,000 online members, almost two-thirds of online members report looking for secured site access (65%), closely monitoring their accounts online (64%), and being less likely to give personal information online (63%). (See graph below for details.)

It's important to note that only about half the online members have done what some experts say is the most effective protection method, installing a firewall on their home computer. And only one in three has checked their credit report (30%), another important safeguard.

The lack of understanding surrounding identity theft protection is a threat to both further adoption and continued use of the credit union's online services. As one member said,

"We have held off signing up to pay bills online because of the potential of identity theft and not knowing the security of our credit union's bill pay program."

Almost one-third (31%) of online members report being less likely to conduct online transactions at their credit union website in response to identity theft concerns. Clearly members need more information on how the credit union's online services can actually help them protect against identity theft by reducing paper-based transactions and increased monitoring. Less than half of online members report being familiar (rating of four and five on a scale of one to five) with any of the identity theft aspects surveyed. Familiarity is highest for types of identity theft (41%) and ways to protect against it (36%), and lowest regarding victims' rights (19%) and limits on consumer liability when identity theft occurs (18%). These are critical aspects, because this uncertainty is causing members to avoid transactions online when the risk is actually fairly low if they take reasonable precautions.

Credit unions should be actively promoting their online account services and website security features to demonstrate how account alerts, e-statements, and online banking can protect against identity theft. Additionally, member comments can be used to illustrate these concepts to other members. "I discovered fraudulent activity on my checking account through online banking long before my statement would have alerted me. I love my online banking program."

Any additional information provided to members regarding identity theft will go a long way towards reassuring members and creating the perception that the credit union is proactive in protecting members and their accounts. Citibank is actively positioning their services as providing the highest level of security and being an industry leader in this area. While other financial institutions have the same precautions, liability limits and account features, the lack of marketing regarding them may make members more susceptible to competing offers. If members have note heard about it, they may assume that this protection is not there.

"I am just beginning to see e-mails from other institutions alerting me of these scams. I am currently reading more about them and gaining useful knowledge that identity thefts seem to be increasing. Please advise of what steps we can work together to prevent this from happening."

We have found that few credit unions are actively promoting their online account access and alert services to help members protect against fraud. Could your credit union be doing more to inform their members?

For further guidance on credit union identity theft issues, please see Callahan's newly released white paper on identity theft: Online Identity Theft: Identifying Risk, Opportunities, and Educating Members.



Jan. 10, 2005


  • I have had a case and think that reading the website security policies should be some of the most important things to do. With fandango, an online ticket purchasing company, automatiacally signs you for a $10 a month program without giving you an option or making it prevalant. This article is a big help in my study:)
    Peter Jones