Generation Z: Adept With Technology but Vulnerable to Fraud

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Opinion piece topic: Gen Z

By-lined to: Andrew Thomas, managing director, CSID Europe

Title: Generation Z: Adept With Technology but Vulnerable to Fraud

2015’s school and university leavers made up the first wave of Generation Z: those born after the creation of the Web, and the first that has only ever known the always on, always connected world in which we now live.  Much is made of their facility with modern devices, and the ease with which they juggle quantities of information that give their elders sensory overload.

Unfortunately, their flair for technology masks the fact that this generation is probably more vulnerable than any other to fraud and reputational damage, brought about by their online activity.

Gen Z’s Internet footprint is huge, thanks to plenty of free time and multiple social media accounts, gaming accounts, music accounts, and so on.  Those aged twenty may have an online history going back 10 years or more, a time in which they have grown from pre-teen child to adult. They may also have a rather cavalier attitude to security, their assumption being that all data requests are legitimate and that their data is being kept safe.

In fact, as several high profile data breaches have shown, businesses and government organisations find it difficult to keep consumer data out of the hands of criminals.

The consequences of these breaches are serious: a 2015 survey by Javelin found that those whose records are lost are six times more likely to suffer identity fraud. Many people use the same login details for multiple accounts, so criminals use software to check stolen details against a multitude of high-value websites.

Skeletons in the Digital Closet

Reputational damage tends to be more self-inflicted. Fortunately, many members of Generation Z are conscious that they’re in a public domain and accustomed to presenting themselves in a good light.  They’re also smarter than their parents at limiting profile visibility to friends, or staying anonymous when necessary.  However, with so much online history, much of it created as they were growing up, it’s inevitable that some will have skeletons lurking on their social media pages, or have revealed too much information at some point.

It’s common knowledge that many employers research candidates online as part of the recruitment process.  How many use social media is uncertain: many HR managers believe it’s unethical and possibly unhelpful to examine interaction with family and friends for clues to workplace attitudes; and there are some legal issues with doing so in any case.  Nonetheless, it happens, and some recruiters will continue to do it even if their firm’s HR guidance says not to.

In the US, universities also vet applicants’ social media profiles. British universities may not do so, yet, but it’s a possibility.  In any case, students have other things to worry about: a 2014 survey showed them to be the group least concerned about fraud, but the most likely to suffer a severe impact.  They were also least likely to detect it themselves: over 20% of student victims only found out when they were refused credit or visited by a debt collector.  

Integration with technology is Generation Z’s great advantage.  To benefit from it, they will need to safeguard their security and privacy.  CSID recommends the following precautions:

  1. Monitor personal information. Stolen personal information lead to financial problems, due to criminals taking out credit in your name; or reputational damage, if the information is used in illegal activities.  One way to mitigate the risk is to use a fraud protection service, which monitors whether your personal or financial information is being used, as well as providing recovery assistance if it is.
  2. Follow common-sense guidelines. Use strong, unique passwords for all online accounts, and update them regularly.  Password manager applications are available to allow you to keep a secure record of all account details. Pay for purchases with credit cards.  Credit card companies can’t hold card users liable for fraudulent activity. Secure all systems.  Apply operating system updates when they become available, and ensure that antivirus software is up-to-date.  This includes smartphones: some 62% of people don’t use a password on their phone, so anyone can access them if they’re lost or stolen.Read the small print.  It might be tedious, but it will reveal what a site or service is collecting and what they can do with it.  As the Internet of Things expands, and your white goods start collecting information about your habits and movements, this is only going to become more important.
  3. Share with care on social media. Apparently innocuous details like your pet’s name or your birthday are identity questions on many sites, and thus useful to fraudsters.  Aggregation sites can collect information from multiple Internet sources, making it easy to build up a detailed picture. According to the 2013 Javelin survey of identity fraud, some 54% of social media users have been the target of an identity threat, and those who are active users and share personal information are at increased risk.  Accepting friend requests from relative strangers also increases the danger, and young people, with their large and evolving social networks, are far more likely to do this.
  4. Protect your reputation and privacy with social media monitoring tools.  These products alert subscribers of instances where they are sharing personal information via social networking sites – profile info, comments, wall posts and more – which may expose personal information and put them at risk. They can also alert subscribers of content that was found within their social network profiles that may damage their reputation. 

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