online trust
online trust

After COVID-19 kept more people at home and sent many others onto digital platforms, one other area also saw sudden increases. That was online fraud. The result was heightened sensitivity to personal data and privacy and consumer expectations that companies would be acute to this. American financial author and podcaster James Altucher seemed to sum it all up when he said, “I’m scammed almost every day.”

The FTC and U.S. Secret Service estimated that COVID-19 fraud took Americans for $200 million as the government distributed more than $30 billion in stimulus funds. Consider the variety – medical supply scams, virus cures, testing scams, phony COVID-19 apps, fake charity scams, investment and business email fraud, as well as the usual spoofing, malware, and phishing schemes.

The uncertainty over how long the country will be dealing with COVID-19 creates the potential that the pandemic could be host to the most significant fraud ever in the U.S. In spite of vaccines coming out and being administered, many Americans are still afraid of COVID-19 and fraudsters are doing everything they can to leverage these fears.

This presents challenges for companies to ponder when assessing their compliance programs. Some will need to decide if remote work or a modified in-person workplace environment pose additional risks. For them, data analytics can be effective in identifying areas to look at as well as monitoring high-risk areas.

One major consideration is whether the company’s compliance function can access all of its key data streams. To address this, some companies already warehoused or centralized their data for operational efficiency. Another benefit of doing this was that it assisted compliance data monitoring.

Brands can do their part by being open and transparent in communicating to consumers what they’re doing to ensure online safety and privacy. For brands using AI and other machine learning tools, the ways in which data is being gathered and used also need to be clearly stated. Assurances on how all data is secured must be prominently shared as well as the degree to which it’s being protected.

Companies would also do well to check the subscribe and unsubscribe as well as the opt-in and opt-out functions they employ. Consumers desirous of foregoing future communications with a brand need to be able to do so with the least inconvenience. In this age of elevated sensitivity, nothing’s more annoying than having to re-enter personal data when severing a relationship. Making it stress-free still leaves open the chance that the consumer may return at a later date.

Panelists on the 2021 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) which was held totally online in January included representatives from Amazon, Google, and Twitter. They, too, stressed the heightened importance of transparency today. They cited the increasing reliance on technology by consumers. The chief privacy officer at Google, Keith Enright, even commented that consumers are more nervous than ever before.

IT staff and marketers also need to be alert to future changes in privacy and data protection. The Court of Justice of the European Union last year ruled that it is unlawful for EU members to transfer data to the U.S. via the Privacy Shield. Experts not only anticipate new regulations that align with the EU but also hope that the federal government will take the lead in getting all 50 states to agree on uniform privacy and data mandates.

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Ronn Torossian is the Founder & Chairman of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently owned PR firms in the United States. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth and vision, with the agency earning accolades including being named a Top 50 Global PR Agency by PRovoke Media, a top three NYC PR agency by O'Dwyers, one of Inc. Magazine's Best Workplaces and being awarded multiple American Business Awards, including a Stevie Award for PR Agency of the Year. With over 25 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected public relations executives. Throughout his career he has advised leading and high-growth businesses, organizations, leaders and boards across corporate, technology and consumer industries. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications. He has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly in the media and has authored two editions of his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations," which is an industry best-seller. Torossian's strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, a Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, and a recipient of Crain's New York Most Notable in Marketing & PR. Outside of 5W, Torossian serves as a business advisor to and investor in multiple early stage businesses across the media, B2B and B2C landscape. Torossian is the proud father of two daughters. He is an active member of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and a board member of multiple not for profit organizations.