Hille, Patrick; Walsh, Gianfranco; Brach, Simon
January 2011
AMA Summer Educators' Conference Proceedings;2011, Vol. 22, p214
Conference Paper
The growing commercialization of the Internet is accompanied with a rise of e-commerce-related cybercrime. For carrying out online business transactions, consumers have to transfer their personal and financial data to companies or third parties (Forsythe et al. 2006; Morton 2006; Rust, Kannan, and Peng 2002). However, personal and financial data such as name, user name of an online account, address or credit card number can be illegally intercepted and used in an unauthorized way. Consumers who are affected by data misuse are increasingly victimized by online identity theft, which is a cybercrime. Being one of the fastest growing crimes of the 21 st century in highly industrialized countries, identity theft involves another person acquiring and using personal information of a natural or legal person for fraudulent purposes (Acoca 2007; Gonzales and Majores 2007; van der Meulen 2006). Online identity theft can be carried out by using criminal computer technology-based methods such as page jacking, phishing or "pharming" which simplifies the theft of consumers' personal and financial data (Katyal 2001; Milne, Rohm, and Bahl 2004; UNOCD 2010). With online identity theft becoming a growing problem many consumers fear being personally affected (Amato-McCoy 2007; Angelopoulou et al. 2007) and begin adjusting their Internet-related behavior; for example they reduce their use of Internet shopping or become reluctant to share information online and to shop online (Grau 2006; Leyden 2005; Princeton Survey Research Associates International 2005). All behavior-related outcomes have a negative impact on the growth of companies' online sales. Consumers' fear of online identity theft (FOIT) therefore poses a challenge for e-business. This is why scholars and practitioners need to gain a better understanding of FOIT as well as its potential antecedents and consequences. Consumers' reluctance to transfer personal data online to e-businesses due to privacy and security concerns has been discussed widely in relation to a conceptually related area of FOIT, namely online privacy concerns (e.g., Bandyopadhyay 2009; Wirtz et al. 2007). However, since identity theft leads to illegal appropriation and misuse of personal data that is accompanied with an intrusion into consumers' online privacy as well, the authors argue that online privacy concern with a focus on fear of losing one's online privacy should be seen as a dimension of FOIT. Furthermore, FOIT is also likely to include a person's fear of experiencing serious negative consequences such as financial losses and reputation damage (e.g., Mitchison et al. 2004; Sproule and Archer 2006). Financial losses emerge when a cyber criminal uses a victim's personal and financial data for buying products at the victim's expense or for accessing a victim's bank account for withdrawing money whereas reputation damage might result in an innocent person being accused of a crime committed through the misuse of the person's personal data (e.g., Acoca 2007; Consumer Measures Committee 2005). Therefore, the authors argue that it is likely that consumers' FOIT encompasses three dimensions -- fear of suffering from financial losses, fear of suffering from reputation damage, and fear of losing one's online privacy. However, given the lack of empirical insights into the dimensions of FOIT and the lack of a comprehensive understanding of behavior-related consequences, a qualitative approach has been chosen to shed light on this neglected phenomenon. Forty-three face-to-face in-depth semi-structured interviews with consumers have been conducted, lasting for 30 minutes on average. Informants were asked about their reasons for using, and not using the Internet for online shopping and online-banking. Furthermore, informants were probed about online identity theft, and the feelings that a potential loss of personal and financial data would evoke as well as concomitant behavior-related consequences. Interviews were analyzed by content analysis. The qualitative study provided useful insights into consumers' fear of online identity theft. Passages and wordings with the same or similar interpretations were summarized in the same categories. While analyzing and categorizing responses of all interviews, most responses with regard to "fear" could be related to the three postulated FOIT dimensions--fear of suffering from financial losses, fear of suffering from reputation damage, and fear of losing one's online privacy. Therefore, all dimensions are considered to be relevant for the FOIT construct. Furthermore, all three FOIT dimensions are assumed to be related to antecedents as well as behavior-related consequences. Antecedents such as an individual's age and personality are likely to influence FOIT because they are linked to the consumer's experience framework and value system. More than ten behavior-related consequences were revealed during the interviews. FOIT mainly leads to behavior-related consequences because consumers will engage in behavior that helps them to reduce their fear (Rachman 2004). These consequences can be differentiated into approach and avoidance behavior following the two-dimensional approach/avoidance coping structure by Krohne et al. (1993). Based on the literature-based findings and the qualitative study, the authors propose a three-dimensional conceptualization of FOIT. The qualitative study contributes to theory by developing and explaining a model of FOIT which suggests some interesting implications for ebusiness research and practice, mainly in developing a robust measurement instrument. References are available upon request.


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