Pushing back against
harmful headlines

news-677409_1280DON’T GET me wrong. I like competition. Honest I do. But that’s not to say that it doesn’t have its occasional downside. In the news media in particular, competition for audience share inevitably makes a priority of pressing hot buttons, often at the expense of putting things in perspective.

Take this recent CBS DFW headline: Study: ID Fraud Up Since Security Chips Put Into Play.” Or this one from Sputnik News: “Credit Cards Technology Fail: Credit Card Frauds Up in US Since Chips Introduced.” Both use as their source Javelin Strategy & Research’s well-executed 2017 Identity Fraud study, released on the first of this month. According to the report,

2016 will be remembered as a banner year for fraudsters as numerous measures of identity fraud reached new heights. The overall fraud incidence rose 16% to affect 6.15% of U.S. consumers, from 5.30% in 2015 — the highest on record. 

I have no quarrel with Javelin’s findings. Javelin is, after all, a first-rate research consulting firm.* Nor have I any quarrel with connecting the fraud increase with the rollout of chip cards.

My quarrel is with implying, as the above-referenced headlines arguably do, that chip cards cause fraud. The real story is that the exodus of fraudsters from point-of-purchase to online fraud is evidence of the chip card’s success. 

CreditCardscom, which average consumers don’t read, did a better job of putting the problem in perspective

… as the ability to use counterfeit cards in stores dries up, fraudsters are expected to turn to other forms of fraud that prey on different vulnerabilities. At the top of the list, payment security experts say, is using stolen card numbers to buy stuff from the Internet. 

But then, that’s not the stuff of eyeball-grabbing headlines, is it. 

It doesn’t help that few writers write their own headlines. Competition for readership led to the century-old practice of employing headline writers, whose job places a higher priority on grabbing attention than on conveying content. The result is that even the most responsible research and reporting may end up under a sensationalized, even misleading headline. The Sputnik article provides a good example. While its headline screams “Technology Fail,” that term is not to be found in the article, and the body of the article somewhat straightens the record. The CBS DFW article, not so much. 

Either way, body copy that clarifies is of little help considering that most people don’t bother reading body copy. As anyone who has seen a hasty, regrettable “share” on Facebook can attest, most readers are content to scan headlines and call it a day, unwittingly walking away under false impressions. 

Irresponsibly sensationalized headline writing is more than a pet peeve. It hurts the financial services industry. The good news is that we needn’t sit helpless. Perhaps it’s time to get more aggressive in telling the whole story. While some publications won’t care, let’s do what we can with those that will. 


*For proof of Javelin’s competence, look no further than the fact that they had the acumen to rate my employer, Fiserv, “Best in Class Mobile Banking Provider” and our Mobiliti™ platform as “Top Customizable Solution.” What more evidence do you need?


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