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The Hidden Perils of Account Sharing: Billions Lost, Industries at Risk

The concept of sharing accounts seems harmless on the surface, a convenient way to save a few bucks while still enjoying premium content. However, the true cost of this seemingly innocent practice is far more significant than most people realize.
Written by
Verosint Team
Published on
November 6, 2023

In the age of digital subscription services, it's no secret that users frequently share their account credentials with family, friends, or even acquaintances. The concept of sharing accounts seems harmless on the surface, a convenient way to save a few bucks while still enjoying premium content. However, the true cost of this seemingly innocent practice is far more significant than most people realize. It's a problem that extends well beyond penny-pinching friends and family members; it's a multi-billion-dollar issue that plagues various industries, creating a vast and shadowy playground for fraudsters.

The Billion-Dollar Dilemma

Just how damaging can the sharing of accounts be? Try wrapping your head around this staggering number: $25 billion. That's the estimated revenue lost to account sharing, as reported by a diligent analyst. The primary culprits responsible for this revenue drain are streaming services, where users generously pass around their login credentials without considering the financial implications. This astronomical figure is only the tip of the iceberg, though, as account sharing isn't limited to streaming platforms.

A Ripple Effect Across Industries

The repercussions of account sharing are not confined to the digital streaming realm. The prevalent subscription model—where users pay a fixed monthly fee for unlimited access—extends its reach into a multitude of industries. Here's a glimpse of how various sectors are feeling the impact:

  1. Streaming Services: Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, and many more have long grappled with the challenge of lost revenue due to shared accounts. While users may see it as a harmless act of kindness, the numbers add up, ultimately undermining the sustainability of these platforms.
  2. Digital Magazines and Newspapers: The publishing industry is not immune either. As readers seek free access to premium articles and content by sharing subscriptions, media outlets see their subscription revenue dwindle, impacting their ability to produce quality journalism.
  3. Enterprise SaaS Applications: For enterprise SaaS applications such as CRM, project management, collaboration platforms and more, sharing account credentials across team members or even outside vendors can pose significant security and compliance risks. This can undermine enterprise data protection, governance and accountability.

The Dark Side: Account Sharing and Fraud

Beyond the financial implications, account sharing poses another sinister problem – an increased risk of fraud. The more individuals that share their account credentials, the greater the pool of potential victims for fraudsters. Consider this: with multiple users accessing the same account, the chances of someone discovering, stealing, and reselling these credentials skyrockets. It's not just about missing out on revenue; it's about the damage to user security and privacy.

The practice of account sharing, though often well-intentioned, provides an environment ripe for malicious activity. Those who generously offer their account details may unwittingly expose themselves and their connections to identity theft, phishing, and other cybercrimes. With multiple people accessing a single account, the probability of a security breach becomes alarmingly high. When fraudsters gain access, the consequences can be dire, including financial loss and identity theft for the victims.

The Unique Challenges of Spotting Account Sharing: A Digital Conundrum

Account sharing is a multifaceted issue that extends its influence across the digital landscape, causing headaches for companies trying to discern between legitimate and unauthorized access. The problem is far more complex than it appears at first glance, and it's precisely these intricacies that make detecting account sharing a daunting task.

The Family vs. Friends Dilemma: One of the most significant challenges in spotting account sharing lies in distinguishing between legitimate users within a household and those who share their accounts with friends. Many streaming media companies allow for shared access within a family, making it nearly impossible to differentiate between a sibling streaming content from their bedroom and a college buddy leeching off the account from miles away. Traditional authentication methods fail to address this issue, as the simple act of logging in doesn't reveal the real-world relationships between users.

The Elusive Password Sharer: Another formidable challenge comes in identifying the true account holder versus someone who has obtained login credentials. Is the person entering the password the rightful owner or an interloper using someone else's details? In today's interconnected world, where passwords are frequently shared, borrowed, or even stolen, verifying the authenticity of a user's identity becomes increasingly complicated. Traditional authentication methods struggle to account for the possibility of unauthorized access, falling short in differentiating between the actual account holder and a digital doppelganger.

The Problem with Traditional Methods: Traditional approaches to account verification often involve basic username-password combinations and simple device fingerprinting. Unfortunately, these methods fall short when it comes to combating the complexities of account sharing. The act of sharing itself complicates the process. Account holders willingly share their credentials with those they trust, thereby undermining the effectiveness of simple password verification.

Detecting account sharing is far from a straightforward task. The intricacies of distinguishing between legitimate and unauthorized access, coupled with the limitations of traditional verification methods, create a unique set of challenges for companies aiming to curb this practice. As account sharing continues to be a prevalent issue across various digital platforms, businesses must seek innovative and sophisticated solutions to stay one step ahead of those attempting to exploit their services. To effectively address this challenge, companies are turning to advanced technologies and sophisticated strategies to protect their users, revenue, and the integrity of their platforms.

Verosint: We See What You Don’t—and Address What Others Can’t

When it comes to fighting account sharing, Verosint stands apart, with advanced identification and detection, as well as seamless integration with MFA solutions that makes access harder for unauthorized users and fraudsters—but easier and less cumbersome for legitimate users.

  • Advanced detection techniques combine behavioral analytics, OSINT data and Verosint’s unique SignalPrint technology to reliably distinguish legitimate users from problematic ones—before login.
  • Multi-layered authentication adds an adaptive layer to authentication and identity verification processes, so that authentication is easier or harder based on the level of risk the user poses.
  • Customizable rules allow you to define the parameters by which users gain access; you can write custom outcomes for rules, and quickly test and evaluate rules to be sure they do what you intend.  
  • Automated responses enable you to set up rules that trigger responses based on specific access scenarios that you’ve defined.
  • Real-time monitoring keeps constant tabs on access attempts, automatically generating alerts and notifications of problematic activities, so you can take proactive steps before any harm results.

With Verosint, you can keep account sharing activity from slipping through the cracks—which means less interruption to your revenue stream, and more opportunity for legitimate business. It’s worth noting that after Netflix cracked down on account sharing, signups soared in the days after, with at least two days when 100,000 new accounts per day were opened.  

Want to see where account sharing may exist in  your platform? Request a free fraud risk assessment today!
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Verosint Team

Verosint, a leading provider of account fraud detection and prevention, helps digital businesses answer the question of “who’s there?” using signal-based identity assurance. By combining verified open source intelligence, identity graphing techniques and risk signal orchestration, Verosint stops account fraud before it starts. With real-time account fraud detection and proactive, persistent fraud discovery, online businesses can deliver trusted convenience to customers, minimize risk and reduce fraud management costs. To learn more, visit