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10/20/2009
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Gallup, Unisys Polls: Most Americans Worried About ID Theft

Cybercrime top of the polls when it comes to crime concerns in the U.S.

Terrorism, auto theft, and murder are less of a crime worry for Americans these days than identity theft, according to a new Gallup poll that found two-thirds of adults worry most about their identities being stolen.

And in a separate poll released today by Unisys, close to two-thirds of Americans said they have serious worries about credit- and debit-card theft.

Just in time for Cybersecurity Awareness Month, the two polls show how Americans are at least becoming aware of cybercrime's personal risks. "[The number of] people who are 'very concerned' with unauthorized access to their data is going up. But [the number of] people who are 'extremely' concerned is going down," says Mark Cohn, vice president of information security at Unisys, crediting increased consumer education about the use of personal information, which has made cybercrime less of an emotional issue, he says.

According to the Gallup poll, 66 percent of adults in the U.S. worry "frequently" or "occasionally" about becoming a victim of identity theft, and 47 percent worry about their car being stolen or burglarized. More than 45 percent worry frequently or occasionally about their homes being burglarized while they are away; 35 percent about being a victim of a terrorist attack; 33 percent about their homes being burglarized when they are home; 31 percent about being mugged; and 31 percent about their children being harmed at school. Fewer than 20 percent worry about being murdered or attacked.

Gallup says the reason for big worries about identity theft might have to do with the high-profile attention lawmakers and identity-protection firms have been placing on it. The poll, which was conducted between Oct. 1 and 4, surveyed 1,013 adults ages 18 and up.

Interestingly, only 10 percent of the respondents said they or another member of their households had been victimized by identity theft in the past 12 months. They had more reports of some other crimes: 14 percent had their homes, cars, or property vandalized, and 16 percent said they had money or property stolen from their homes.

The Unisys poll, meanwhile, also found consumers don't trust government agencies or financial institutions with their personal information. Only 22 percent said they trust the feds to protect their data, while 29 percent trust their financial institutions to do so.

And 58 percent of Americans said they would use biometrics to verify their identities, as long as the biometric data was secured. Around 38 percent said they would not use biometrics. "We were not surprised to see this high number," Unisys' Cohn says. "Given that fraud and personal data [security] is such a concern, it makes sense that people would figure out the best way to protect it."

Around 93 percent said they would prefer fingerprint scans as a way to authenticate access to their data with banks, government agencies, and other organizations -- an increase of 20 percent over responses a year ago. Iris scanning was popular,as well, with 79 percent of the respondents saying they were willing to use it for authentication. And 62 percent said they would use biometrics based on scanning the blood vessels in their hands.

Nearly 90 percent would use passwords; 88 percent, PINs; 82 percent, photographs; 74 percent, face scans; and 69 percent, voice recording.

"We were surprised to see some of the biometrics numbers for things like eye scanning and blood vessel-scanning," Cohn says. "We didn't expect American consumers to aware of those [yet]," he says.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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