A majority of Americans fear having their identities stolen as well as other types of fraud, particularly involving payment cards, according to a new survey by the Unisys Security Index.
Fears of debit card misuse trumped all other concerns, with 68 percent of respondents saying they are either very or extremely concerned about the likelihood.
America's second strongest concern was identity theft, with 66 percent of respondents concerned.
Tim Kelleher, vice president of enterprise security for Unisys, a security management firm, believes the increasing concerns about misuse of personal information and identity theft has been driven by the recent financial crisis.
Kelleher said the survey shows businesses that they need to reassure their customers that they are doing everything in their power to protect their personal information and secure their payments.
But the risk threatens more than just the security of business networks.
"Consumers, businesses, and governments alike all need to take greater precautions," he said.
The survey, conducted bi-annually since August 2007, measures the American people's fear across four areas: national security, financial security, Internet security, and personal security.
One of the more interesting trends, according to Kelleher, was the drop in fear surrounding matters of national security. Since the first survey, security concerns relating to war or terrorism have disconcerted Americans most. Today, however, those fears have subsided as the economy has deteriorated.
Americans are also not too seriously concerned about the threats posed by viruses or unsolicited e-mail, but the percentage not concerned is about the same as the percentage of Americans who do not use the Internet. Americans are also not too worried about shopping or banking online, according to the survey, because most do not do either activity on the Web.
Kelleher did, however, single out another trend for special attention. The less education people have, the more fear they experienced across each issue area. College graduates are the least fearful population by educational category in the United States, according to the Unisys survey. People with some post secondary education are less fearful than those with a secondary education or less.
Overall, Kelleher said the United States' overall security index has remained relatively constant. The index ranges from zero to 300 with the United States averaging 147 in the first quarter of 2009, or near the median, he said. In the previous survey from November, the Netherlands ranked as the least fearful nation, with a score of 87, while Brazil ranked as the most fearful, scoring 182.
The full global results are due in late April.