How Safe Are Online Financial Transactions?

Survey shows overwhelming majority of consumers worry about identity theft

You can buy just about anything online these days, and retailers increasingly are migrating to the Web to save money and increase sales. You can even do your banking.

But how safe are these transactions?

Banks and retailers will tell you its almost bullet-proof but it appears a lot of consumers remain unconvinced.

The Identity Theft Resource Center(ITRC) says its research shows that 87 percent of consumers who have made a purchase or bank transaction online in the past month are concerned about the safety of the personal identifying and financial information they transmit.

The findings are part of the ITRC's 2010 national survey to monitor trends in "Consumer Concerns about Internet Transactions." The survey queried 500 respondents who had used the Internet for banking or purchasing during the previous 30 days.

Data breach concerns

The ITRC survey found consumers are increasingly concerned about the security of their personal and financial information when conducting transactions online. Eighty seven percent of respondents expressed significant concern about having their credit card information stolen or having merchants lose personal and financial information in a data breach.

Respondents demonstrated a similar high-level of concern over specific security events:

• 81 percent of respondents cited phishing emails as a significant concern;

• 80 percent of respondents expressed significant concern over having their passwords stolen;

• 78 percent of respondents indicated they were significantly concerned over having usernames stolen;

• 77 percent of respondents were concerned about receiving SPAM emails.

Proactive steps

Perhaps as a result of public awareness of data breaches and security incidents, the ITRC survey found consumers are taking some steps to address security concerns, but expressed a desire to better protect the privacy of their personal and financial information. When asked what actions were regularly taken to reduce the chances of personal and financial information from being stolen online, the survey found:

• 58 percent of respondents always check the URL of links they receive in email before clicking;

• 41 percent refuse to use payment methods that allow access to their bank accounts;

• 35 percent regularly change passwords;

• 23 percent use low limit credit cards when conducting transactions on the Internet;

• 21 percent use a service that makes their identity anonymous when transacting online;

• 18 percent use a service that provides replacement credit cards that they're not liable for.

Online behavior

A majority of respondents indicated that if their personal information were stolen as a result of a data breach, it would affect their online behavior and change how they conduct transactions online. When asked what actions they would most likely take in this event, the survey found:

• If a breach occurred at a shopping website, 73 percent of respondents would stop making purchases at that website;

• If a breach occurred at a bill pay site, 68 percent would stop paying bills at that website;

• If a breach occurred at a bank site, 66 percent of respondents would stop online banking at that website and 46 percent would stop all banking at that institution;

• 68 percent would be likely to tell their friends about the breach at the offending website;

• 11 percent would not change anything despite losing personal or financial information.

"The results of the survey clearly demonstrate that consumers are acutely aware of the potential loss of sensitive information when conducting transactions online," said Jay Foley, Executive Director, Identity Theft Resource Center. "Merchants, banks and other businesses involved in online transactions need to take steps to protect the privacy of their customers."

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