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Americans are extremely fearful about what might happen to their financial information, especially when they post it online. But they aren't alone. An international survey conducted by research firm Ipsos-Reid finds that those fears may prove to be one of the primary impediments to e-commerce, not only in the U.S., but globally.

The study, conducted in February and March 2001, and released in July, surveyed a random sample of 8,583 adults in 16 countries around the world. (The survey was conducted by telephone in all cases except for Poland, Brazil and China, where in-person interviewing was used.) In each country, the target sample size was 500, with the exception of the U.S., where 1,000 people were interviewed.

Globally, almost three-quarters (72 percent) of respondents say they are concerned about online security, especially the potential misuse of their credit cards, according to the study. Overall, 40 percent of Internet users worldwide, or 20 percent of all adults, have purchased a product or service online. And 4 in 10 consumers say that their concern for cyber security has made them less likely to shop online. Yet the fears are seldom due to personal experience: Only 1 percent of adults surveyed say they have been the victim of online fraud and just 6 percent say they know of someone who has been.

Understandably, those who are most concerned about online security tend to live in countries where e-commerce is the most common. Here at home, 38 percent of adults, or 77 percent of Internet users, have made a purchase online, more than any other country. But the study's authors say that fear of fraud may be scaring off a large chunk of potential consumers: A full 70 percent of all adults say they are concerned about online credit card fraud, and 47 percent say it is a “major concern.� Forty-two percent say they are less likely to make purchases online because of those concerns.

When it comes to other types of online activities involving money, Americans keep an even greater lock on their pocketbooks. Canadians, for example, are much more likely to do their banking online (61 percent) than Americans (29 percent). Sixty-nine percent of Canadians say they are confident that the banking industry can ensure online privacy, compared with 49 percent of Americans who share that level of trust.

Still, Americans are not as nearly as fearful as the Japanese or French, with 88 percent and 86 percent, respectively, concerned about credit card misuse online. Interestingly, only 24 percent of Japanese adults say their concerns keep them from shopping online, compared with more than half (53 percent) of the French. This high level of fear seems to account for the relatively low level of e-commerce activity in France — just 10 percent of adults there have ever made an online purchase. Another interesting note: While 19 percent of respondents in urban China say they have firsthand experience with online fraud, the most of any country, only 15 percent consider online security a “major concern.� Still, 46 percent say they are less likely to shop online because of their concern, major or not.

“E-commerce has gone mainstream in the U.S. and a handful of industrialized nations, but to some extent, the easy money has been made,� says Julie Busch, a vice president and technology analyst with Ipsos-Reid. “The fears about fraud and misuse of personal data are keeping tens of millions of potential shoppers from making the leap from using the Internet to comparison shop, to making actual purchases online.�

For more information, contact Ipsos-Reid's Julie Busch, (415) 274-8946.

Non, Merci

In France, only 10 percent of the adult population shops online, with 63 percent citing online security as a major concern.

% OF ADULTS WHO SAY THAT ONLINE SECURITY IS A MAJOR CONCERN % OF ADULTS WHO SAY THAT ONLINE SECURITY IS A MODERATE CONCERN % OF ADULTS WHO SHOP ONLINE % OF ADULTS WHO ARE LESS LIKELY TO SHOP ONLINE BECAUSE OF SECURITY CONCERNS
France 63% 23% 10% 53%
United Kingdom 55% 19% 25% 37%
Canada 54% 21% 24% 48%
Brazil* 51% 10% 3% 45%
Japan 50% 38% 20% 24%
Germany 49% 31% 21% 31%
Netherlands 49% 28% 23% 39%
United States 47% 23% 38% 42%
Italy 47% 21% 5% 33%
Switzerland 41% 31% 25% 33%
South Korea 40% 25% 18% 45%
Denmark 39% 24% 22% 46%
Jamaica 35% 10% 5% 31%
Spain 26% 26% 4% 22%
China* 15% 39% 4% 46%
Poland 11% 23% 3% 20%
*Urban samples only Source: Ipsos-Reid.
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