Fear of identity theft holds back global e-commerce

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Although online transactions are increasing in both the U.S. and Europe, a growing fear of identity theft and other online fraud is eroding confidence in e-commerce, newly published research has warned.

The survey, conducted in Germany, France, the United Kingdom and the United States by Momentum Research Group on behalf of RSA Security, shows that consumers in each of these nations are spending more online today, although a significant segment is actively reducing its investment.

Online expenditure per respondent during the month of September averaged €153 ($180), with 40 per cent stating that this was higher than 12 months ago. The U.K. was found to lead the way, averaging €231 (£280) per consumer while US consumers spent the least at €129 (£155) per capita.

While overall transaction values are increasing, 16 per cent of respondents in the U.S. and 13 per cent in the UK report they are spending less than they used to. These falls, which the study attributes to fear of identity theft, are higher than those found in Germany (6 per cent) and France (9 per cent).

The confidence issues were found to be most pronounced in the United States. When shown eight different website types and asked if these business sectors were doing "everything necessary" to secure transactions, American respondents were less confident than the Europeans in every case.

Similar results were found when the survey examined the security of personal information. A major confidence gap was revealed among U.S. consumers, with almost half stating that they have little or no confidence that several groups are taking the necessary steps. The groups cited include the government, industry alliances setting internet security standards, companies that produce computer hardware or software, ISPs and credit reporting firms.

Nine out of ten U.S. consumers are familiar with identity theft, but knowledge of this danger is much lower in France and Germany, where one in three consumers is still unfamiliar with the concept.

Art Coviello, president and CEO of RSA Security, said: "With this year's ongoing wave of publicity around US-based data breaches and online fraud, it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that understanding of these threats is highest in North America. What concerns me is that, while the industry is working hard to promote best practices and defence measures to our citizens, a high volume remain blissfully unaware of what identity theft is, leaving them exposed to potential exploitation.

"For consumers, the key to online confidence lies at the door of the business community - meaning that it is imperative for online vendors to be seen taking appropriate measures to protect their customers' interests. The survey clearly demonstrates that, once their trust is earned, users will return - and spend - again and again. But that trust is a fragile commodity."

Unsurprisingly, the highest concern in all regions was reserved for websites dealing with sensitive data. Here, French consumers exhibit the greatest fear - and Germans the most confidence. Two-thirds of French respondents are concerned about fraudulent access to personal information at banking sites, and 61 per cent are concerned about retail sites. By contrast, just 27 per cent of Germans are worried about the retail environment.

The 39 question survey, focused on the issues of confidence and trust in secure online transactions, was conducted online with 603 consumers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and France who have one or more accounts that they access at least once per month. The data was gathered in September 2005 by Momentum Research Group.

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