According to a recent study, phishing attacks affect about one in four Americans, or 23% each month.
The study, issued by the AOL - National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) also said that more than two thirds of consumers who received scam e-mails thought they were issued by legitimate companies, thus increasing the chance of a security breach.
Strengthening their case, NCSA also said that 18 percent of the people that took part in the study said somebody they know had already fallen victim to an online identity theft scam.
The study shows only 42% were familiar with the term "phishing," and about 57% of them could explain what it was.
"Phishers are getting better at tricking consumers into revealing their bank account and financial information, and most Americans can't tell the difference between real e-mails and the growing flood of scams that lead to fraud and identity theft." said Senior Vice President and Chief Trust Officer for AOL, Tatiana Platt.
"Consumers need to be aware of the risk, and they need to use critical protections like anti-virus software, spyware protection, and a firewall to help protect them from online threats."
Other worrying figures were the lack of one of the three critical protections a computer should have (updated antivirus, spyware protection and a firewall) in about 81% home computers.
"There is a major perception gap: Even though most consumers think they are protected, this study shows the opposite. Far too many people still lack the three fundamental protections they need to stay safe online — current anti-virus software, spyware protection, and a secure firewall," said executive director, National Cyber Security Alliance, Ron Teixeira.
"As we move into a broadband world, where consumers have an always-on connection to the Internet, these core protections are even more vital. This is particularly troubling, given that more than two-thirds of those surveyed say they keep sensitive information on their PCs."
Another disturbing find is that about 47 percent of personal wireless networks failed to encrypt their connections - which increase the risk of network intrusions.
"Although we have made some strides in helping consumers protect themselves, the threats are growing broader and more dangerous, so the risk of failure can be that much more catastrophic," said Platt.
"When a single virus, a simple scam or hidden spyware program can shut down your computer or cause a person to lose their bank account, their family pictures, or all of their personal records, it is vital that consumers take every possible step to protect themselves. You can't lock just a few of the windows in your house and expect to stay safe from thieves."
- 74 percent of respondents use their computers for sensitive transactions such as banking, stock trading, or reviewing personal medical information.
- More than two-thirds (68%) keep sensitive information on their home computers like personal correspondence, resumes or professional records, or health or financial information.
- More than half (55%) say they have been infected by a virus in the past.
- The percent of computers with an active file-sharing program fell by more than half from 23% to 11%.
- Homes with children were more likely to have spyware or adware on the computer. More than two-thirds (69%) of homes with children under age 18 had spyware/adware, vs. 58% of households without kids.
- Seven in ten (70%) users now say that they use a pop-up blocker (vs. 47% last year)
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