Surveys find consumers easily duped by online prize offers

In an effort to measure the online scam susceptibility, a new survey conducted by the Ponemon Institute and sponsored by PC Tools finds Americans consumers are astonishingly willing to give up their personal information when lured with free offers, with some 55 percent of American respondents indicating they would likely provide personal information online to redeem a prize after completing a survey. Response rates for other test scenarios weren’t much better: 53 percent said they’d likely hand over personal details for free antivirus software or a get-rich-quick opportunity, while just under half said they would turn over info for a free movie or online shopping registration.

Ponemon PC Tools U.S. Scam Suceptibility Dec 2011

The survey also highlighted some disparity between what respondents said they would do, versus what they actually did. Fully 47 percent of respondents indicated they understood an online survey with a prize could be a scam or an attempt to market something to them later, but in test scenarios 55 percent of respondents said they’d likely turn over personal information to redeem a prize after a survey anyway.

The U.S. survey covered 1,858 American consumers, but similar surveys of UK and Australian also revealed high levels of susceptibility to online scams—although not as high as Americans. Some 46 percent of respondents in the UK said they would be likely to disclose personal details to redeem a prize after a survey, while Australians did even better, with only 37 percent indicating they would reveal personal information after a survey. In Australia, the survey found respondents aged 16 to 5—the so-called “Generation Net”—were the most susceptible. In the UK, the most susceptible were 16 to 18 years old, with 61 percent indicating they were likely to click on an alert to download free antivirus software.

Respondents in the U.S. also said they thought they themselves (first person) were as likely as their friends (third person) to reveal personal information, where UK and Australian respondents each felt they were less likely to disclose information than their friends. Behavioral researchers often ask the same sorts of questions in first- and third-person terms to try to evaluate the positive “halo effect” many respondents have about their own behaviors when asked to rate themselves.

“We generally find that when people are answering for others they are more inclined to reveal their true behavior, or in this case their susceptibility,” said PC Tools online security expert Richard Clooke, in a statement. “Interestingly, the survey results from all three regions demonstrate that U.S. respondents are more susceptible than either UK or Australian respondents for both the first and third person constructs.”

The survey also found Americans’ susceptibility to online scams varied with area, sex, income, education, and region. Like Australians, Americans aged 18 to 25 were generally more susceptible, as were female respondents. Similarly, respondents with less than a high school diploma, with household incomes between $25,000 and $50,000 a year, and who lived in the southwestern United States were also found to be more susceptible.

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