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Forget H1N1; nothing scares us like ID theft, survey says

Matt Schulz

Swine flu? Meh. Paying your bills? No big deal.

When it comes to striking fear in the hearts of Americans, nothing does it like ID theft.

The Unisys Security Index, a survey from IT solutions provider Unisys and Lieberman Research Group that was conducted in September and released on Tuesday, showed that 65 percent of Americans were “extremely” or “very” concerned about fraudsters accessing and misusing their private information.

Credit and debit card fraud was second with 64 percent. (It had been first in the previous survey, which came out in April 2009.)

Just less than 50 percent felt the same way about a potential health epidemic, such as the H1N1 virus, and just more than 40 percent felt that way about their “ability to meet essential financial obligations.”

If this surprises you, you’re not alone. Here’s what an official from Unisys had to say:

“It’s kind of amazing,” Mark Cohn, Unisys’ vice president for enterprise security, told “They are more concerned about systems being penetrated and their data being shared than anything else.”

It is surprising, and the fear seems a bit misguided. After all, data breaches make huge headlines, but in reality, the risks are smaller than people think.

Forty-five states require businesses to tell you ASAP when your data’s been compromised, though California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger just terminated a bill that would’ve expanded that state’s notification laws.

Most banks and other credit card issuers have zero-liability policies, meaning that you likely won’t be out much, if any, money.

Sure, it’ll be a big headache for a while — you’ll likely have to make a bunch of phone calls and write some letters and such — but except in really extreme cases, it’s more nuisance than nightmare.

It’s fraught with much less peril than not being able to pay your bills or getting really, really sick, so keep your credit cards close, but your resume and your antibacterial wipes closer.

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