U.S. Consumers Lose More Than $7 Billion to Online Threats

The online threats associated with using the Internet remain high according to Consumer Reports's latest "State of the Net" survey. Consumer Reports projects that U.S. consumers lost more than $7 billion over the last two years to viruses, spyware, and phishing schemes.

Additionally, the "State of the Net" survey shows that consumers face a 1 in 4 chance of succumbing to an online threat and becoming a cybervictim, a number that has slightly decreased since last year.

The number of consumers responding to e-mail phishing scams has remained constant at eight percent. Consumer Reports projects that one million U.S. consumers lost billions of dollars over the past two years to such scams.

Many underage youngsters are at risk on social networks such as MySpace and Facebook, the survey found. In households surveyed with minors online, 13 percent of the children registered on MySpace were younger than 14, the minimum age the site officially allows, and three percent were under 10. And those were just the ones the parents knew about.

Based on the survey, Consumer Reports projects that problems caused by viruses and spyware resulted in damages of at least $5 billion replacement over the past two years.

The 2007 "State of the Net" survey was conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center among a nationally representative sample of more than 2,000 households with Internet access.

Among CR's key 2007 "State of the Net" findings:

Based on survey projections, computer virus infections prompted an estimated 1.8 million households to replace their computers in the past two years and 850,000 households to replace computers due to spyware infections in the past six months. Additionally, 33 percent of survey respondents did not use software to block or remove spyware. And CR projects that 3.7 million US households with broadband remain unprotected by a firewall.

Spam: Consumer Reports' survey respondents have reported a lower proportion of spam reaching their Inbox than in the past, which CR believes is a result of better spam-blocking. Survey results indicate that about 650,000 consumers ordered a product or service advertised through spam in the month before the survey. Additionally, in 5 percent of the households surveyed that had children under 18, a child had inadvertently seen pornographic material as a result of spam.

Viruses: Computer virus infections held steady since last year accordingto CR's survey. CR notes that this is actually a mark of progress for consumers and software makers, because the threats have become more challenging. In the latest survey, 38 percent of respondents reported a computer virus-infection in the last two years. Seventeen percent of respondents didn't have antivirus software installed.

Spyware: In the past six months, 34 percent of respondents' computers were exposed to a spyware infection. CR's survey also reveals that although spyware infections have dropped, the chances of getting one are still 1 in 3, and of suffering serious damage, 1 in 11.

Phishing: Eight percent of respondents submitted personal information in response to conventional phishing e-mails in the past two years, a number that has remained unchanged over the past two years. The median cost of a phishing incident is $200. Yet scammers' tactics are improving -- e-mail looks like it comes from a reputable business such as a bank and features better grammar, more believable stories, and more authentic-looking Web addresses.