SAN FRANCISCO -- News of Internet security breaches at eBay, Target and other large companies appears to be having an effect on online habits.
A USA TODAY survey finds that almost a quarter of Americans have at least temporarily stopped buying online because of security concerns.
A full 24% of those surveyed said they had stopped buying anything online in recent weeks because they were concerned about the safety of information they might put online.
Most surprisingly, 56% said they had cut back on the number of Internet site they used and were only going to large, well-known companies they were confident were safe.
"It's pretty amazing to me that people were willing to pull the plug on their habits," said Cameron Camp, a security expert with ESET, a San Diego-based security and antivirus company.
Users are also keeping a closer eye on their accounts, with 55% saying they had started checking banking, investment and credit card sites more often for signs that someone had hacked into their accounts.
Camp counseled that any survey asking about things people feel they should be doing has to be taken with a grain of salt. "Some of the answers people give are aspirational rather than factual," he said.
Whether the more cautious behavior will necessarily last is another question. "It's kind of like being a on a diet," Camp said. "You're on good behavior for awhile and then you return to whatever you were doing before."
The poll found that people with less education and lower-incomes were more likely to stop buying anything online. Those with more education and higher incomes were more likely to have changed passwords and cut back on the sites they use.
Thirty percent of people who had not attended any college had stopped buying online, compared to 16% of those with college degrees.
Of people with incomes under $30,000, 34% had stopped buying online compared to 15% of those with income of $75,000 or more.
Sixty-four percent of those surveyed said they had changed a password in response to security breaches.
Higher incomes and more education were linked to changing passwords. Sixty-six percent of those with college degrees and 73% of those making $75,000 or more, had changed passwords, compared to 56% of those with no college and 55% of those with incomes under $30,000.
Men were more are more likely to have changed passwords than women, 69% compared to 59%.
Seniors were least likely to have changed passwords, with only 47% having done so.
The USA TODAY poll of 790 internet users was conducted May 29-June 1 by Princeton Survey Research, with a margin of error of +/- four percentage points.